It is impossible to get excited about the future of humanity (or the art of watching movies in general, for that matter) after viewing Steve Barnett’s apocryphal Mindwarp (1992); a turgid and frustratingly unoriginal post-apocalyptic mishmash starring Bruce Campbell – the undisputed king of pedestrian B-grade crapulence. Watching Mindwarp is like being asked by a favorite uncle with spurious intentions to pull his finger, already anticipating the smelly expulsion of gas but leaving a steaming #2 on his white linens instead. Neither amusing, nor shocking (unless, of course, one counts sophomoric stomach-churning with the same level of appreciation as the good solid fright), Mindwarp is a singularly unimpressive endeavor; the cinematic equivalent to a hemorrhoid – painful, festering, embarrassing and abysmally distracting.
If only to contend with the mangling of sci-fi and horror; only the C-grade acting put forth by the decidedly wooden Marta Alicia, pontificating Angus Scrimm and Hoboken-esque nattering of Mary Becker; only the cheapjack sets (many looking like cardboard cutouts from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom); only the implausible machinations of a plot turned rancid and distilled into grotesque violence with panged nods to family incest put forth by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (so obtuse that the pair effectively disown their screen credit as one Henry Dominick); then Mindwarp would already rate an ‘F’ …and I don’t mean for ‘fantastic.’ The excursion into this pseudo-Middle Earth/post nuclear cataclysm fantasy/adventure/horror/sci-fi/comedy mutt (with incongruous nods to the Roman/Greco period) is artlessly slapped together with antiseptic belligerence, and, thriving on the dredges of its own plot-less iniquities.
We are thrust into a feckless black hole of the bleakest despair, expected to relate to a rather gutless and fear-monger damsel-in-distress, Judy (Marta Alicia) who cringes and conquers, only to awaken from the ordeal. It was only a dream…really?!? Barnett’s direction – or lack thereof - is of no consequence; the movie devolving into its mismanaged grand guignol: neither engrossing nor satisfactorily carried off. Mindwarp is a series of bizarre and often tasteless vignettes reveling in the scum of the earth; hideously disfigured troglodytes dwelling beneath it. These excremental cells of submersed society are noisy, yet powerless; completely at the will and mercy of an über overlord (Angus Scrimm) who plucks the eyes from a child, Claude (Wendy Sandow) with his fingers before grinding his bones in a sort of primitive trash compactor, and, as casually as one might skewer croutons from a garden salad, before proposing to perpetuate the perfect human race by impregnating his own daughter…yuck! Add to this already misshapen mixture, garroting, being impaled on spikes, and, vomiting up leeches and you have a general idea of Mindwarp’s…well…’warped’ sense of narrative trajectory. It is arguably a very diseased mind that finds this sort of smut-mongering filth even remotely entertaining and even more unsettling to think about what sad, sick and twisted little grey matter was responsible for writing it in the first place.
I’ve seen a lot of junk in my day, but Mindwarp takes the cake – rancid icing, curdled milk, stale filler and all, for just being plain vanilla ‘wrong’ on virtually all levels of artistic merit. Mindwarp might have functioned as basic sci-fi or horror, but it never quite makes up its mind which it wants to be and this is its’ central problem. Are we to be terrorized or amazed by what we see? The answer, regrettably, is neither, as Scrimm’s pseudo-religious despot, Seer, is pitted against the avenging adventurer, Stover (Campbell); old hams at this sort of nonsense, neither rising above the material put forth by Fangoria: the famed horror aficionado’s magazine segue into cinema preceded by its own Children of the Night (1991) – actually begun after Mindwarp but released first. Worse, the film’s deliberately reserved budget impedes its ability to convincingly cover its disarray of ambitious plot points; fractured odes to environmentalism and a decidedly Marxist slant on governmental intrusion into the private lives of the individual. Blah! Blah! Blah! Boring! If the movie flashes us moments of flawed familial relationships as the axis of all its gruesomeness (disenfranchised mother/daughter/father/daughter), then it neither explores nor even makes any sort of lasting social commentary.
