Tonight’s feature has a title very close to another
film reviewed on this site. You
might recall that, when that previous film concluded, I put my head under a
hydraulic press and tried to crush the memories out of it.
It didn’t work, so let’s hope we don’t have to go through that
again (they took the press away from me).
So, we start with a logo saying that “Power and Communications, Inc” are presenting this. It’s nice to see the utilities putting some money into the arts. At least, I hope it’s nice. And we get our title and cast, over some strange electronic music. We’re following a car as it drives along a road near what looks like a big hospital. The car drives up to the very front of the building and our credits conclude.
Some people (a man and a woman) get out of an elevator and go into a stairwell, where they go down to (according to the talk) “the underground lab.” They do this twice a day, so if you’re looking for work and don’t mind stairs send them your resume. They chatter on about how they have “four subjects” for today and “Roth’s finally made a decision.”
We cut to a dark office, where the filing cabinets are in disarray. We hear someone dialing a phone. At a mansion, the phone rings and a secretary answers, claiming this is “the General’s office.” At the other phone, a big mouth claims to be “internal security” and asks to be put through to the General. We cut to a small plane in flight.
On board the plane, the General (I guess) takes the call, and he’s told that someone broke into the project files (hence the disarray). Missing are files on “Dr. Christner’s project” and the files on “the brain machine.” Title duly noted. They think Christner took both files, and this means he knows his (Christner’s) project is “no more than a guinea pig to test the brain machine.” Title noted again.
General tells Mr. Mouth to “get Christner” and says he’s coming back to the facility. We see his plane bank and turn around.
Back wherever, we see the Stair Couple discussing the applicants for their “truth or lie” project. They show slides of the applicants. One is a rather vacant looking young woman, the next is of a guy who looks like Count Gore DeVol, third is a preacher who looks like he sings country music, and then a blonde grim-looking guy. The common element of all these folks is “no immediate family.” I think I know where this is leading.
Anyway, the Stair Couple says they’re happy with the chosen folk and they’re itching to start “programming” these subjects. Outside their room, a guy with a briefcase and a mustache runs past. This is identified as Dr. Christner. He runs outside, hides behind a tree that can’t possibly hide him, and runs on.
We see a shot of some guard types (an armed guy and a supervisor type) waiting in case Christner shows up just where they happen to be, then a shot of Christner running some more (and falling and rolling). Then the General’s plane lands and some flunkies go to meet him. The General gets into his car. He wears no uniform or insignia of any kind, but we’ll take everyone’s word that he’s a general. Otherwise, we’d be here all night!
The General calls the supervisor guy and asks what happened, Supervisor says Christen must be a good guesser or something, but he’s going to sure stop him with his one guy who has a shotgun. General wants the files no matter what. We see another shot of Christen running along and--
Wait just a minute. Excuse me a moment.
Okay, this had better have a good explanation. The guy who ran past the Stair Couple had a high forehead and a mustache. The guy who’s running with the briefcase has a full head of hair and no mustache. Now, I’ve heard of low budget, but this beats Bela Lugosi’s “double” in Plan 9 from Outer Space by a huge margin (in that film, at least he hid his face).
Perhaps those secret files show a method of instant shaving and hair-growing. We’ll find out, I hope.
Anyway, Christen leaves his grassy knoll and runs into a roadway—right where there’s a security car! He does a sort of double-take and goes back into the tall grass. The car calls in the sighting, and the gunman gets out to find this Christen guy.
Who we see running around some more scrub grass, while thunder sounds over this…pretty brightly lit landscape. Christen jumps the gunman, there’s a struggle, and somehow, Christen accidentally caused the guy’s shotgun to discharge right in his chest. A pistol I can see, but a shotgun? That would be really hard to do on accident. Anyway, Christen is horrified by what he has wrought and runs off…leaving the briefcase full of clandestine info right out there in the middle of everything. The briefcase has even popped open!
And we watch the General’s limo go up a hill, and into a mansion (past the security fence. We get to watch the entire fence-closing bit, including the part where a guy and a dog check to make sure it is closed). We also get to watch the whole rest of the trip up to the house, and the parking and everything. General tells one flunky to call some Senator and mention the “emergency” and how he, the General, will call when he can.
Flunky talks to some techs, briefly, and we cut to the General in his very dark office while some guy is reading from a file marked “E-Box Project” assigned to “Roth” (mentioned earlier). Wow, this has to be old if they were only working on the “E-Box.” Here in the technical vastness of the future, we not only have an “X-Box,” some of us have an “X-Box 360”! As far as this scene goes, it is just talk about “can we go ahead” and “yes, if the phased plasma anomalies are recalibrated” or whatever. The point is, they can go ahead.
