In a post-apocalypse, a woman rebels against the AI-ruled utopia where survivors live in a happy VR simulation.
The renowned horror magazine Fangoria dates back to 1979; a time when the internet was a fantasy and fans couldn’t access coveted information with the click of a mouse. Originally the sister publication to sci-fi publication Starlog, Fangoria enticed readers into a world of the weird and wonderful. Filled with exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes photos, it focussed on the burgeoning sub-culture surrounding horror fandom. Dedicating entire issues to Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The Evil Dead (1981), it cast fresh light on low-budget filmmaking.
After establishing itself during the 1980s, Fangoria was instrumental in bringing cult horror cinema into the mainstream. A decade later, founders Kerry O’Quinn and Norman Jacobs became interested in creating a film production company, and during the early-1990s a joint venture with producer Christopher Webster (Hellraiser) saw the emergence of Fangoria Films. Following a lucrative deal with Columbia-TriStar Pictures, a moderate budget of $2.4M was provided to produce a trio of movies: Children of the Night (1991), Severed Ties (1992), and their first offering of Mindwarp (1991).
In a dystopian future, the Earth has become inhospitable due to atomic warfare and ozone depletion, and a select group of humans known as “Dreamers” reside in an artificial environment known as the “Inworld”. It’s here they spend their lives plugged into a virtual reality system named “Infinisynth”, living out their wildest fantasies. Judy (Marta Alicia) is desperate to leave her simulated life behind and experience whatever lies beyond her living quarters. And after being exiled to the apocalyptic wastelands, Judy finds herself struggling to survive. Following a violent encounter with a group of cannibalistic mutants, known as “Crawlers”, Judy’s rescued by Stover (Bruce Campbell), before they both come into conflict the Crawlers’ murderous leader Seer (Angus Scrimm).
Capitalising on the horror fandom, Fangoria Films brought together two genre icons who would be instantly recognisable to their readership. Immortalised by the Evil Dead series, Bruce Campbell plays the weathered survivalist Stover, a Mad Max (1979) archetype roaming the wastelands surviving on possum meat whilst sheltering himself from radiation. While Stover’s ramblings about brain sickness echo several maniacal sequences in Evil Dead II (1987), Campbell restrains from his camp sensibilities. Similar to his role in Maniac Cop (1988), he instead does a commendable job portraying a vigorous deadpan hero.
Additionally, Angus Scrimm plays the enigmatic leader of the Crawlers, Seer—who’s similar to Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) in that he wants to capture any remaining woman to reproduce the perfect race. Although Seer isn’t as memorable as Scrimm’s Tall Man character from the Phantasm (1979) series, he’s equally as menacing. The actor’s fantastic as a bloodthirsty tyrant, elevating himself to psychopathic proportions. While it’s incredibly entertaining watching two horror legends act alongside each other, it’s disappointing they’re reduced to mere supporting characters.
Before forging a career as a production manager for Sideways (2004) and Life of Pi (2012), Steve Barnett made his directorial debut with outrageous comedy Hollywood Boulevard II (1990). While working for the legendary Roger Corman (The Masque of the Red Death), Barnett was put forward to direct Mindwarp. Working with a budget of $800,000, the director squeezes the most from what’s available, maintaining a surrealistic atmosphere. Although it looks incredibly dated today, the opening sequences set in the retro-futuristic Inworld are still charming. The sterile interiors and 16-bit computers evoke simulates of THX 1138 (1971) and Logan’s Run (1976), while the aesthetics take heavy inspiration from post-apocalyptic B Movies such as The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984) and Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988). However, the mixture of Lake Superior’s black iron deposits and frozen desert terrain create a unique post-apocalyptic wasteland. While it’s obvious Barnett was working with a shoestring budget, Mindwarp contains a delightfully quirky charm.
On the surface, Mindwarp resembles the countless straight-to-video horrors that dominated home entertainment during the 1970s and ’80s. The post-apocalyptic environment can easily be compared to Mad Max, whereas Judy’s escapist fantasy evokes Westworld (1973). However, what makes Mindwarp so inventive is co-writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s script. As they’d later demonstrate with The Net (1995) and The Game (1997), their premise was so unique for its time. Admittedly, Mindwarp wasn’t the first virtual reality movie, with Tron (1982) and Brainstorm (1983) arguably pioneering the idea, and Total Recall (1990) and The Lawnmower Man (1992) bringing the concept to the mainstream, Mindwarp was the first sci-fi to imagine a future where humans spend the majority of their time plugged into an artificial world.