I’m not going to spend a lot a time on summarizing the plot of this one – but here goes. We’re introduced to the phantasmagoric realm of Infinisynth – a government sanctioned fantasy role-playing apparatus designed to keep survivors from a worldwide nuclear holocaust properly anesthetized in a perpetual state of their own imaginary limbo. Plugged into their neck implanted programming devices, participants can be and do anything their heart desires – at least, in theory. Judy’s mother fancies herself an opera diva. But Judy is dissatisfied by her imaginary trips and decides to invade her mother’s dream instead, accidentally knocking her off the stage and thus murdering her before a live audience. Unfortunately, when Judy awakens she finds her mother dead, still caught in suspended animation.
Taken before Infinisynth’s omnipotent programmer (Scrimm) and cast out of ‘InWorld’ into the frigid sands of ‘reality’, Judy is attacked by a pair of ‘Crawlers’ – mutants toiling beneath the earth for a malicious overlord, Seer (Scrimm, again) who callously maims and murders to keep his minions in line. She is rescued from her fate by Stover, a rogue survivor of the nuclear holocaust that decimated earth, but remarkably left his cabin and the tall pines surrounding it virtually intact. Judy and Stover make love. The pair is discovered by Crawlers who take them captive below the earth. Stover is made to excavate relics from the rubble in a mine while Judy is taken prisoner by Cornelia (Elizabeth Kent); a Greco/Roman would-be dominatrix suffering from ‘the sickness’, and is hardly maternal toward Claude, her young ward whom she exploits for menial labor. Seer eventually comes for Judy, revealing to her that he is, in fact, her estranged father, but then insisting that if only he could impregnate her they might build a new species of perfect specimens to hold dominion over the Crawlers. Naturally, Judy is adverse to this suggestion.
Stover clumsy attempts at escape and rescue are thwarted. He is locked in a watery cage to be impregnated in his intestines by leeches with their cannibalizing larva. In the meantime, Seer punishes Cornelia for not being able to convince Judy of his master plan; first, by plucking Claude’s eyes out and pulverizing his flesh and bones in an archaic trash compactor (later encouraging the crawlers to drink of Claude’s blood, poured into human skulls from a fountain head), then by impaling Cornelia on a meat hook. Miraculously, Stover survives his ordeal – partly – and after a struggle, Seer is crushed to death in his own torture device. But as Stover and Judy make their way to the surface she begins to realize a change in him – one that repulses her after he brings up a bounty of leech larvae. Judy awakens from her nightmare…well, again, sort of. She is standing before Infinisynth’s programmer who now reveals his self to be her father. Judy’s nightmare was a test to see if she could assume the mantle of control over Infinisynth’s vast empire. Having passed the test, Judy is free to rule as she sees fit.
I’m not going to waste any more time on it. Mindwarp is mindless junk. It isn’t often I can sit through a movie and find virtually nothing to recommend it. But Mindwarp is definitely one of those experiences – 96 minutes of hapless drivel and dreck for which no excuse, apology or explanation will suffice. If you feel like squandering your time, then Mindwarp is definitely the drug of choice. We’ll give Twilight Time and Sony digital mastering top marks for a snazzy looking 1080p transfer. I’m frankly amazed that Mindwarp has made the leap to Blu-ray when there are so many other worthy contenders out there. But Mindwarp definitely excels as a visual presentation. The generally dark image is layered with good solid consistency. Colors pop. A lot of the underworld sequences are bathed in a rich orange/red hue that is perfectly realized herein, as are contrast levels. Blacks are velvety and never crush. Occasionally the image can appear decidedly soft, with grain inexplicably bumped up to distracting levels. But I’ll venture a guess this is exactly how Peter Fernberger’s cinematography looked projected in the theater; the movie’s shoestring budget impeding a more consistent visual gloss in its presentation. The 2.0 DTS audio is quite effective – if noisy – throughout. As usual, Twilight Time has included an isolated track to showcase Mark Governor’s score. We also get a TV spot that tries its best to sell Mindwarp as an exotic – if perverse - adventure/drama.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)