But (you knew there had to be a “but”) there’s an issue with the fail-safe. (This gets its own page with a big red warning label, “FAIL-SAFE.”) Apparently, if the fail-safe system feels there’s some disturbance in the force, it will seize control of “both” projects, which are the “E-Box” and the “CIC” one. The tech guy says it is a way huge risk and he feels all googly about it. Well, he didn’t use those terms.
Cut to Christen in a phone booth, calling where he used to work. (I assume he was since fired for being a traitor and stuff.) He’s calling Dr. Roland Roth (ah ha!) but no one is picking up. He gets his first lines: “Come on, Roth! Come on!” Then he sees some dark-glassed folks coming toward him, and I get the feeling these may be his last lines too. Since Roth isn’t picking up, maybe he should call Dominoes and get a final pizza. Couldn’t hurt. They have some good kinds at Dominoes and it is guaranteed 30 minutes or less. If he puts his mustache back on and gets balder, maybe he could last that long. Being shot after pizza wouldn’t be the worst way to go. I hope.
He discards this opportunity, though, and runs off into a parking garage. One of the pursuant goons picks up the phone and hears Stair Girl say, “Dr. Roth’s office,” and he says “Sorry, wrong number.” Damn, way to pick up the phone too late, Stair Girl.
Christen is being pursued in the parking garage. He hides in a boat and this fools people. Until he kills some guard in the throat. And he then runs away. Wow, what a hero for our times! Senator Whocares gets some (slight) intelligence from some guy who says all the documents were recovered. Let’s raise a glass to this guy.
Well, we cut to Dr. Christen answering the phone and saying “You don’t understand. I’ve got to reach the senator.” Then, when told NO again, he hangs up. That’s persistence for you.
Elsewhere, we see the Capitol Building and zoom into the frieze on the front. Inside, a balding guy is on the phone in front of the ugliest relief map I’ve ever seen. It’s got South and Central America on it, but damn, it looks like it’s made out of tar and garbage.
This balding guy is the Senator and he is on the phone with the General from earlier. They rehash the plot so far. General writes “Belmont Hotel, Rm 416” on the brain machine folder (or maybe the script). This is where Christen called from. The Senator is worried about being tied to the Brain Machine project, but Glasses assures him that they are changing to their “standby project, Dr. Roth.” They talk about how this could be bad for everyone if Roth finds out stuff.
Senator says that the country has enemies everywhere, and the Brain Machine can help root them out. “Eternal surveillance is the price of liberty.” They hang up, and the General uses a big red marker to put an X on “Krisner.” That’s Christen’s name, but it keeps getting flagged as misspelled so I’m going to use Christen. Then I’ll use “Find and Replace” to change it, and cover all the evidence!
Speaking of Christen, he’s still in his hotel room, in his undershirt, muttering as he writes a letter. He reads aloud each word as he slowly writes it down. “Dear…Seanator…What I am…about…to…” Enough of that! There are two guys outside his door, ready to bust on in. They break in and shoot him (He shoots back). One of the agents looks like a young Everette McGill. They make sure he’s gone and tell the General. He tells his Secretary to fill out a “Special Administrative Transfer” on Christen. He then goes into another room. He tells some other flunky that Roth is the guy, even though flunky argues vigorously that Roth is all wrong. Too bad.
Back at the medical center where this all started, the four candidates for the experiment are being interviewed by the Stair Couple. They’re told where they can and can’t go, and that being truthful is the main thing. Giggly Redhead says that if she has to tell the truth, “this experiment is going to get an X-Rating!” Everyone (including the priest) chuckles over this.
We finally see the guy who’s interviewing, and I’m not sure it’s Mr. Stair. It looks like Mel Gibson. Well, Mel tells them that the study is one of “survival.” Maybe it is Stair Guy. At any rate, it’s Dr. Roth. Stair Girl shows up and tells him he has an urgent call.
He and Stair Girl go to take the call. It’s from Flunky, offering him funding but everyone knows the money is kind of shady. Dr. Roth turns it down. Whatever. Can we get on with some kind of story? Anything?
Cut to the Reverend looking at slides. A child looking at a glass bowl. He thinks this is "ugly." He gives one-word answers to the other slides as well. Behind him is a blackboard on which is written, “The Truth Is Everything. We Must InsistOn Absolute Accuracy.” All [sic]. He sees a cemetery in the sun and his word is “Woman.” Even he thinks this is odd. Off somewhere else, a guy is recording all this. Stair Girl tells him to “relax and respond freely.” There’s discussion about how he should be called “Reverend” and not “Father.”
She tells him he was “recalling something vividly. Was it pleasant, or painful?”
