Movie Review - Mindwarp
With The Matrix Resurrections having come and gone from Theaters (mostly)…and maybe HBO Max briefly…we turn our attention to a pre-Matrix film that held a similar plot device, humans plugging their mind into machines and living vicariously through a simulation, but without the Trans allegory. In fact, let’s replace that with a healthy dose of cannibalism and just a dash of incest.
Ah, yes, Mindwarp, known primarily among Drive-In Mutants for starring horror legends Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm and for being funded by Fangoria Films. And, having come out straight-to-video in 1992, seven years before the Wachowskis unleashed The Matrix to cinemas world-wide, one could surely argue that there might have been some influence on that latter film.
In a world [Cue the Don LaFontaine voice. – Ed.] where humanity has destroyed the environment, forcing those not mutated by this to seek shelter in cities where the only way to pass the time is to plug in to a synthetic reality, comes a woman asking the age old question ‘Is there nothing more?’ Forced out of Inworld, Judy must now wander the barren wilderness of this irradiated Earth, avoiding cannibal mutants and asking herself if there are any normal people left on the outside living lives of meaning and substance.
Okay, so let’s break down this future world: we’ve got the domed cities of Inworld, where “Dreamers” spend their days plugged into the Infinisynth computer living out fantasy-based lives. [Lives based on their fantasies, not lives rooted in mages, barbarians, dragons and other such rubbish. – Ed.] Then there’s the wastelands outside, some of which actually flourish while others are so radioactive as to be called “Death Zones” by the Crawlers…denizens of this outside world who have become horribly mutated by the radiation and take their food in any way, shape or form that it comes. Even if it means their own kind.
Enter our protagonist, Judy, who has two driving forces: she wants to lead an actual life, not just one of perpetual fantasy interrupted by the occasional “food” break (and by that I mean some kind of green goop) and the resultant bathroom breaks and two, she longs to know the fate of her father who had disappeared at some point prior to the film’s start. Our starting point here isn’t too terribly original, girl pitches fit against her mother, goes into mom’s fantasy to continue the conversation and, whoops, accidently kills mom. Of course, you know the rules, whether it’s Nightmare on Elm Street or The Matrix, die in the dream/simulation, die in real life. Welp, that ends up getting Judy banished to the outside world where she can live her ambitions. Here, she’s discovered by Stover, played by the ever reliable Campbell, who brings in a third faction from the two we already discussed, an Outworlder…unmuated humans that live outside the domed cities. However, they prove to be not much of a faction in this movie as Stover is pretty convinced he’s the last, ever since the death of his wife.
You can imagine where the story goes from here. Sure, it’s not terribly original but I would argue that the performances help to save it as well as the very ‘Temple of Doom’ vibe from the Underworld of the Crawlers. Marta Alicia is fine as our heroine Judy. Sure, she gets a little annoying in the beginning, but there’s really no way any actress could escape that, it’s what the role calls for. By the time she’s ready to take the role of the film’s protagonist she proves worthy of cheering for, especially when the plot’s final couple of twists come into play. Bruce Campbell here is relegated mainly to a supporting role and more of a straight-man than anything else. While this strips him of his usual charm, being able to ham it up in front of the camera, he does the heroic type well…as someone with the magnitude of his chin should! Of course, we’d be remiss to leave out Angus Scrimm’s role as the Seer of the Crawlers, effectively their ruler. It’s a part that requires multiple changes in tone and he manages to do so with a great manic energy that makes him equal parts sympathetic and utterly revolting.
While certainly not breaking any new ground nor really being all that much of a standout film, Mindwarp does earn points for tackling Cyberpunk material before the big studios would get their hands on it in 1995 with such films as Johnny Mnemonic or Strange Days and of course 1999’s landmark The Matrix. In addition, we get two solid performances from known horror actors outside of their usual franchises, Evil Dead for Bruce and Phantasm for Angus. And at 91 minutes, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. Other reviews have called it the epitome of the early 90s straight-to-video fare and while I can’t really argue against that, I can’t see where that’s a liability here either. It IS straight-to-video fare…but even within that categorization, there are examples of where it’s well done and examples where it’s poorly done. Examples of the former tend to work their way into the Drive-In Mutant’s heart and while not necessarily becoming favorites are usually always good for a quick watch and a fun time. Examples of the latter can either be cinematic torture or cases where you try to prove your Iron Mutant status. For me, Mindwarp falls in the first category. Campbell and Scrimm end up elevating this film to a cut above and as such make it worth a spin.
Not terribly original yet elevated by good performances from B-Movie stalwarts and short enough to not overstay its welcome, Mindwarp proves to be a fun little diversion, earning our Happy Cat rating.