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Plot: bored socialites screw themselves, and others, over on opulent yacht

The abolition of the Hays Code in 1968 finally allowed American filmmakers to capitalize on the Sexual Revolution that was taking place in various places around the world. No longer restricted by its stifling regulations and free of its rigorous censoring directors could finally push the envelope in a more liberated fashion. In parallel movement erotic cinema surged in Canada thanks to Danielle Ouimet and her fellow stars of Maplesyrup porn (which is something of a misnomer as many productions of the cycle were soft erotic movies by and large) and the commedia sexy all'italiana turning up the heat in view of the more looser societal norms.

Leading the charge in terms of sexual liberation and gratuitous display of skin was Top Sensation (released in North America as The Seducers through Jerry Gross' Cinemation Industries), a thriller mostly remembered for being the only thriller, or early giallo, to pair together Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech, two of Italy's most desirable exploitation starlets. In a number of ways Top Sensation laid the groundwork for Nico Mastorakis’ deeply cynical Hellenic proto-slasher Island Of Death (1976). Dismissed on release as an exercise in pulp and tedium Top Sensation has since garnered the reputation of something of a cult favorite. Its formula proved strong enough that it even spawned one or two imitations of it own. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of unlikeable, bored rich people.

Ottavio Alessi had been second unit directing in various capacity since 1940, so it seems only logical that he would eventually ascent to the director’s chair to helm his own features. His only directing credit prior to Top Sensation was the Totò comedy What Ever Happened to Baby Totò? (1964). Handling second unit direction for the production was Rosalba Neri, who had over a decade of experience in front of the camera by that point. Based upon his earlier writing, and the decadence that would give Top Sensation its repute, Alessi was hired to co-write the screenplay for The Snake God (1970) with Nadia Cassini and to later provide the story for the Joe D’Amato directed Black Emanuelle installments Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage (1976), and Emanuelle in America (1977).

Top Sensation takes the central premise of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), one part of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), and spices it up with a healthy dose of Mediterreanean eroticism. Directed by screenwriter Ottavio Alessi Top Sensation works despite its minuscule budget and solitary location. In fact Top Sensation spawned imitations of its own with Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969), with Haydée Politoff, and Ruggero Deodato’s Waves Of Lust (1975) with Deodato’s wife-to-be Silvia Dionisio in what looked like a constant state of undress. Not that Top Sensation is in any way lacking in terms of bare skin and nudity on display. Capitalizing on the nascent pin-up culture Top Sensation puts its two leading ladies in the skimpiest of bikinis, and more often than not, out of them.

Central to the plot of Top Sensation is middle-aged oil heiress Mudy (Maud Belleroche, as Maud De Belleroche), a jetset socialite, who has taken her mentally challenged, socially stunted son Tony (Ruggero Miti) on a boating trip on her yacht. Tony lives isolated in his bunk and enjoys nothing more than playing with his toy cars, and starting the occassional fire. Invited along for the trip are the stunning Paola (Rosalba Neri) and Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia), a young couple whose frolicking she hopes will spark the flame of sexual desire in Tony. Also on the yacht is Ulla (Edwige Fenech), a high-class escort, to ensure that Tony's first sexual experience is worth treasuring. To its credit the screenplay keeps how Mudy came into her fortune - whether she amassed it herself, or plainly married into it - rather vague. Circling around Mudy like vultures are Paola and Aldo, an upper-class gold-digging young couple, who take turns seducing the seemingly always cranky Mudy. Ulla partakes in the scheme but for entirely different reasons than Paola and Aldo. When the boat experiences technical problems near an island, and Tony takes a liking to naive, world-strange goat herder Beba (Eva Thulin, as Ewa Thulin) things go haywire when her husband Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) gets wind of the situation…

Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech spent most of their screentime in the skimpiest of bikinis, and about as much time out of them. Both women are highly sexual, and completely sexualized. In its defense at least Top Sensation makes no qualms or excuses about the fact. Early on Paola and Ulla notice Andro spying on them from the foliage. “God, I wish he'd move into the open more,” Ulla muses, “he ought to be hard by now” Paola notes in a near-porn exchange. The two girls lure him out by taking their tops off and oiling each other on the deck with sunscreen. When the boat first experiences trouble, Tony disappears and is seen on the nearest island. Aldo and Ulla volunteer to search the shore and return the young boy. At one point Ulla, wearing nothing more than a captain’s hat and a white shirt, runs into a wandering goat nearby Beba’s farm, something which greatly excites her. Aroused by the farm animal she spills out her left breast - which the goat happily indulges in suckling with reckless abandon - as the goat makes its way down she allows herself to be orally pleasured by the animal. Aldo, enthused at the shore-bound vista, wastes no time in documenting the salacious happening with a photocamera he brought along for the trip. Later on the boat Paola and Ulla ravage Beba by feeding her alcohol, and the two are only stopped when Mudy barges in on the lower deck.

The stars of Top Sensation are Rosalba Neri, at the height of desirability at 31, and Edwige Fenech, a freshfaced 21 year old model-turned-actress from France. Neri was regular in peplum, spaghetti western, Eurospy adventures and comedies throughout most of the sixties. Rosalba had also partaken in several Jess Franco productions by that point, back when doing so wasn't considered a surefire way to either sabotage, or end, one's career in the cinematic arts. Top Sensation marked Neri's trajectory towards more risqué productions. Not only did she direct second unit but also ensured that she looks amazing for the entirety of the production. In the seventies Neri would figure into, among others, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The French Sex Murders (1972) (an all-star giallo with Anita Ekberg, Barbara Bouchet and Evelyne Kraft), and The Devil's Wedding Night (1973). Even though Neri was anywhere and everywhere in the 1970s she never truly established herself as a leading lady, much in the same way as her contemporaries Paola Tedesco and Rita Calderoni. In short, Top Sensation is sensational and quintessential viewing for Rosalba Neri completists/fanatics.