”Both,” he admits. The go on with the slides, the next one is a goofy skull. “Woman,” he says again. He looks abashed. “I thought it, and I tried not to say it.” She thinks Dr. Roth ought to look at this whacko.
”Aren’t you, uh, considerably more comfortable with Dr. Roth?” she asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. Wow! Paging Dr. Freud! She goes to the recording guy and asks where Roth is. Apparently, he’s in accounting, securing some new funds. She asks recording guy if he can take over the Reverend, as he is “uptight” about something. “We’ve really selected some strange subjects.”
And we cut to General Headquarters. Which looks like some tacky mansion a Middle Eastern Potentate would build in Los Angeles. On the porch, General is going over some paperwork, while a different flunky is tossing a coin. General gives him A Look, and while he does, the oddest damn thing hovers just above his head. I guess it’s a boom mic or something, though it’s huge. Maybe it’s part of the plot, it’s a mind-spider, and flunky II looks alarmed not because he’s in trouble with coins, but because the mind-spiders have finally taken over.
He apologizes for being disturbing, and the General asks him for his gun. Flunky II puts it on the table, and General puts a pocket knife next to it. “If you wanted to protect yourself,” General asks, “which weapon would you choose?”
”That’s a P38,” Flunky II says. “I’d take it.”
”Take it,” General says, and Flunky II does so. “Now take a closer look at this.” Flunky II leans in close, to examine the tiny knife. He discovers it’s a “bugging device.” He chuckles. “Testing one, two, three!” Seeing the General is unamused, he puts it back. “I think I’ve changed my mind. I’d rather have this [the knife].” I don’t think he’s used the word “sir” at all.
General agrees that the knife is better, but “at best, it’s only one percent effective. If you really want to know your enemy, you’ve got to know what he’s thinking. Not what he’s saying.”
Flunky II looks at General as if he (General) has cracked. He awkwardly moves off to watch over the perimeter. And, having advanced the plot not at all but used up about three minutes of running time, we cut back to the Medical Center.
The Rev is holding forth. “If I could hear the music I heard when I was young, I wouldn’t be out of step.”
”Are you quoting someone?” Recording Guy asks very smugly.
”Myself…one of my sermons.”
”Do you feel you’re out of step?” Gee, because he just said he was?
”Here, or everywhere?”
”If it’s myself, then it’s everywhere.”
”Are you trying to get back?”
Rev admits maybe, yeah, maybe not, he’s not sure--
”At times, you have a speech impediment,” Recording Guy notes. He asks if this is from childhood. This prompts another flurry of I don’t knows and I can’t explains and such from the Rev. He finally announces that he’s not a good subject and maybe ought to drop out of the program. Recording Guy, though, thinks Rev is an excellent subject and should stay. Whew! Glad that’s settled then.
Rev asks RG if he ever prays, and RG says “Often, in my own way.” Rev asks him why, and he says “Well, I guess I don’t want to take any…unnecessary chances. Our attitude on that matter is fairly close.”
”What is my attitude?” Rev asks, making me hope this is leading somewhere.
”You know man exists, and you believe God exists, but you’re not sure which one created the other.”
Rev looks astonished as we cut to some armed guard yawning before continuing on his rounds. He looks in on all the test subjects…who appear to be in prison cells. Uh, well, that’s sure to get some positive buzz from these folks. I mean, really, they’re volunteers (paid volunteers), can you give them decent housing?
We see some legs walking along in those hospital footies they make people wear, and the fact that we focus on Red Hair (the only female subject) and we’re only seeing feet makes me think this can’t add up to a nice round number. The fact that she’s having a bad dream and the hand going to her doorknob (not a euphemism) is starkly lit just don’t say “Comforting Vibes” at all.
We get more shots of stalking and such like, and a hand unbuttoning her blouse. She screams, and Recording Guy and Stair Girl hear this and rush off to come to her aid. The attacker quickly leaves. RG and SG ask what’s wrong and she says that someone was in here, trying to feel--
And we cut to nondescript blonde guy, one of the other subjects, leaving his room, clad in…hospital booties! Which just screams “red herring” since this guy has barely had a line. I think he chuckled once. He meets Mustache Guy and Rev on the way to wondering what is going on. No one knows.
In Redhead’s quarters, she wants a lock on her door. Stair Girl is trying to be nice but it is clear her patience is wearing thin. She tells Recording Guy not to bother Dr. Roth, as Redhead has only had a nightmare. Recording Guy tells the three males there’s nothing up, and they should go back to bed. Sounds good to them, so they do.
