Seven years before The Wachowskis turned moviegoer brains into mush, Steve Barnett and company tried to warp the minds of audiences with a similar premise in 'Mindwarp.' Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the same writing team behind David Fincher's 'The Game' and McG's 'Terminator Salvation' (but also responsible for 'Catwoman'), the plot also borrows ideas — or rather takes inspiration — from 'The Road Warrior,' 'The Hills Have Eyes' and 'A Boy and His Dog.' It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where most of Earth is a desolate wasteland. The last remaining humans sleep away their lives in a computer simulation, dreaming a happier, ignorance-inducing existence for themselves.
It's in this proto-'Matrix' fantasy that we meet Judy (Marta Martin), a pre-Neo type who resists the program and refuses to live out her days locked in a sealed room, continuously connected via a plug in the back of her head. With about the same acting range as Keanu Reeves, Martin expresses cabin-fever frustration by doing pushups, listening to cassette tapes (Did I mention this takes place in the somewhat distant future!) and angrily throwing pistachio ice cream at the wall. During a fight with mom, we also learn dad's gone missing, which means that little tidbit will surely come up again later. In fact, so much of the story, characters and dialogue feels scripted that it's unfortunately easy to predict where it's all going.
After Judy's unintentionally funny tantrum with mom, she's taken before the Architect . . . ur, I mean, the System Operator of Infinisynth who speaks in the same quasi-philosophical monotone. After a couple minutes, they arrive at the obvious solution for her resistance to the virtual program; she's permanently unplugged from the system, wrapped in white sheet and exiled to the real world, which is an endless and lifeless desert landscape. "Welcome to the desert of the real" is what you would hear if we were watching a better executed movie. Must admit, the similarities are a bit uncanny, except in this version, our heroine is actually not a heroine poised to bring down the system. Rather, it's a punishment for her refusal, which we can guess fairly quickly will humble her to better appreciate and eventually accept virtual reality as the path for happiness. And that's not a spoiler; it really is that easy to figure out and see the conclusion coming from a mile away.
Anyhow, Judy soon finds herself captured by a pair of mutated cannibals dressed in animal hides and driving an emissions-spewing tractor. But within a few minutes, a normal-looking man named Stover (the usually more entertaining Bruce Campbell) comes to the rescue with his makeshift weapons. It's essentially Mad Max meets Wes Craven, but it then spirals into L.Q. Jones territory when Stover and Judy are captured by the Crawlers — the name given to the mutated cannibals because they survive underground, beneath garbage dump sites. This is also where those earlier tidbits are finally revisited and used as some type of moral quandary about survival and civilization, or some such nonsense.
As interesting as these scenes might actually be — the stage design, make-up and special effects are admittedly far more excellent than would be expected from a limited, independent production — the overacting and dialogue are a tad on the corny side. Barnett's direction fails to make any confrontation the least bit exciting or thrilling; there's no sense of danger, especially since we're expecting and ticking down the minutes for that inevitable, supposedly "mind-warping" twist at the end. The only reason for the movie's continued interest is its notoriety as the first and one of three films produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films. Beyond that 'Mindwarp' isn't the mind-bending experience it thinks itself to be.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mindwarp' comes to Blu-ray as a Limited Edition release courtesy of Twilight Time. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed in the standard blue keepcase accompanied by a six-page, color-photo booklet with an interesting essay written by screenwriter Julie Kirgo. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static menu with the usual options.
The independent sci-fi horror flick warps and disfigures on Blu-ray with a strong and generally pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Considering its low-budget origins, the picture quality is more than satisfying and better than initially expected. It's a tad on the soft side, yet fine lines and objects are nicely detailed with decent visible texture in the cast, costumes and stage design. Contrast is rather average, but it's consistent from beginning to end with crisp, brilliant whites throughout. Black levels are also stable and accurate with good shadow details during poorly-lit interiors, of which there are many. Primaries are bold while secondary hues are cleanly rendered. The 1.85:1 image is awash with a thin layer of grain, giving the high-def transfer an appreciable film-like quality.
Twilight also brings the movie to Blu-ray with a pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack, and it's on par with the video, all things considered. The soundstage is surprisingly wide and welcoming with excellent channel separation that's well-balanced and quite active. Background noises and atmospherics are delivered with splendid and convincing off-screen clarity, giving the underground scenes with the Crawlers an engaging presence and a great sense of space. Dynamic range is never pushed very far, but it's clean and precise. However, low bass is a bit lacking, flat and almost non-existent. Vocals are very well-prioritized in the center, making this an enjoyable lossless mix.
There are no special features.
Twilight Time brings 'Mindwarp,' the first and one of three films produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, to Blu-ray. Sadly, that is one of very few reasons for the movie's notoriety because on its own, the Bruce Campbell starrer is pretty shallow and a bit on the boring side. The Blu-ray arrives with a strong and mostly good audio and video presentation, but the bare-bones release will only likely attract Fangoria devotees, Campbell fans, and the most daringly curious amongst us.