Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Twisted Brain

Twisted BrainCinema Monolith: 4/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 5.2/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: BOMB

Released in March, 1974
Rated PG
85 minutes

Directed by Larry N. Stouffer

Written by J.D. Feigelson (as Jake Fowler)

Cast: Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik, John Niland, Joy Hash, Jeff Alexander, Mike McHenry, Nick Felix, Charles Mann, Mean Joe Greene, Abner Haynes, Chuck Beatty, Calvin Hill, D.D Lewis, Craig Morton, Billy Truax, Mr Mumps

To kick off my inaugural post over at the new Talking Horror movie review site, I thought I’d not only grace you with a cheesy horror film that actually has the word ‘horror’ in its title, but one that remains one of my favorite ‘best worst’ films of all time, some thirty-odd years after I first watched it on a late-night horror show, and forty years after it was first released to theaters. That film of course is Horror High, better known to many—namely, my brother and I—by its more imaginative television title, Twisted Brain.

Part slasher film, part ABC Afterschool Special, and part eight minutes of show-stopping hell if you’re stuck watching the TV cut, Twisted Brain tells the story of Vernon Potts, a typical high school science geek who for whatever reason has drawn the ire of everyone around him, from his uncaring father to his crotchety crone of an English teacher, right on down the line to his P.E. coach, a dickhead jock, and even the school’s scumbag janitor. One night, after one of his lab experiments goes inexplicably haywire, Vernon is forced to drink his own toxic elixir, which transforms him into a disheveled man-beast who immediately seeks demented revenge on all who’ve wronged him.

For a low-budget slasher flick filmed in Irving, Texas, directed by a man who would never direct again, and starring two actors from Battle for the Planet of the Apes as well as several stars of the Dallas Cowboys football team, the film still offered quite a bit of twisted fun. Especially if you’re an unabashed fan of such unbridled nonsense, and can ignore both the low-end production value—Vernon’s ‘transformation’ looked nothing more than a refusal by actor Pat Cardi to shave for a week—and the restrictions of its tame PG rating. And like the good-vs-evil conflict in the classic Jekyll and Hyde story that the film so obviously borrowed from, Twisted Brain had its good and bad sides to it as well.

On the good side, there was the film’s bountiful camp value, but I was also taken by the sweet, homespun friendship and romance that developed between Vernon and fellow classmate Robin, a cute ginger-haired girl who seemed to genuinely care for this nerdy doof, and saw him for the decent guy he really was. Rosie Holotik, as Robin, was quite ingratiating I thought, and her scenes with Cardi were not only charming, but sincere. Also worth the price of admission were the uneasy interactions between Cardi and the no-nonsense police lieutenant played by Austin Stoker, who seemed to have a funkadelic soundtrack following him wherever he went.

As for the bad, keep in mind it is a cheesy drive-in horror film, so of course there’s a level of bargain-basement filmmaking to be tolerated at every turn. Second-time director Larry N. Stouffer had his moments, delivering a few inspired shots and foreshadowing, but for the most part his camerawork was strictly routine. The same could be said for J.D. Feigelson’s screenplay, although I must admit some lines of dialogue (and the manner in which they were delivered) were truly priceless, and had me laughing out loud with their straight-faced audacity. And using the term ‘bad’ in a different sense, I’d say the supporting characters were as awful as they come; what a rotten collection of ill-tempered and abusive people! No wonder Vernon felt the need to murder these clods…if I were in his shoes, I would’ve done the same thing, potion or no potion.

As I hinted to earlier, there are two versions of the film that exist: the theatrical Horror High release, and the toned-down variation that later played on local television, re-titled Twisted Brain. By all means, it’s the theatrical cut you want to search out; besides retaining some prime moments of simple-but-effective gore for its key scenes, Horror High trumps its small-screen doppelgänger by NOT including the most crippling, ill-conceived filler material you’ll find anywhere.

Yes, I’m talking about the aforementioned eight minutes of hell, the infamous made-for-TV ‘absentee father’ sequence, where a few moments of mild bloodshed and dismemberment were replaced with domestic scenes spotlighting Vernon’s dad, that had nothing at all to do with the story at hand! These scenes were filmed after the fact, and featured the president of Crown International Pictures as Mr. Potts, who’s involved in such blood-curdling moments as a poolside chat with his girlfriend, gardening, a scenic drive, and talking to a co-worker on the phone. Basically, this intrusive material did nothing but stop the film dead in its tracks, and will have you sleeping soundly in a matter of seconds.