Cut to the next day, and Dr Ross is telling Mr. Mustache that he lied and he wet the bed and why did he do these things which are so bad? Mr. Mustache though, insists he did not do any bad things. But Dr. Ross knows that Mr. Mustache lied about being in prison, reform school, and getting in trouble with the Army and stuff. “What do you think we are, incompetent?” Well, if after your intensive pre-screening you’re just now finding this out, well, yeah. Kinda. “You don’t think we check things out?” Well, no, now that you bring it up. “The truth, [Mr. Mustache]! Absolute accuracy! One lie can cause us a lot of trouble!”
”I, I didn’t lie exactly,” Mr. Mustache says. “I was put inside jail. But when I said I was never IN jail, it was because I didn’t do nothing! I was innocent!”
”Have you ever been booked for theft?”
”No! Yes! I was in this lousy movie, the Brain Machine, which so far stole over half an hour from people’s lives! But I didn’t mean nothing!”
Well, I wished he said that. Instead, he said, “I never stole nothing in my life! But…food.” He looks away. “And that’s not stealing if you’re hungry enough.”
”You’re dismissed from the project.”
”You gotta let me do this. Please.”
”What you may have done with your life is no great matter to us,” Dr. Ross says, though he is clearly feeling the sting of conscience here. “Truth is everything. Everything! Now do you completely understand this!”
Mr. Mustache indicates that yes, he does.
And we cut to Recording Guy and Stair Girl talking about how they have to check stuff all over again. Well…if they missed things like POLICE RECORDS, yes, I would say that’s a damned good idea. “No living relatives” can’t be your only criteria, says I.
But who cares what I think! (Crickets). We cut to what looks like a bowling alley, where Red Head is holding forth on how she was totally right about last night, and “these guards, they make me think of tombstones.” Everyone else, well, Blonde Guy corrects her grammar, Mr. Mustache makes with the love moves, and Rev, well, he says nothing but Blonde Guy and Mr. Mustache argue about this. Red Head isn’t any happier.
Cut to the computer center, where Dr. Ross, Stair Girl and Recording Guy are all discussing the dangers of stuff, with Stair Girl being especially vulnerable. She insists that “biofeedback training” will save her. Oh, for the simpler says of the 70s.
And having discussed nothing, we cut back the General’s tacky headquarters. He wants to know if the real test can be commenced, and the techs on the other end say they’re worried about the fail-safe, but if he wants, they’ll do. He wants. They’ll do.
Cut back to the medical center, but—brace yourself—from a different angle this time! My god, it’s like being struck with a laser beam, a laser beam of…well, um, of…uh, I guess it might be considered, uh…well…zzzzzz.
Inside the computer complex, Dr. Ross, Stair Girl, Recording guy are all worried that suddenly, the computer system is no longer theirs to control. Back up systems don’t even respond. Dr. Ross barks at Stair Girl to call engineering, but before the bark is even finished, systems are suddenly back on line.
Some engineering guy says (to Dr. Ross) that everything looks fine, but…hang on! He sees something odd! A hose has been joined to another hose! He goes to look at this join (security guy watches this), grabs it, and feigns to collapse from electrocution. Security guy does nothing, the phone off the hook tells us all about the nefariousness.
Cut to Recording Guy exercising. He stops to take a phone call. He’s told about the accident (the engineer) and he says he will be right there. Everyone who is anyone shows up at the accident site, and they all see the weird hose join that killed the guy. No one else gets killed, but they all look appropriately worried.
Quick shot of General Tackiness, then some clandestine tech guys, “They blew it. They blew it!” says one guy, and General pounds his fist into (I hope) the screenwriters’ faces. We track to see the big piece of paper that has a nice design and the words, “Circuit FAIL SAFE.” We saw this before, but I was too drunk to tell you. Sorry! I’ll do better.
Back at the Center, Dr. Ross apologizes to Stair Girl, noting that it was the first time he has yelled at her. I have to say it isn’t the first time I’ve yelled at any of these folks, begging them to be interesting. He asks if she can forgive him, and she says she forgave him before it even happened (woman’s intuition and all). No one seems to want my take on the matter, so I’ll drop it.
Dr. Ross and Stair Girl chat some more, next to this bright light with pulsating machine noise behind it. He asks if she hears “it” or “him.” She smiles. They put their hands together on the glass.
Back to the Institute, Dr. Ross is walking Blonde Volunteer Guy around, asking if he likes trees, and BVG says he’s not “in love” with trees, like his father. His father really loved trees, and BVG’s first memory is of his dad leaning against a big tree. They chatter some more about this memory, not really making much headway. Lots of trivial observations. Dr. Ross asks if he got along with his parents, and BVG says they left him alone, when he wrote poetry “my mother didn’t sneak around and read it. When I played football, my father didn’t go bragging to the world how good I was.”
