Wes Craven Presents: Mind Ripper Review
"All I remember was wanting to get out of there. My bags were packed and I was ready to go home everyday. It was horrible. I never even saw the finished film. It was one of those films that pays your alimony".
- Lance Henriksen on Mind Ripper (AKA The Outpost)
It’s a situation that occurs all-too often in the world of low-budget horror movies. Your lead actor - a noted genre regular - wants nothing to do with the finished project, signalling to the director that their film is a turkey of epic proportions. In all fairness, if those involved in the production couldn’t care less about the outcome, why should we? Yet, Lance Henriksen has always been a genre star that managed to entertain in pictures undeserving of his talent. Whatever the character, he has a level of gravitas that pulls you into the material, however poor it may be. The producers of Mind Ripper knew this, using his name alone to promote the film. Unfortunately for them, the result is less-than thrilling.
The biggest problem with Mind Ripper, is clear from the opening sequences - it is mind-numbingly derivative. The plot is like a million others, borrowing from just about every maniac-on-the-loose scenario seen before it. But since this is a horror flick, and a low-budget one at that, I was prepared to give it a chance. Despite these noble intentions, the synopsis listed on the box art sums up everything wrong with this picture. It begins with a series of scientific experiments, within a secret desert laboratory, which were designed to create a superhuman being. Before anyone can raise a finger at these inhumane acts, the experiment spins out of control (as they often do), unleashing an unstoppable bogeyman on the area, who proceeds to kill everything that moves.
Flying into this mess via helicopter, is James Stockton (Henriksen), an ex-scientist of the research facility, who was called-in to help out. However, he doesn’t know about the situation at hand, and since his plans were to spend the weekend with his family, he isn’t prepared for what he will encounter. The fact that he has dragged his son (Giovanni Ribisi), his daughter (Natasha Wagner) and her boyfriend (Adam Solomon) with him, only helps to complicate matters. Amidst the body count, is fellow scientist Joanne (Claire Stansfield), who joins the fight to stay alive, as their prey hunts them down one-by-one...
The only interesting element of Mind Ripper, is the production itself. The fact that Wes Craven was on board as an executive producer, certainly helps to give the film some status, but I severely doubt he had much creative input here. It is totally void of
the classic Craven touch, and despite the many duds he has made in his career, he would never have greenlit such a throwaway plot line, that owes everything to Alien. His association with the project is easily explained - his son Jonathan co-wrote the screenplay, and produced the film. While the poor script (also written by Phil Mittleman) is mostly to blame for the proceedings, director Joe Gayton also fails to bring any sparkle to the affair. I can stomach such unoriginality (how else would I have sat through so many Friday the 13th’s?), but a lacklustre script needs lean and mean direction to make it entertaining; something that Mind Ripper fails to achieve.
Oddly enough, the production started out as a third part to Wes Craven’s Hills Have Eyes series. Thank goodness that idea didn’t pan out, since it would have sullied the original’s good name (as if Part II wasn’t enough). However, a few of the conventions remain the same - a barren landscape, a limited number of people against a seemingly-unstoppable force, and a family that is perfectly content to bitch and moan. Yes, the family dynamic is a problem here - an element Craven Sr. has often exploited to greater extremes. After all, why on earth would a father take his kids to a secret government lab, and allow them to roam freely? There is a great number of these plot holes, that Gayton and his screenwriters fail to cover up.
There are slight glimmers of hope here and there. The “monster” that hunts our protagonists is a curious creation. Clearly inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in more ways than one, “Thor” (Don Blom) is a sympathetic character. He has no control over the way his body is changing, transforming into something truly horrid. Gore hounds may feel a tang of excitement at Thor’s mode of attack - a pincer that forms at the back of his throat, burrowing into his victim’s skulls. However, the film is never gory enough to cause repulsion - a few splashes of claret is all we get. Gayton does manage to ratchet up some tension in some scenes, as Thor tracks his enemies from above and below, striking when you least expect it. The musical score by J. Peter Robinson also has some substance, which isn’t surprising; he also did the honours for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Unsurprisingly, Henriksen is the sole reason to see this picture. He once again makes good use of poor material, drawing the attention throughout. The Terminator and Aliens veteran also manages to say his dialogue in a believable manner, while others cause laughter with their stilted portrayals. At least Stansfield provides some eye candy, and male viewers will be happy to know that she steps into the shower within the first 10 minutes. Also curious, is an early performance by Giovanni Ribisi, as Henriken’s slacker son. He does well, but Gayton spoils things once again, by including a sub-plot about Henriksen’s failings as a father. It has no right to be in such a movie, and like everything else, it falls flat.
When it’s all said and done, it is clear Mind Ripper was intended to make a few cash from Craven’s brand name. There is nothing fresh or innovative here to really recommend a viewing. Still, if you’re a cult aficionado like myself, and a fan of cinematic trash, you might want to give it a spin. Not a “mind ripper” then, but it’s guaranteed to make you scream....with laughter.
The disappointment continues here, as Anchor Bay give a mediocre film a mediocre disc. Actually, this isn’t the first time Mind Ripper has appeared on the format, and while this new release brings some new features to the table, it is still no-frills in every respect. Only the cool animated menu screen impresses - an atmospheric piece backed-up by music from the feature. However, the quality drops once you make your selection.
The transfer is mostly to blame - the print used isn’t very sharp. In fact, its dull, washed-out and clarity is non-existent. Few of the on-screen elements are defined by the transfer, and the darker scenes (of which there are many) fail to stand out. It’s like those old X-Files episodes, where you struggle to see what’s on screen. The result is hardly commendable. Slamming the final nail into this coffin, is a little problem with the aspect ratio. Presented full-frame, it seems to be the wrong ratio for this movie. There are countless shots where the character’s heads hit the top of the screen, rather haphazardly, and a lot of background is trimmed out of the image by the poor framing. So, are they any good points? Well, the film isn’t entirely unwatchable. I guess this is the best Mind Ripper would look without a costly remaster. This, it seems, will have to do...
Now for the audio. And thankfully, it’s good news. We get the choice of either Stereo 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. The latter is pretty much wasted on this flick. While there is constant action across the sound field, it is too low-budget to provide the bombast that DTS usually affords. In most respects, the 5.1 mix is good enough to
warrant a listen. The music is passionately layered, and there is a pleasing use of deep bass. The dialogue sometimes sounds rather flat like the overall ambience, but it is always clear, and I was surprised by the vibrancy of this track. It certainly puts the transfer to shame.
The bonus material is pretty sparse, and doesn’t amount to anything memorable. But, to be brutally honest, who’s actually interested in supplements concerning Mind Ripper? That’s what I thought. Anchor Bay provide us with a good collection of Film Notes, that goes into sufficient detail, a bunch of Biographies for cast and a crew, and last but not least, a small Stills Gallery. I expected a trailer which, strangely, is absent from this set. But I’ll take what I can get.
If I used the most powerful telescope known to man, I still couldn’t locate my interest in Mind Ripper. A shameless Wes Craven Presents... atrocity, that justifies the straight-to-video tag. The disc doesn’t do it any favours, either. That said, I don’t really blame Anchor Bay. They’ve given this film an acceptable release, and I wouldn’t want them shelling out thousands on a remastering job. If you happen to like Mind Ripper, or feel like giving it a chance, I guess this is the disc for you...