Some day I gotta come up with a name for this certain style of movie I like, a movie that is really fuckin dumb, but in a good way. It manages to be so spectacular, almost innovative in its level of stupidity that it is what the young people now and in the ’80s called “awesome.” I’m not talking a dumb comedy like HOW HIGH, I’m talking about a movie that as far as anyone knows is supposed to be serious. One really good example is DEEP BLUE SEA, Renny Harlin’s movie about super intelligent sharks. That takes the genre to its highest levels because there are so many things that play with the audience’s expectations that it is undeniably clever, almost brilliant. And at the same time, so fuckin dumb. A movie where a girl has to take her scuba suit off and stand on top of it so as not to get electrocuted. Because of the super intelligent sharks. That’s the best, when it’s so smart and so dumb that you can’t even tell which is which anymore.

Well this is not that good but it is another dumb movie by the same director. I think maybe the pressure of doing a sequel to DIE HARD was too much for Renny Harlin to take, it damaged his brain and he’s been mushy ever since. MINDHUNTERS isn’t as good as DEEP BLUE SEA but it’s worthwhile if you’re into that type of stupid shit, like I am. It has Val Kilmer, Christian Slater and of course DEEP BLUE SEA’s LL Cool J in the cast but it sat on the shelf for a couple years. It actually came out on DVD in Russia a long time before it came out in american theaters. So maybe the Russians could tell me what to call this genre.

MindhuntersHere’s the premise: a group of hotshot students trying to become FBI profilers must face their final test – they are sent to a remote island to track a fictional serial killer. But then somebody starts killing them for real one by one in elaborate show offy ways.

Even the very premise of this movie makes no god damn sense. How could anybody learn anything about profiling from a hypothetical killer? All that means is the teacher (Val Kilmer, ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) made up a story and the students guessed it right. Maybe it would have some value if he could base it on a real killer, but then if these were really the top students they would probaly know about all the famous cases, wouldn’t they?

Then even if there was some value to it, how exactly would they have done this exercise on the island if they hadn’t been rudely interupted by a real killer? The island has a fake town of empty buildings filled with mannequins covered in worms and maggots. What are they supposed to do, interview the mannequins to see if they saw any suspicious mannequins in the area? Narrow it down to a few suspects and then interview their neighbor and relative mannequins? Maybe they could do an autopsy of the dead mannequin they find hanging up on hooks. This guy thinks he’s Jack the Ripper. The victim’s internal organs have all been removed, she’s completely hollowed out. Either that or because it’s a mannequin it already was hollow. I’m not sure.

Of course the teacher, Val Kilmer, is an eccentric genius or something. Alot of the old guard there don’t believe in his methods. Alot of them think he’s crazy. The reason we know this is because of the part at the beginning where he says, “Alot of the old guard here don’t believe in my methods. Alot of them think I’m crazy.” I’m guessing somebody read the script and pointed out that the method of testing made no god damn sense so they went back and added that line. Just like the part where they point out that “foreign nationals” aren’t allowed in the FBI, so Val Kilmer has to half explain that the british guy is “American on the inside.” It would be too hard to rewrite it so he’s an american, so they just threw that line in there and started filming. No time for rewrites, the Russian video market awaits!

You already know you’re in for some serious stupid bullshit in the opening scene when the two leads, some lady and Christian Slater, are doing an investigation and they stumble across the home of a serial killer. Movies like to fetishize serial killers and give them these stupid gimmicks and forced atmosphere that makes it all real hard to swallow. This particular killer lays it on extra thick. Inside the house you got:

  1. maybe a dozen rotted, dead animals hanging from the ceiling on strings attracting flies
  2. a ballerina music box playing a lullaby
  3. a birthday cake with a slice cut out and lit candles!

Number three was the winner for me, I was ready to love the movie at this point. I think maybe it was some kind of reference to the slasher movie HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, but more likely just some random shit that makes no sense. What definitely makes no sense is that all this was not even real, it was an exercise set up by Val Kilmer. No wonder the old guard don’t like him if he’s going around hanging dead cats on strings and shit. I mean what exactly possessed him to whip up a birthday cake for this one? What convinced him that was the crowning touch needed for his students? As soon as their car pulled up did he run and light the candles and if so, did he then run away giggling?