While incorporating elements of Philip K. Dick set amongst a post-apocalyptic backdrop, Mindwarp is also a precursor to eXitstenZ (1999) and The Matrix (1999). Brancato and Ferris create a dystopian future entirely connected through a computer simulation named “Infinisynth”. The inhabitants of the ”Inworld” are connected to the digital world through an implant plugged directly into their brains. The idea of humans submerged into a dreamlike vessel may seem like a familiar concept in contemporary cinema. However, during the early-’90s, it was futuristic and exciting. The similarities are astounding and one could argue Mindwarp inspired several elements of David Cronenberg’s and the Wachowski’s sci-fi epics.
Mindwarp features buckets of gore and gruesome practical effects, as befits its Fangoria pedigree. As the narrative transitions to the cannibal’s underground sanctuary, the focus is predominantly on gratuitous violence and repulsive carnage. The tremendous SFX by Greg Nicotero’s (Creepshow 2) KNB Group provides plenty of grisly images. Made entirely of human eyeballs, Seer’s mask is incredibly gruesome and evokes Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Barnett’s border-lining exploitation violence and intentionally camp aesthetic provide several entertaining set pieces and a parade of bloodletting. A macabre highlight occurs when a character’s eye is gouged out before being fed into a human mincing machine. This followed by a group of cannibals drinking human blood from a fountain. Understandably, such graphic scenes remained on the cutting room floor during its initial release. However, it remains incredibly faithful to Fangoria’s pulpy style, possessing an outrageous amount of entertaining bloodshed that would appeal to fans of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987).
Underneath all the camp horror, Barnett explores interesting themes about the environment and social inequality. Mindwarp attempts to question the power of capitalism, drawing parallels with They Live (1988) and Society (1989). The population of the Inworld is portrayed as a society that enjoys significant wealth with endless opportunities. As demonstrated in one scene, Judy’s mother (Mary Becker) reinvents herself as a successful opera singer whilst connected to the Infinisynth. When the Dreamers are plugged into the simulation, they are completely ignorant of the harsh realities of the outside world. Whereas the Crawlers reside in the desolate wastelands struggling for survival, living in the hope they may become Dreamers. Judy’s forced to recognise the harsh inequalities when she enters the subterranean kingdom of the mutants. Although the director’s message lacks the crystal-clear precision of John Carpenter’s and Brian Yuzna’s timeless classics. If one can look beyond the gruesome surface, there’s a potent metaphor that remains relevant today.
While Mindwarp didn’t become Fangoria’s National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), it provides enjoyable low-brow entertainment. Despite its low production values, Barnett creates an imaginatively grotesque post-apocalyptic nightmare. The impressive production design and VFX exceed the standard one expects from such an independent movie. The rich world and mythology distinguish Mindwarp from the horde of generic post-apocalyptic flicks of the 90s. While Martin’s performance is questionable, Campbell and Scrimm’s characters will keep viewers engaged.
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For the first time in the UK, Mindwarp is presented on Blu-ray in the original aspect ratio of 1:85:1. As one would expect from Eureka! Entertainment, they deliver a robust 1080p transfer. Detailing is adequately strong, with skin textures and weathered clothing offering enough clarity and sharpness to please. The colour palette is well saturated, especially during the exterior sequences. Peter Fernberger’s cinematography bathes the bleak post-apocalyptic landscape in warm oranges and brown hues. Whereas black levels remain inky and the shadows are stable, complimenting darker sequences taking place underground during the second half. The image contains a filmic softness during the opening sequence and occasionally the noise levels spike. However, it’s pleasing to see the gritty texture has been preserved, maintaining its low-budget aesthetic.
The only audio option available for Mindwarp is the original English LPCM 2.0 track with optional English subtitles. Unfortunately, the audio isn’t exceptional, but it’s to be expected with a low-budget movie. The dialogue is reproduced reasonably well, remaining clear and discernible towards the front channels. Whereas Mark Governor’s score is evenly balanced throughout the soundstage. Surprisingly the mix is evenly balanced, with background noises and atmospherics providing a great sense of space. The rear channels deliver off-screen grunts and various other mutant noises during the underground sequences with clarity. However, the track feels a little limited as the subwoofer offers very little range during aggressive sounds such as explosions. Overall, it remains an enjoyable lossless mix.
director: Steve Barnett.
writers: John Brancato & Michael Ferris.
starring: Bruce Campbell, Angus Scrimm, Marta Alicia & Elizabeth Kent.