More chatting, until finally Dr. Ross pops the question. “Do you know anything about the brain?”
”Nope,” is the near instantaneous response.
Dr. Ross says BVG’s responses were the strongest of all of them. BVG wonders if that’s good or bad, and Dr. Ross says neither, as nature doesn’t make those kinds of judgments.
Cut to the two techs still struggling (or perhaps struggling anew) with their technology, saying “the computer’s overriding us!” They sound the alarm, and Dr. Ross dashes off, leaving BVG looking kind of lost. Dr. Ross dashes into the lab, wants to know what’s up, Recording Guy says “we’re dead” so Dr. Ross phones Flunky and tells him he’d better hurry his investigation into things. He slams the phone down. He doesn’t know what’s going on, “but I intend to find out.”
Quick shot of Flunky looking at the phone, General’s mansion, the tech guys in the dark (“Computers have total control”) then the bank of computers at the Institute all start up. Back to the quick shot of General’s mansion, then the two tech guys. “It’s up to them, now,” one of them says.
Back to the lounge with the four subjects. “Why do they have to keep asking all those personal questions?” Red Head asks. Well, why did you volunteer?
BVG says it’s “to ascertain the truth.”
”Well, what’s that got to do with pollution and population explosion?” she asks.
”You haven’t been listening properly,” he says. “You see, the truth is, everything, and the truth will, uh, clear the water. Banish the smog. Lower the birth rate. Break down DDT and [something] the world.” (Sounds like “antique.”)
We see that folks are recording this swell talk. Back in the lounge, BVG asks why she volunteered, and she says, “I wanted to do something for my country” and Mustache sniggers. She repeats herself.
”Course you did,” says BVG. “That’s because you have vision, and where there is no vision, people perish.” Why didn’t the reverend get these lines?
No one cares, I guess, because we cut to Recording Guy lecturing a bunch of folks. He has a podium with a big E on it. “Now each day in the E Box represents five years of time.” I guess he’s talking to the staff and the volunteers. He mentions that “population explosion” will be represented not by increasing the number of people but by decreasing the space. He draws chalk figures representing how this will work. He says that pollutants and noise will be added too. It’ll be like a fat guy with a cigar and a radio just got on the elevator. Damn, did I just save millions of dollars? Sorry about that.
He talks about how this will all be monitored. And how the computer will do all this swell calculating that would have taken a six pack of geniuses all summer to do (not his terms). He points to a lawn chair and says it may look simple, but it isn’t, Dr. Ross has made it very complex. It’ll measure everything, and this is good for it to do, and (in response to Mustache) it won’t shock them at all.
Reverend says he doesn’t want to go, and he says that he’ll feel lost unless he has his collar (his priest shirt). Dr. Ross okays this, and Rev is happy.
Phone Lips (from earlier) calls General and tells him “they’re ready to go into the E Box” and he, in turn, is told to “stand by.”
Hope you weren’t expecting more hot General action, because we immediately cut to the Institute. Dr. Ross points out the FAIL-SAFE box, but says it would be disappointing if anyone cracked it open and used it. And the box lowers on them (including Stair Girl?). (Note: I think she was just going to help them into their lawn chairs.)
General calls someone and tells that someone to start “stage one brain procedure.” The two techs we keep seeing, along with a few others, begin flicking switches and switching flicks while chattering about it all. They count down from ten and push a button which will “integrate” this stuff.
Dr. Ross activates the cameras but Camera Two doesn’t work. We see that the General’s Techs have Camera Two control. The image is of Redhead sleeping in her lawn chair. Dr. Ross tries other cameras, apparently they only have Stair Girl’s camera. This alarms them less than it ought, I think. Dr. Ross is going to get some shuteye while Recording Guy figures this whole thing out.
The Gen Techs get more camera control, and are going to integrate them in ten…nine…(we get to watch it all happen in real time). There is a lot of tech talk, none of which means anything to me (or the plot, I bet). One of them switches something on Redhead, and she reacts as if shocked; they order this reduced.
Okay, so I’m going to make a stupid guess (perfect for this movie) and say General is going to take over the world with an army of mind-controlled zombies. Well, if he has four of them, that puts him one up on Eros and Tanna.
Redhead meantime has a memory of someone’s suicide. She gets up out of the chair and sees BVG coming toward her. The techs watch this. BVG and Redhead chat about nothing, until she mentions she was thinking about her granddaddy, “somebody wrote a song about my granddaddy once,” and I hope she’s not going to sing it unless it’s Stagger Lee or something.