Probaly the biggest laugh in the movie comes early on, when Christian Slater becomes the first guy to bite it. He is the victim of a trail of dominos that sets off a contraption like the one Pee Wee Herman used to make his breakfast. I recently saw FINAL DESTINATION 2, so this is the second movie I’ve seen in a row where it seems like the heroes are being haunted by the ghost of Rube Goldberg. Anyway, Christian Slater gets sprayed by some kind of liquid nitrogen and in about 5 seconds his legs turn to solid ice and break off. He falls apart and shatters on the ground. I rewound it twice.

The movie could definitely be improved by more ridiculous shit like that, but there’s a good amount to go around. LL kicks holes in the walls and climbs around to avoid a water/electricity booby trap. Val Kilmer gets hung up by hooks HELLRAISER style, and then controlled like a marionette. At the end there’s a gunfight underwater. At one point it seems like they ran out of good deaths so they just have a bunch of spears fly out of who knows where and impale a guy.

LL gets both the best bad line and the best good line, and I’m gonna tell you both of them.

  1. “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. Who’s the next motherfucker to go?”
  2. “I guess we found out his weakness. Bullets.”

It’s a good thing nobody gives a shit about the ending to MINDHUNTERS, because I’m about to give some of it away. LL gives more support to my theory that rappers cannot be killed in horror movies or thrillers (the one exception being Redman in SEED OF CHUCKY). In DEEP BLUE SEA, LL seemed destined to be the first guy to go, and yet he ended up escaping the sharks about five times more than any white person in the movie, and making it to the end. In HALLOWEEN H20 he was shot and appeared to be dead but showed up alive to save the day at the end. In HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, LL’s fellow rapper-actor Busta Rhymes is stabbed and appears to be dead but shows up alive to save the day in the end. And in MINDHUNTERS, LL is hit on the head with a fire extinguisher and appears to be dead but shows up alive to save the day at the end. Don’t call it a comeback. The new ground that’s broken here is there’s a climactic scene where the audience is supposed to think LL is the killer. I feel that it is cheating though because the way they convince the audience is by having LL chase after the main woman and say menacing things to her, acting evil. When he turns out not to be evil, he never explains why he was being such a weirdo earlier, and nobody asks.

This is not a prime example of the enjoyable stupid bullshit genre, it’s only a decent one. But we could have another one on the level of DEEP BLUE SEA coming our way before we know it. Renny Harlin is currently planning a movie about werewolves on the moon.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2006 at 12:00 am and is filed under Action, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Mindhunters”

  1. Watched it last night on TV. Really enjoyable shit (Despite the several dead cats, which is a no-go in my book) and the final gunfight is one of the most hilarious things I ever saw in a movie!

  2. I saw this gem in the theaters and guess who I saw on the way out… LL himself.

    He was standing in a corner facing the wall, obviously trying to be undercover style, but there was no mistaking him. I’ve seen that bastard at the movies, at Benihannas, at the gym, all over.

    But seeing him after just watching Mindhunters gave me a whole new perspective.

  3. In the spirit of today’s new A-Z of underrated horror films, I’ll state that this is my choice for most underrated horror movie of the decade. I love love love MINDHUNTERS, haters be damned. I laughed & smiled the whole way through, and I was shocked at how interested I was in the whodunit, or the ‘whothefuckisdoingallthis’, aspect of the plot. There’s a really great, superviolent fight sequence at the end, too.

    One of the little joys in my life is forcing new friends to watch MINDHUNTERS and vicariously reliving the thrill of first seeing the liquid nitrogen trap and hearing LL’s great one-liners.


  4. Holy fucking shit that was a dumb movie. Ridiculous, fun, but freakin’ GOD that was stupid.

    I like that the professor didn’t turn out to be the killer (after they were so obviously pimping him for the role for much of the film) but I thought the real killer should’ve been the red-herring, not the person who it actually was. Oh well, I did think it was the professor pretty much all the way through, so props for fooling me I guess.

