The appeal of punk music isn’t in its technical musicianship; many punk songs consist of the same two or three chords repeated over and over. Nor, on that note, is it originality that draws people in. What fans like about punk rock is that it’s fast, it’s loud, and being in a room full of people shoving each other to fast, loud music provides an intense, visceral thrill. The shagginess of the instrumentation is part of the ethos, asserting that anyone can pick up a guitar and start their own band. Indie horror cinema shares a similar DIY ethic, and from its opening title card proclaiming “This film should be played loud,” the telekinetic body-horror film The Mind’s Eye is punk as fuck.
The Mind’s Eye is the second feature from Joe Begos, whose first film, Almost Human, was made on a minuscule $50,000 budget. Begos and his tight-knit group of collaborators have a little more money this time around, though a blockbuster director like James Cameron would probably blow through the entire production budget in about 15 minutes. This movie was clearly done on the cheap, with the director’s bearded, knit-cap-clad friends filling in small roles (don’t expect great acting from the cops and henchmen in this one) and scenes shot in what appears to be either a weekend cabin rental or somebody’s mom’s house. But that’s okay, for two reasons: First, most of the money ends up on screen anyway, in the form of delightfully gross practical gore effects. Second, and perhaps more important, The Mind’s Eye is really fun to watch.
The story plays like a lost Scanners sequel: As the film opens, Zack Connors (Graham Skipper) is in police custody after blowing the windows out of a cop car with his mind outside of some shitty New England factory town. This incident attracts the attention of Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos), who starts out as a sort of Dr. Sam Loomis type but grows increasingly over-the-top monstrous as the story progresses. The source of Slovak’s transformation is Connors’ also-telekinetic girlfriend Rachel Meadows (Lauren Ashley Carter), who Slovak keeps captive in the basement of his Slovak Institute Of Psychokinetics. Over the past few years, Slovak has been cruelly harvesting Rachel’s DNA—viewers with a fear of needles, beware—and injecting it into himself in hopes of gaining her abilities. The experiment works, but with a price—namely, the painted-on blue veins and modulated voice Slovak acquires over the course of the film. Mind battles can easily look silly, but both Speredakos and Skipper fully commit to the bit, their eyes bulging out of their heads and their faces turning purple, concentrating intensely at each other as furniture flies around them.
If one of these Cronenbergian X-Men stares hard enough at someone, they’ll explode, and that’s where makeup artists Pete Gerner and Brian Spears (Stake Land, Cold In July) come in. Gerner, Spears, and the rest of the effects team pull off some pretty impressive work in The Mind’s Eye, where people are split in half by axes, gunshot wounds and syringes squirt fountains of blood, and of course, heads explode, spraying butcher-shop scraps all over the screen. These scenes are all done 100-percent practically, a purist touch that should only enhance the experience for giggling gorehounds. So although the exposition in the first half is undeniably clunky, the violence escalates to such extreme heights that, by the time Zack and Slovak are flying around the wreckage of a burning car crash, you’ll have forgotten all about those clumsily delivered lines.
Throughout the film, Begos wears his ’80s influences on the sleeve of his black T-shirt, using the now-ubiquitous synthesizer score—it’s as cheap now as it was in the ’80s, after all—and extensive use of orange and blue mood lighting. Both of these can feel a bit heavy-handed occasionally, but The Mind’s Eye comes by its retro-throwback bona fides more honestly than many contemporary horror movies. This was clearly a passion project made by and for people who cheer when they see an especially nasty kill in a slasher flick, and if they can make their splatter dreams a reality, so can you.