She goes on to say that someone (granddaddy, maybe, her lawn chair makes a lot of noise as she moves around in it, finally getting out of it) made a lot of money selling “burial insurance” and he bought a mortuary and “a pair of alligator shoes” and he’d go downtown and meet people. She’s really animated telling this story. And she starts singing the song. The techs and General watch her sing. Luckily, we don’t hear the song clearly. Instead, we hear the techs blab more blabbery.
Then we track over to Mustache, and Techs are going to give him a jolt of stuff, and sure enough, he convulses as well, and remembers a war scene, with people getting shot and blown up and fording a hill then dying.
And we cut to Recording Guy, who is doing a bang up job of troubleshooting…by sleeping. A computer teletype terminal starts tying out some stuff, to wit: Enter Question. Awaiting Reply. Reference….CIC NSC 2-5….Subject Number One = Question of Previous Marriage = True or False….
Is your pulse pounding? I hope so, because Recording Guy reads this over and says, “What the—“ but he gets cut off (by the editor) before he can swear.
Instead, we see Stair Girl, being awakened by a tinkling tone. It’s Recording Guy, saying he has a question about the computer but would rather not awaken Dr. Ross to ask it (“he’s sleeping” he adds helpfully). She says go ahead, and he repeats the computer print out, and Stair Girl says it’s about Redhead.
Redhead and BVG have been right on the floor next to Stair Girl listening to all this while the talk is going on, so they’re going to ask her about any “previous marriage.” Redhead says she was never married and she told Recording Guy before.
Well, the printout starts saying that this “does not compute” and that the “subject is lying.” The computer then says that the “subject will not clear until truth is obtained.”
In the E Box, Redhead is pretty upset and worried about what she did to ruin things. She keeps saying she was never married, finally adding, “…it was annulled.” “When something is annulled, it’s like it never happened before,” she adds.
She has quite a performance to go through, still, as she mentions something about her daddy being against the marriage, or for the marriage or something, and then she drops the bit about “the baby.” And how, after the baby, it was too late to be annulled or something. (It’s hard to make out a lot of what she says, not only because she’s upset but because she has a heavy Southern accent.) Apparently, she killed the baby, and when daddy found out, he took a gun to his own head.
Dramatic closeup of Recording Guy’s fist on keyboard. The computer spits out a printout, “Reference….subject number one. Previous marriage….question of….subject is cleared.” Recording Guy is not happy with this revealed truth and crumples the printout in disgust.
But the computer isn’t done yet! It wants to know about Subject Number Two. “Question….Knowledge….Lt. Merriman subject number two answer negative. Does not compute. Subject will not clear until truth is obtained.” Well, that seems a bit more general than “marriage previous” or whatever. But speaking of whatever, let’s see how Mustache reacts.
Well, he yells and makes accusations about brain-washing, but then he confesses to the Reverend that “Merriman…was killed!” He says he didn’t kill him, though.
The Gen Techs are watching all this crap with a great deal of interest. Not me, though.
Anyway, Mustache calls Stair Girl a lady dog (not his term) and BVG tells him to calm down. Well, the music starts up and Mustache says this is the chance he’s been waiting for to put the smackdown on BVG and his pretty face. He gives BVG a punch, but suddenly red lights flash and everyone clutches his or her head as if it is really painful, suddenly.
The two Gen Techs say this is an emergency overload, but it isn’t clear if they’re controlling it or what. They try shutting down some circuits but it doesn’t appear to do any good, so Recording Guy runs down to awaken Dr. Ross. (Suspicious Guard watches him from the shadows.)
In the E Box, Stair Girl says “Biofeedback! Biofeedback!” and she pushes a button and everything is back to being okay. Mustache and BVG are putting the others back into their lawn chairs, so I guess the two of them have patched up their differences. Stair Girl is also awake and on the job. (As he is put into his lawn chair, Reverend says, “Forgive me, oh God, forgive me.”)
In the outer world, Ross asks about oxygen and is told it’s good. It seems everything is good (Suspicious Guard puts his ear against the door), so they’re at a loss, here.
Dr. Ross tells Recording Guy that “there had to be an overload somewhere. [Recording Guy], shake the computer down and see…” He breaks off. “Saxon…I wonder.” Is he suspicious enough to start some kind of story in motion? Let’s all hope so. “I’ll be right back,” he tells Recording Guy.
He gets on the phone with Flunky and (to cut to the chase) says everything is fine where they are, so what is going on, Flunky? Flunky hems and haws.
Back in the lab, one computer shuts its glass door and Recording Guy says, “It’s starting again!” Back at Gen Tech, the two Gen Techs are talking about “Subject Three” and counting down to his big revelation. These guys look like hippies, and hippies are losers, so why are they even around? General tells them to go for a “total brain probe” on this one and says he’ll be right down. We get exciting footage of him going downstairs at his grotesque villa. And he joins the hippy losers, and the camera zooms in on the Reverend.