  5. No, *you’re* stupid!

  6. Speaking of stupidity, I just saw SCREAM 4, aka SCRE4M. My head hurts from so much willful suspension of disbelief, but I suppose this kind of script becoming a movie someday was inevitable.

    I’m sure Vern’s review will be epic. No pressure, bud. Vern probably, no, he definitely deserves a cut of my ticket price since I saw SCRE4M opening day solely for the purpose of being able to discuss it with the horror geeks who inhabit these parts.

    I expect people to call it lazy, masturbatory, indulgently tongue-in-cheek, et cetera, but the Robert Rodriguez shout out made me laugh, the Bruce Willis reference made me smile, and the ending almost made me not regret paying money to see it.

  7. First bad sign of “Scream 4”: that they call it “Scre4m”. Uuuuuuuuuuuuh…

    I’m still going to see it, come what may. Let’s PLEASE not spoil this one in these columns until it’s left the cinemas so I don’t have to vet every single freakin’ post before reading it in any depth!

  8. First bad sign was casting that one guy as a cop, you know, the guy who tries but is never funny, I think he played a techie in TRANSFORMERS.

    I dare people to try to say MINDHUNTERS isn’t superior to SCREfourM in every way.

    Paul, I’ll be interested to hear your analysis of the music & sound cues in this one. When does Wales get it?

  9. Mindhunters or Scream 4? I’m going to see the latter next week – haven’t seen it yet. I love the scoring of (at least the first two) Scream movies, although #2 loses points for ruthlessly purloining an entire song from “Broken Arrow”. Although it is a really, really good song.

    Mindhunters – is good for most of the time, but the fight near the end gets some really, really atrocious scoring. It’s as though for the rest of the movie, which is cerebral in tone (hey, I said TONE) they use standard but workable horror cues, but then they get an ACTUAL FIGHT and the musical score-writer takes it as a personal challenge to throw as much shit in there as possible. So you get an orchestra, a heavy metal guitar, a fucking choir, even some duelling saxophones; hell, at one point I could swear I heard some guy banging two halves of a coconut together.

  10. Actually “Mindhunters” loses points for lack of subtlety. People still don’t “get” why Herrmann was the master, and it wasn’t just those “off” chords that he loved in movies like “Psycho” and “Vertigo”. (Yeah, I know I said “Vertigo” is the most over-rated movie ever, but I gotta give props to the one thing that’s outstanding about it, the soundtrack.) Herrmann was SUBTLE. He knew how to jangle your nerves without ever making what he was doing sound intrusive enough to take away from, instead of add to, the atmosphere of a film.

    Anyway, “Mindhunters”. A movie, incidentally, that shares an almost-identical denouement with “I Still Know what you did last Summer”. Two people sit down, exhausted; they talk; and then, suddenly, one of them realises that the other is a ruthless killer. Let us examine how these two movies score their denouements, in as spoiler-free a way as I can manage.


    “ISKWYDLS” first. So Our Heroine Julie James has sat down with the killer and is examining him/her for wounds. Music is quiet, unobtrusive, mostly ambient sounds of the rainstorm outside. She goes: “Can’t… find… a wound.” Ambient sounds mute. Killer replies: “That’s because it’s not my blood.” Focus on the killer’s face, with a well-timed beat provided, unfortunately, by a distant thunderclap.

    (“Unfortunately” because the thunderclap is way too cliche’d. I’d prefer something like the beats at the very start of “Batman Begins”. Same edge, less cliche. Still, if there’s any one thing you can say about this movie, it’s that it’s cliche’d. So let’s continue…)

    As the low bass note of apprehension comes in, Julie gives a perfect “oh shit, I’m fucked” pronunciation of: “…what?” that proves once and for all that Jennifer Love Hewitt is more than just a pretty face and a pair of boobs. Killer repeats in his/her best sinister voice: “It’s not my blood, Julie”. Cue the ghostly eerie high-voiced wail and equally eerie strings. This continues through the “What’s your favorite radio station?” bit. It’s not until the killer literally pounces on Julie – in a way that I think is supposed to resemble a wild predatory wolf, but to me bears an unfortunate resemblance to Bambi jumping over the stream – that you’re hit with the well-timed WHAM! of massive discordant string and brass beat.

