Saturday, July 10, 2010

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: Fangoria's MINDWARP (1990)

Having championed horror cinema since 1979, it seemed inevitable that Fangoria magazine would get into the business of making horror movies. And that happened a decade into their run with the creation of Fangoria Films, an offshoot that would produce one low budget horror film a year to be distributed by RCA/Columbia. Also seemingly inevitable was that whatever Fangoria Films produced would clash with the Motion Picture Association of America (M.P.A.A.), a Draconian film ratings board run by Jack Valenti that repeatedly took the scissors to low budget horror films. Hell, if you made a slightly gory horror film in the 1980s, chances were high that it got cut. And seeing as how Fangoria repeatedly took the M.P.A.A. to task in their pages, it was a forgone conclusion that whatever blood they spilled would end up on the chopping block. Such is the case with MINDWARP, the first of three films produced by Fangoria in the early 1990s.

Opening with the cliché nuclear cloud to represent World War III, MINDWARP takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is split between Dreamers and Crawlers. Dreamers are the rich elite who spend all day in a dream-like state while hooked into virtual reality machines provided by InfiniSynth. Want to live out your dream of being a lauded star of the stage? InfiniSynth can help. Crawlers, on the other hand, are mutated humans who live underground and eat humans. Dreamer Judy (Marta Alicia) rebels from her somnambulist state and is exiled by The Controller (Angus Scrimm) into the wasteland for her trouble. Attacked by Crawlers, Judy is saved by human survivor Stover (Bruce Campbell), who takes her in before they are both captured and taken to the underground. There they are at the mercy of human ruler The Seer (Scrimm again, maintaining comb over chic post-apoc), who believes he alone knows what is best for his mutant masses (hmm, shades of Valenti?). Naturally, this means putting Stover into manual labor while Judy is primed to be a breeding vessel for The Seer to produce a pure race.

Shot in the spring of 1990, MINDWARP is a decent little entry into the sci-fi horror apocalypse subgenre. Co-writers Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato's script tackles virtual reality before it was a fad and actually seems like a blueprint for THE MATRIX in some ways (neck portals anyone?). Unfortunately, the film has a really lousy ending where – I kid you not – the lead actress says, “There’s no place like home.” Surprisingly, both writers went on to do big budget stuff including the last two TERMINATOR sequels. Director Steve Barnett was a graduate of Roger Corman’s Concorde so he gets the most out of his roughly million dollar budget. He gives the film some energy, nice photography and weird sets. The exterior wasteland location showcases his style the best.

You can tell the filmmakers wanted to snag Fangorians right off the bat with the casting of two fan favorites, Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm. Campbell, of course, from the EVIL DEAD series and Scrimm as the famous Tall Man from the PHANTASM films (a character he also played in a Fango TV ad). In addition, they courted the Fango faithful by hiring K.N.B. EFX Group. If Fangoria was the Rolling Stone of horror movies, than effects gurus Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger were the hot rock stars at the time, same hair and everything. Anyway, like nearly every project they touched at the time, K.N.B. saw most of their gore hit the cutting room floor. The reason for a movie like this to be made is mostly for folks to marvel at the technical innovation of bloodletting. Sadly, the ratings board felt otherwise and imposed trims. A cheap-o horror film missing its gore is, as noted 80s philosopher Oran Juice Jones said, “Like corn flakes without the milk!”

Thankfully, an uncut version of the film did surface on DVD in Germany of all places with the amusing title BRAINSLASHER. First off, you have to love the German artwork (see pic). Yes, the film does contain mutants, a person with tubes on their head and a severed arm. But leave it to the Germans to combine all of that into one image that isn't in the film. Second, it contains all the gore excised from the R-rated US RCA/Columbia VHS release. Both films play exactly the same until around the 50 minute mark. After that, each and every scene containing blood is trimmed. Here is a run down:

*Stover kills a mutant guard to escape

This is the first bit of cutting. Stover discovers a Cuisinart blade in the rubble and attacks the guard hounding him. He slices his throat, the shot of blood spraying being a few frames longer. When the guard hits the ground, we get a second spurt of blood coming out of his throat that lasts roughly 1 second (see pic below; if you are man enough to handle it, that is).

*Stover fights off another mutant guard

Here we have Stover involved in one of those classic bits where both fighters are reaching for a weapon. The mutant gets a machete first and swings as Stover ducks. The blade then tears open the belly of another mutant hanging from the ceiling and his guts spill out. We are treated to a second shot of the spilling entrails and the next shot of them landing on the face of an out cold mutant lasts roughly 2 second longer. Stover then grabs a hook and juts it into the head of the last mutant, resulting in blood spraying from the head’s right side and two extra gurgles of gore that barely add up to second. See the video below for comparison.

*The first display of the Human Grinder

Truly an example of how only a few seconds truncation can alter a scene. The Seer sacrifices a young girl named Claude (Wendy Sandow) to this machine that chews up the victims and processes their blood as sacrament for the mutants. Since he wears a mask made of human eyeballs, it is safe to assume this guy has an orbital fetish and to prove it he plucks out Claude’s right eyeball with his claw hand attachment. In the R-rated version, we just get two shots of Claude’s dry mouth screaming. The unrated version has one shot of her mouth spitting out blood and the second mouth shot replaced with a shot of the eyeball being pulled out of her head. Claude is then fed to the machine with both shots of her body being chewed up trimmed to avoid the SHOGUN ASSASSIN-esque geyser of blood spraying from the entrance. See the video below for more cross comparison.

*The Seer kills Cornelia

The Seer decides to kill underground nurse Cornelia after she lets Judy escape. He picks her up and puts her onto a meat hook dangling from a track in the ceiling. He then pushes her through the room where she ends up impaled on two spikes in the wall. The unrated version offers roughly 2 more seconds of blood spurting from her abdomen before a mutant comes in and gives a quizzical look.

*The Seer meets the Human Grinder

As all good horror movies know, the villain should meat, er, meet their comeuppance at the hands of their infernal killing machine. So, of course, The Seer must end up in his flesh fraying furnishing. As with Claude’s aforementioned Grinder death, the R-rated cut trims down the jet of blood that sprays out of the machine.

So there you have it. Surprisingly, all of the bits involving the leeches that infest Stover’s body are identical, including a gory bit where he pukes blood all over Judy in the film’s climax. In total, the amount of gore cut out is less than 25 seconds. But for some reason those precious pictures of plasma were deemed not safe for US consumption. Honestly, I’m glad the M.P.A.A. was there for us on this one. Who knows how many kids would have gone all Charles Whitman had they been allowed to see that extra blood spurt lasting 1 second? Seriously, you’d almost think this ratings board had a personal vendetta against the folks who constantly challenged them in print. The amount of gore on display is freakin’ innocuous compared to the stuff folks get away with today. I mean, freakin’ R-rated RAMBO (2008) had more in the last 20 minutes than probably all of the notoriously edited 80s horror flicks combined. The only things more pathetic than this being cut down is that some loser took the time to compare the two versions and edit a comparison video. Enjoy!

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