Yeah, this ought to be good. They count down again, and Rev goes all solarized and grabs his collar, and after a long time, we get some feet walking along a corridor. “You’re not ashamed, are you?” asks a female voice, and Rev says, “Why should I be?”
We see some harlot wrapping a sheet around herself, mentioning about how he’s a Reverend and all, then back to those solarized feet. They seem to be Rev’s feet, at the same time he is talking to the harlot. She thinks it surprising he doesn’t believe in a God that will strike him dead. She keeps taunting him, he keeps insisting he means a “personal” god, while a hand reaches for a doorknob. (We’ve seen this footage before).
Rev insists to the harlot that God doesn’t exist, “so let’s just let it go, okay?” Then we see the same footage hand open Redhead’s door. He undoes the buttons on Redhead’s blouse (and licks his lips), then shoots up in bed, shouting.
The computer printout pops up again, asking this time about Reverend. “Entrance of same into subject ones quarters….molesting of same…true or false.”
Recording Guy and Dr. Ross watch this, thinking they’ll finally find “what’s going on.” But the computer isn’t done! It wants to know about the “adultery question” with one “Margaret Carter” and it insists that the “subject must reply.” Yeah, but if the computer already knows all the answers, why ask?
Who cares? We cut to Reverend defending himself, by saying nobody could know all these things. “A man who dares enter the infinite must be willing to suffer the consequence. God’s wrath shall fall on your heads. You and—“ A shot of Stair Girl. “—your kind.” He goes on to say that man has a right to hide his innermost thoughts from his fellow man, that only God should judge this stuff (or watch it). And he says he wants out, and he smashes the FAIL-SAFE glass.
We get some shots of locks clicking into place. Dr. Ross tells Flunky that he (Flunky) will kill all those folks if the doors are not opened. Flunky tells him this is all classified and Ross doesn’t have clearance. Then he hangs up.
Ross and Recording Guy try to open the doors, while we see the Gen Techs saying that the “computers have total control.”
Inside the E Box, the walls are closing in and no one can stop them. Yeah…that’s one FAIL-SAFE I can tell you. The folks inside chatter about how bad this is and stuff.
Outside, the computer talks about BVG, how he “does not accept fact of death” which sounds very Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge ish. “Subject will not clear until truth is obtained,” says the computer, and for once, the framing is right on the output.
Dr. Ross and Recording Guy are talking about the Brain Machine. “Impulse converter,” Dr. Ross says wisely.
“Actually converts brain impulses into exact pictures of thought…audio and visual. Jesus!”
”Mortality!” says Dr. Ross.
Flunky, who is right there (and I guess gave them this information), says nothing.
”You stupid fools!” Dr. Ross says. “No man, no human ever believes they’re going to die! That’s a question of faith! That’s…that’s the paradox of mankind! No one ever really believes they’re going to die. Don’t you understand?” He rises. “Faith, human faith, to a computer, doesn’t compute!”
”Yes,” Flunky says. “We understand that…now. We made a mistake.”
Cut to the enclosing walls of the E Box. Here, Redhead has just hanged herself, um, somehow. Looks like she has hung herself from her armpits. Well, perhaps that can be fatal. I’ll admit I’m no expert. Reverend insists they get her down.
BVG carries her body so that the cameras can see it. “ROSS!” He shouts. “LOOK!” We see the rope marks on Blonde’s neck. “Look at what you’ve done! You’ve answered one more question…for science. Has it been worth it? Did you learn something? Look at your truth.”
Cut to Phone Lips, and we zoom out and he seems to be Suspicious Guard. He’s on the phone to General who is telling him to “isolate the E Wing” and like that. He’s coming to visit. We get a close up of someone buttoning his military uniform. (I thought it was General but it wasn’t).
Ross goes out of the computer room and runs into some armed military police (CIC is on their sleeves. I thought that meant Commander in Chief). He’s told everyone is confined to the computer lab. He protests that the folks in the E Box are dying, so one of the guards smacks him with a baton. He goes back into the lab.
General goes out to his car. The car drives off. Whew!
In the E Box, Reverend is reciting the 23rd Psalm, while Mustache is going somewhat berserk. Stair Girl calls all this in, in whispers. Recording Guy and Dr. Ross agree that this thing has to be stopped, somehow. Mustache attacks Reverend. Stair Girl tries to stop him, but he flings her away and she hits her head on the desk. BVG strikes Mustache in the back of the head with a pipe, and Mustache collapses. So does Reverend.