    As ridiculous and as cliche’d as this scene is – the killer suddenly becoming an animal, the rain, the thunderstorm, the final girl realising too late what kind of a trap she’s in – the score does a good deal to make it, if not quite believable, then at least a little scarier / less absurd than it otherwise would’ve been. Now compare and contrast to…


    “MINDHUNTERS”. Again, you have the two exhausted characters, sitting down together in an extremely wet place (this time it’s a… swimming pool? Where exactly are they supposed to be, anyway?) with watery ambient noise. First part of the music captures the tone of relief pretty well, I think. But then Survivor #1 says his/her piece about the trap on the clock and the powder on the killer’s hands. S/he holds up the hands of the unconscious Red-Herring and shines the black-light over them. Still music sounds relieved. It becomes clear that there’s no reaction from Red Herring’s hands. Now music goes: “WHOOOO GIGANTIC PSYCHO-STYLE STRING SHRIEK WOOHOO I MADE YOU JUMP DIDN’T I? DIDN’T I?”

    Remember how in “Psycho” there was BUILD-UP? How the famous shrieks didn’t just start out of nowhere, but the atmosphere had been getting steadily tenser and tenser up until that point? Well, “Mindhunters” didn’t get the memo. One moment you have a pleasant, relieved, mellow score; the next moment you have a Psycho-style violin shriek. There’s no build-up and no transition. All it is is an audio jump-scare, without even any action onscreen to justify it. This happens when two people are sitting in a fucking corridor, how incredibly dramatic!


    So what have we learned from this comparison?

    1) If you’re going to use the incredibly over-used technique of the audio “shriek” scare, at least have some action onscreen when you play it.

    2) A tonal change in a movie score needs to be anticipated, or at least built up over a short period of time, otherwise it “jerks” you out of the movie. You can’t be playing the soundtrack to “Toy Story” and then suddenly switch without warning to a “Rage against the Machine” record and expect people not to be taken aback.

    3) The tone of the score should always match the tone of whatever’s going on in the mind of the character whose focal point we’re currently sharing.

    I think that’s it for today.

  11. Agreed, Paul, on that out of control music that kicks in suddenly at the beginning of the fight scene at the end of MINDHUNTERS, but at that point in the movie I’m laughing and playing along with the whole thing so I’m just, like, “of *course* there’s an electric guitar coming out the woodwork all of a sudden!” It’s like the movie just goes on getting more & more ridiculous, leaving us guessing & scrambling to solve the mystery even when there’s only 2 or 3 possible remaining answers to the whodunit that started with dozens of possibilities, and then suddenly Harlin & his sound people are saying “Hold up, audience, and watch this badass fight and then we’ll get back to the mystery in a moment. . .”

    Did I mention that I love it? (By the way, there’s another way in which MINDHUNTERS is superior to SCREIVM and most murder mystery/horror/thriller/action movies — there are logical hints to the big reveal and it keeps you guessing and actively engaged, while maintaining a well-focused narrative momentum, unlike most movies that eliminate possibilities based merely on how much time is left in the movie’s runtime or what the focus groups tell them will register as “surprising.” I admit, I am among very few people who feel this way about MINDHUNTERS, but that’s because I am right and 98-99% of people are wrong.)

    I find the MINDHUNTERS musical moment you dislike so much, Paul, favorably comparable to, say, the sax-o-noodle of LETHAL WEAPON, which just serves to constrict an otherwise great movie to the date of its initial release, or the jarringly bad rock music infusion whenever the bald white humongo appears in [at the Weinstein-ized version of] TOM YUM GOONG / THE PROTECTOR.

  12. *[at least in the Weinstein-ized version of]

  13. Mouth – at first I thought you were wrong because I didn’t hate SCREAM 4 so I wasn’t gonna tear it a new one. But you’re right, the review is gonna be epic. I apologize in advance.