So what is it about this goofy little horror movie that keeps me coming back to it over and over again? The revenge theme? The romance angle? The mutant guinea pig named Mr Mumps? I’d say it’s definitely the latter, along with everything else that makes schlock cinema so much fun. Yes, it’s a bad film, but it’s an entertaining bad film, and when you’re an aficionado of such things, that’s all that really matters. So yeah, cheesy horror fans, I wholeheartedly recommend you check this one out. And remember, please use caution when working around classroom paper cutters. And angry lab animals.  (4/10)

Twisted Brain - photo

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4 comments on “Twisted Brain

  1. Sun City Doug
    11/13/14

    After reading your review, this sounds like a movie that I would really like to see !! I might have to check availability at Amazon. Revenge movies are one of my favorites. Thanks Todd !!

    • Todd Benefiel
      11/13/14

      I can tell you right now, Amazon availability is for the birds. The DVD is now out of print, and costs $32 and up through private sellers; I have a copy reserved at Zia Records, if a used one ever comes in. Whenever I see you next, you can borrow my home-burned DVD if you like…and yes, luckily for you it’s the ‘eight minutes of hell’ version! Thanks for stopping by, Doug!

  2. Wicker Ratan
    4/12/17

    Although it has been a few years since this review was posted I only yesterday discovered it. Thank you Todd for an interesting take on this classic that has been a big favorite of mine for a long time. Even I learned a couple of intriguing side notes from your review that I was otherwise unaware of.

    I wholeheartedly agree with many of your observations and felt the need to resurrect this seemingly dead discussion because I liked the sentimental aspect of your thoughts very much. They mirror my own. I also saw this film first on television as Twisted Brain, late at night, and fell in love…from the very first echo of “Vernon’s Theme” by Don Hulette it was like I achieved a sort of nirvana that seldom gets induced it that particular way. Drive-In Massacre being a similar example.

    I guess it is the atmosphere and unique combination of budgetary restrictions, stereotyped / exaggerated acting, music/ overzealous stings, and a foreshadow of what would later be perfected into the grindhouse genre of horror. This film epitomized something that should be seen as an unintentional but important moment…nothing like this can be purposely duplicated with all its sincerity, no matter how hard modern horror makers try to lure the adult children of the 70’s into movie houses with failed attempts at rekindling our youth. From that perspective, Twisted Brain / Horror High is priceless gold!

    I find that this film never gets a fair shake from critics, bloggers and such, for the simple reason that it just doesn’t measure up to what even self proclaimed “horror fanatics” see as relevant and widely accepted criteria for greatness. Because although many people can usually discern particular genre’s and sub-genre’s, the recognition of style (and its perceived lack of) is seldom denoted from the point of view of what was important that the film aimed to achieve at that time…what its audience was, its intention, and ultimately its presentation of subject matter. Twisted Brain / Horror High is not going to be for everyone, and you may wonder why I defend this film the way I do…on the surface its shallow, ill-conceived, cheap, corny, etc, etc. But that’s just it…underestimated!

    Like you said Todd, there IS something to be had here…maybe not as obvious as a Victor Salva or Wan film, but then again nobody is filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against it either, or petitioning for victim’s rights. Because it’s original and unburdened with culpability…you can relax and have fun here in this world, and leave your brain at the door. The way movies were intended in the schlock horror realm.

    So if you are a “horror fanatic” but see little else but unknown bad actors, poor camera work, and other deficiencies that you would rather think are better left forgotten, I might point out that even a considered turd like Twisted Brain (even with its 8 agonizing minutes of ‘filler’) has its impact and connection to greatness…such as police Lieutenant Bozeman (Austin Stoker), who master horror director John Carpenter cast only two years later in his legendary film Assault On Precinct 13, as the curiously similar Ethan Bishop. Coincidence?

    Thanks again Todd, for writing this and motivating me to write in…this was a lot of fun and brought back some great memories. By the way, some really smart fan editor may want to consider piecing Twisted Brain (with its fluff footage and everything) along with the gore and what not from Horror High, and releasing it! The ultimate edition! Under the much better title of TWISTED BRAIN, of course 🙂

    Long live the “Creeper”…

    ~Wicker Ratan

    • Todd B
      4/18/17

      Hey, thanks for such an in-depth comment on a forgotten review! It’s good to know that someone out there loves this movie as much as my brother and I do…and I agree, you just need to leave your (twisted) brain at the door and enjoy it for what it is: an entertainingly low-grade horror movie made with a lot of heart. I’m still hoping to pick up Code Red’s DVD of the film, which unfortunately is now out of print: the original theatrical cut, widescreen, with a few nice extras (including that ‘absent father’ sequence). As of right now, I think that’s about as close as we’re going to get to an Ultimate Edition! And yes, long live the Creeper…AND Mr. Mumps!

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