Looks like everyone except BVG and Stair Girl is dead. She wakes up and screams when the walls close in on her, and BVG drags her away.
In the control room, Ross lands a punch on Flunky. He then tells BVG that he (BVG) has to break into “the service module. The service module!” BVG starts smashing his pipe against the column in the middle of the room, and pretty soon it has big holes in it.
In the control room, Ross, Flunky and Recording Guy overpower the military police and take their guns, then try to affect some kind of rescue.
In he service module, BVG is trying to deactivate some of the machines he finds there. “You’ll have to kill me before I’ll die,” he promises with determination. He shorts out something. Meanwhile, Ross and Recording Guy reach the same hatchway and open it. BVG and Stair Girl are within, and—you may think this is really stupid—both Ross and Recording Guy go into the chamber as well. And guess what happens!
That’s right, the lid slams shut on all of them. The film flashes red a few times, then there’s an explosion. Watching this on a monitor, Flunky says, “Oh my God,” the same way he might say, “Meatloaf, again?”
The computer prints out another question, this time about BVG, “Question of Mortality.” It types this out again, before saying, “Subject is clear.” I guess this is supposed to be hugely ironic.
General shows up then, Flunky notes how “this” won’t be easy to “cover up.” So General shoots Flunky, not really trying to cover things up I guess.
And we cut to a weather report. This segues to a newsman reading about the electrocution deaths of everyone at the institute at the hands of BVG, who went berserk during “a routine experiment, shouting, ‘I can’t die, I’m immortal. I am God.’”
As the newsman signs off, we see General and Senator watching this. Senator compliments General on his handling of the whole thing, noting that “the machine works, and this is only the beginning. But I suggest you get it out of there, within the next twenty-four hours.” General insists it will be made so, as we see footage of a large truck driving down a dark road. “No matter what happens, I don’t know anything,” Senator adds.
And we get our end credits, over more footage of this truck driving through the night. Well, at least it didn’t say, “The End….OR IS IT?” But I bet it only did that because that would be so fifties, and this film is so seventies, man. So it should have said, “Do you trust those you have chosen to lead you, man?” and ended it that way.
The thing that sinks this from the get-go is the muddled, jumbled story-telling. Late in the game we realize that the Brain Machine is a mind-reading machine, that no secrets are safe from it. Hence, when it is placed in charge of Dr. Ross’s “Truth” experiment, it finds overlooked (I’ll say) details and complains about not being told the truth.
But good grief, why on earth would these four people volunteer for an experiment like this if they all had things to hide? Yes, I suppose we all have things to hide, but then, we’re not experimental subjects (as far as we know). This is such a massive plot hole that it just can’t be overlooked.
Other than that, it mainly suffers from that irritating syndrome whereby a mystery can’t just be presented, step by step; no, it has to be done so confusingly, with so many elements jumbled together in a heap and presented as if they were being drawn out of a garbage bag, that no viewer has a chance to figure out what’s even going on in front of him, much less the solution to any mysterious goings on. Good grief, how’s that for a sentence! And people say I can’t write! The refusal to play fair by the mystery rules is can make your film intriguing, like a David Lynch film, but director Joy Houck doesn’t have Lynch’s ability or conviction in that ability. So here you have what you usually have: a jumbled mess that doesn’t engage a viewer enough to try to make sense of it. I imagine most people tuning into something called “The Brain Machine” are going to be tuning out again after ten or fifteen minutes simply because their need for a story is going to be constantly frustrated. And those people are making the right decision.
This is a boring film about people we don’t care about doing things that are too stupid to try and figure out. Some of the acting isn’t bad, and some of the photography is rather nice as well. I honestly can’t think of anything to really recommend it, except for the fact that it’s never painful to watch like some other movies reviewed here. “Well, it isn’t painful.” Really makes you want to run out and grab a copy, huh?
One thing I hadn’t spotted is that Thomas Hal Philips, who plays the General, also contributed to the screenplay. Since the General’s plot was muddled, confusing and made no real sense, well, I guess we could call this “typecasting.”
What else? Well, this is a political science-fiction thriller made in 1977. So, we have the obligatory 70’s “political science fiction thriller” themes, that the government is always evil and up to no good (and has atrocious taste); people who are religious are always hypocrites; people who are scientists are very good in their narrow way, and can be good people (if a little cold) but they never see the big picture; and no one gets out alive and it will all be covered up. We even had the ecology/overpopulation bit, though how that related to “total truth” I couldn’t quite catch. I guess if people are totally honest with each other, overpopulation won’t be all that bad. Or something.
There are many better uses to which you can put your brain. Skip this one.