  14. Mouth – considering how long I seem to have spent analyzing it, I don’t HATE the musical cue I mentioned. (Although I gotta say I did think the fight-scene music was incredibly annoying. But then I notice these things more than most people seem to.) I just don’t think it works very well when compared to the musical cues of other similar films, including “I still know what you did last Summer”, which has the exact same denouement. I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this stuff, and “Mindhunters” gets it wrong.

    As for “Lethal Weapon” – well, I think it works, but I can see why some people might hate it. It’s cetainly not your “usual” movie soundtrack, but then sometimes the best soundtracks are the least conventional. Did I mention that I still love the “noodling guitar” idea?

  15. Well, Vern, as long as you keep the subscription rate low here, I guess I can accept your apology. You know how I hate anything that takes more than 15 seconds to read, but I’ll give it a chance.

    Paul, I keep forgetting to mention, did you not laugh when the guy at the end of the scene you compared to that horrible ISKWYDLS says, “This is awkward.”?

    Such a great line, one of the best modern confession/reveal line deliveries ever. Not sure if a non-American would realize also that that character has a bizarre southern accent, which makes a lot of things funny, especially in this moment.

  16. Mouth – ’tis a great line.

    And I’m not in any way defending “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” in any other respects. You don’t have to tell me it’s crap! My point is though, a film can be crap in many respects and still nail the sound design. Indulge me on that one.

  17. Alright, Paul, here is a list of movies with great sound design & execution:

    JAWS (layers upon layers upon audio layers of masterpiecery)
    anything by Kubrick
    LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) (the all-time definitive, orgasmic auditory experience of cinema)
    BLOW OUT (in which Travolta’s audio expert learns something scary & new about being an audio expert)
    THE CONVERSATION (One syllable, one syllable’s accentuation, has never been so key to a plot.)
    THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (in which workmanlike is somehow rightly synonymous with arthouse)
    ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (in which Taymor proves it is okay to cover The Beatles, even outside Vegas)
    DER HIMMEL ÜBER BERLIN / WINGS OF DESIRE (An old man’s voiceover has never been more cathartic.)
    CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS (Schubert has never been more dramatic.)
    CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Repetitive The Mamas & The Papas has never been more stirring.)
    VALHALLA RISING (Hell’s soundscape has never been so captivating.)
    I AM LOVE (I can’t explain this one. It’s just crazy fucking good.)

    As you can see, I may have trouble as an amateur critic segregating good elements, or one great element, in the case of sound design &/or score, from the overall quality of a movie.
    Could you kindly point me toward other films that feature great audio design (or other stuff you get off on) but that are not necessarily good movies otherwise? I admit I have an ever-worsening case of the ole “artillery ear,” and so my drums & cochleae ain’t what they used to be. Also, if you haven’t seen all the movies listed above, I am certain you will love most of them. You are welcome.

  18. Mouth – unlike “E. T.”, you will never ever hear me complaining about the soundtrack of “Jaws”. I fully admit that I’m not the world’s biggest “Jaws” fan, although I do enjoy it; but there’s no question that John Williams played a blinder on that one. It’s been a while since I saw “The Conversation”, I’ve deliberately avoided “Last of the Mohicans”, and “Valhalla Rising” is still very much on my “To See” list. The rest are simply not on my radar right now, but I’ll see if any of them ring my bells.

    As to why I keep bringing up the issue of scoring and sound design – look, I’ve played the piano since I was four years old. I’ve played the guitar since I was a teenager and have more than a passing familiarity with several other instruments – fuck it, I could even belt out a tune on the motherfucking FLUTE if you wanted me to, although I’m not an expert on it. I’ve made amateur movies and, for a very brief period of time, worked as a DJ.

