Fangoria Magazine is important to me. I’ve been reading it since some time in the ’80s. It covered not only all the great horror movies that have come out during all those years, but also the less great ones. I like that you could read detailed coverage of, like, DOLLY DEAREST or some shit when it came out. I have boxes of old issues and sometimes I’ll remember to go back and see their interviews about, say, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE, or something and find more details than I could find browsing the internet. It’s great.
Back when people read magazines and loved horror movies enough to read about how they were made, Fangoria had enough money to try crossing over and making some movies of their own, including MINDWARP. To be honest I don’t remember ever hearing of it until I came across it recently on a nice Twilight Time blu-ray. I remember Fangoria Films as a distributor of low budget movies (don’t think I ever watched any of them) but I didn’t realize that before that they had tried to finance one movie per year, starting with this in 1990 (not released until ’92 though), followed by CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (vampire movie from HELLRAISER II director Tony Randel) and SEVERED TIES (horror comedy with Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Garrett Morris in the cast).
MINDWARP has some of the things you’d expect from that imprimatur: young, handsome Bruce Campbell in the lead (his movie before ARMY OF DARKNESS), Angus Scrimm as the villain (his movie after SUBSPECIES), extensive makeup effects by KNB EFX Group. On the other hand, it’s not a straight horror movie at all, it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. In fact, early in the movie, after the heroes fell through a waterslide type chute as in all ’80s adventure movies (and later – see TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY), I was thinking it was a low budget independent version of those Spielberg-produced, pre-PG-13 not-too-scary-for-big-kids type of movies. But then a mutant cannibal got his stomach slit open and his intestines dumped out onto another mutant cannibal’s face, and I decided not to recommend it for birthday parties.
Before it even gets into all that, believe it or not, it’s a virtual reality movie. Now virtual reality is that thing that your gamer friend tries to get you to come over to his apartment to try out and you’re like but wait, how do you walk though and he says well there are two ways, but one of them my living room isn’t big enough for and the other one makes you throw up, and you say well anyway I’ll see you later. But back then it was something different, something futuristic and inaccessible and also exciting. According to LAWNMOWER MAN you will use it to simulate fucking, which is 100% accurate, but also that you will combine bodies and turn into a metallic butterfly if I remember right. Not sure if we have that yet.
Anyway, the movie starts at a sterile underground facility called Infinisynth, where people plug into machines and live in dream worlds. Judy (Marta Alicia, “Medical Technician” in STAR TREK ) yearns for freedom away from this artificial paradise, and decides to pull a THX 1138 and get the fuck out of there. But as in THE MATRIX, the real world is harsher than expected. She walks right out of a clean sci-fi dystopia movie into a dirty post-apocalyptic one.
Making it to the surface, she’s accosted by a nomad with sort of a wasteland fur trapper look. But underneath all those layers and goggles and shit he turns out to be Stover (Campbell). He takes her back to her home and they engage in adult activities, but then the place is attacked by these mutants and they’re dragged to separate parts of a mine.
Judy is racked up in a chamber and there’s a little girl there who’s getting her ready for… well, there’s no nice way of saying it. Breeding. But she notices an Infinisynth symbol on the girl, like maybe she was kidnapped from there, talks to her about it and makes a connection with her. The boss lady is not as sympathetic.
I felt like I knew where it was going until the leader decided to make an example out of the girl by dumping her headfirst down a chute with blades all over it. She rolls into a machine that grinds her up, and then her blood sprays out of a drinking fountain and a sink, where mutants scoop it up in skulls and drink it. Which I’m against. But in my opinion any time that happens in a movie you know all bets are off.
Then they have to separately try to escape their captors and meet up and lead a revolution or at least make it to the surface and then there will be some kind of mindbending twist or mindwarping curveball or whatever. It’s kind of sloppy but it feels very ambitious and easy to root for. The underground sets are much more cramped than the hellish amusement park in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, but they have a similar style and level of detail. And there’s some pretty good action involving riding on a meat hook that works like a zipline, stuff like that.
Well, I guess Fangoria’s Mindwarp didn’t become their National Lampoon’s Animal House. But it’s worth checking out.
Director Steve Barnett had directed HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD II. He followed this with MISSION OF JUSTICE (something of a DTV action classic) and SCANNER COP II. He’s now an executive supervising post-production mostly on animated or effects heavy movies. The screenplay is by Henry Dominick, but that’s actually a pseudonym for John Brancato and Michael Ferris. They went on to write THE NET, THE GAME, TERMINATOR 3–4, CATWOMAN and SURROGATES.
I still have a subscription to Fangoria, but they haven’t published an issue in quite some time. I believe the one that was advertised but never came out had VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN on the cover, to give you an idea. They had to replace their editor and try some other cost-cutting measures, but nothing has shown up in my mailbox. I’m sure it’s hard to keep any print magazine solvent these days, but Fangoria is so iconic, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Like the people of Infinisynth, they have resorted to re-creating what once was in virtual reality (digital only issues), but here’s hoping they figure out a way to survive on the surface.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.