    My point here is that there are people on this forum who have seen a lot more films than me, know more about action staging than me, more about cinematography than me, more about visual technique than me. If you showed me a particular technique used in lighting or camerawork I might vaguely recognise it, I might even be able to give you the name of it, but I couldn’t discuss it in any detail whatsoever. I might have an opinion on what films have “good cinematography” or “bad cinematography”, but ask me to justify that opinion with technical facts, and I’d be hopeless. I’ve also studied screenplays as part of my degree; but heck, you don’t exactly need to have done that to call yourself knowledgeable about storyline or narrative.

    The one thing I can contribute, that most others can’t or haven’t, is an extensive knowledge of film scoring. I can point out standard “effects” that different films / TV shows use. If a score is “recycled” from one film to another – as with the “Scream 2” score that I mentioned recently – I’ll often recognise it. I notice touches that other people don’t – Jing Wu’s footsteps in “Kill Zone”, for example; notice how they’re muted in some scenes and emphasised in others? – and can tell you exactly why they work, or why they don’t.

    So yeah… that, and some pretty controversial opinions (“Lucas Black plays an Ugly American in Tokyo Drift SHOCKER!”) is pretty much all I can contribute on this site that other people don’t. If I sometimes get into it a bit much, it’s only because it’s the one area of film that I’m most interested in and know the most about. It’s pretty much all I can bring to the table. I leave the action debates to you guys, although I enjoy reading them for the most part!

  19. Was I the only kid who could never “connect” with E.T.? I mean I like The Beard and as snobby as I can be with my movies, I’m willing to fuck any of these elitist nitwits who diss his good shit. But ET just never was one of them.

    ~The random Spielberg “tinks” with ET years later were hilarious though. Like the Greedo Shoots First bullshit, why did he and Lucas had to pussy out on the trivial details?

  20. RRA – you’re not the only one. I think it’s a classic, classic film; but the score drives me bananas. To me it’s a throwback to the days of Bogart’s “The Big Sleep” and the original “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”, where the love interest was ALWAYS introduced with sentimental orchestral harmonies, and the villain was ALWAYS introduced with slightly off-kilter strings. (Yep, even in “The Big Sleep”, which is a whodunnit. Way to spoil the ending of the film in the first scene guys!)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: almost nobody knew how to properly score a film until Herrmann came along. There were some interesting, albeit sometimes failed, experiments (Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” for example) but for the most part nobody really “got” it until Herrmann showed everybody how it was supposed to be done. The point isn’t to make a piece of music that stands up on its own, it’s to make something ambient that adds to the film without ever overpowering it or making it seem corny.

  21. Paul the flutist, why have you “deliberately avoided” LAST OF THE MOHICANS? Are you opposed to greatness? Is that a UK thing, denying oneself great cinema because of a misguided sense of asceticism? Or has its brilliant score become ubiquitous in some other facet of life, leading you to believe you would not enjoy the source movie now?

  22. Paul – Of all the complaints I could have about ET, the score isn’t one of them.

  23. Mouth – greatness? Really? I’d always regarded it as the same type of shameless Oscar-bait that I’d usually avoid like the plague.

  24. RRA – so I don’t like the score, you don’t like everything else? Guess we got the E.T. negatives covered between us then…

  25. Paul – Like I said, I never could “connect” with it. And the music had nothing to do with why that happened. I guess I’m just penis breath.

  26. Pianist Paul, in your lifelong attempt to become the Welsh artist currently known as Prince you have somehow denied yourself a sitdown with the best sound experience movie of all time, you poor fool. Michael Mann’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS — Put down the turntable & see it.

    You say that “The point isn’t to make a piece of music that stands up on its own, it’s to make something ambient that adds to the film without ever overpowering it or making it seem corny.” What a joyous homework assignment this movie will be for you.

    Oscar bait? I’ll fight anybody who speaks such gibberish.

    Also, it has some of that occasional slow motion that you like.

  27. Don’t forget scalping.

  28. RRA, I was never into E.T. as a kid. Now I can appreciate it objectively as “this is represented a generation and that’s special” but I’m still not sad about E.T. going home. And look at me now.

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  30. […] trailer park girl who lives parent-free with her young brother Binx (Christian Slater, no relation, MINDHUNTERS). One day they’re riding around on his motor scooter when they get harassed by a carload of […]

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