In more ways than one Top Sensation was a career-defining performance from the nubile Edwige Fenech. Fenech owned much, if not all, of her acting career to director Sergio Martino. After Edwige's appearance in Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls For An August Moon (1970) Martino directed her in The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972). The only thing of note that Fenech had done prior to Top Sensation was the amiable adventure Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) along with that other famous comedic star of the 1970s, Femi Benussi. Thanks to her work in giallo with Sergio Martino, Fenech would establish herself as the royalty of domestic exploitation. In the following decade Edwige would make her return to the commedia sexy all'italiana where she originally found her footing. Like her co-star Rosalba Neri, Edwige Fenech doesn't shy from the near-constant or partial nudity that her role requires. She seems to be having a blast.

Top Sensation was the only acting credit for Maud Belleroche and the screen debut for Eva Thulin whose career lasted a brief two years and encompasses a total of four movies. Maud de Belleroche is a Baroness from the exclusive 17th arrondissement of Paris, France who gained some repute and infamy as a writer, journalist and sympathizer to the Collaboration. As a student she was the mistress of Jean Luchaire and eventually followed her second husband Georges Guilbaud in exile to Germany, Italy, Spain and Argentina. De Belleroche was a decorated sportswoman (French junior ice skating champion, French record-holder scuba-diving) and gifted orator for Amis de Versailles, Amis des Châteaux de la Loire, Alliance Française, Connaissance du monde. She published various book under the alias Sacquard de Belleroche and won the Prix ​​Broquette-Gonin of literature of the French Academy in 1963 for Five Characters in search of Emperor. Her memoire The Ordinatrice from 1968 was so popular that it warranted a follow-up a few years down the line. Ruggero Miti - whose acting career lasted from 1966 to 1972, and whose only other credit of note is La Rivoluzione Sessuale (1968) with commedia sexy all-italiana queen Laura Antonelli - has the look of a 1970s Milo Ventimiglia or rather a fairly standard 1970s Italian pretty boy.

There's plenty of the naked female form to be had in Top Sensation, but it is custodian to quite some rich subtext beyond the superficiality of the premise. First and foremost, Top Sensation is about corruption: the corruption of wealth, the corruption of innocence and its brazen transgressive sexual politics qualify it as a giallo. Every character, Beba excepted, is thoroughly reprehensible. Paola and Aldo are two bored upper-class yuppies, with Paola being a bisexual nymphomaniac to boot. Ulla is a first-class opportunist who will jump at every chance if it involves personal enrichment. Mudy is high-strung, bossy, and abusive to anyone in her vicinity, not only Tony. At one point she encourages Beba, battered once more by her inebriated peasant of a husband, to cast off the shackles of the subservient, submissive housewife role she has assumed. However, none of it is genuine, as Mudy only does so as a way of extorting money from Andro via Beba. In other words, every single person, with exception of Beba, on the boat is thoroughly corrupted by greed, jealousy, and emotionally manipulative in the worst of ways.

Bored with their wealth and bored with their lives the socialites on the yacht will stop at nothing to screw over someone, anyone, everyone if it helps in their personal enrichment. Paola and Aldo are hired by Mudy to get Tony interested in the fairer sex, but that doesn't stop the two from trying to seduce Mudy at various points. Paola only shows interest in Beba once it's clear that Tony cares for her. In the ultimate act of corruption Paola and Ulla feed Beba alcohol which leads into a memorable girl-on-girl three-way that makes Paola's sapphic liaison with Mudy pale in comparison. By proxy Ulla is the least morally bankrupt of the socialites as she's merely there on a contractual basis, although that doesn't make her any less culpable in what ultimately transpires. Top Sensation is transgressive and risqué at various points but it never quite develops into something that really pushes the envelope. It's the old warhorse: the decadent ruling class feeding on the proletariat.

Concluded by a quote from Ecclesiastes in hopes of redeeming itself Top Sensation manages to do a lot with very little. With only a single location at its disposal the premise hinges on how well the dialog is able to sell the characters. Terrible English dubbing notwithstanding every actor gives his or her all to the characters. Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are a delight as a duo of nymphomaniac sex kittens that struggle to keep their clothes on, Maurizio Bonuglia revels in playing a sleazebag, whereas Eva Thulin shines as the innocent shepherd girl. Salvatore Puntillo enjoys the role of the somewhat dimwitted peasant, but in return is allowed to rub closely to both Neri and Fenech. Ruggero Miti is at his best in the scenes with Thulin, but his character is not nearly inculpable in the events that unfold. For a production as impoverished Top Sensation is a scathing indictment of the upper-class and reveals some surprising subtextual depth next to its rampant and near-constant showcasing of its generously formed and seldom clothed female lead duo.

Plot: adolescent misfit plays interactive videogame

It is well established that the 90s were a particularly dark decade for the horror genre. Horror descended into nothing but overly comedic, self-aware, and pretentious genre deconstructions that abided by the same conventions they were supposedly mocking. In other words, Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) happened. Two years before, however, there was a Canadian production that commented in a similar condescending, moralizing, holier-than-thou tone on the vices and youth counterculture of the day: heavy rock music, horror cinema and/or violent video games. Brainscan, for all its 90s cultural sensibilities that ultimately end up defanging it, is actually a surprisingly effective little genre effort is one is willing to meet it halfway. It never quite pushes the envelope the way you would want it to, but it tries. It is far more intellectually honest than Craven too.

Michael Bower (Edward Furlong) is a typical 90s social pariah, a product of childhood trauma and parental abandonment. Bower lost his mother in a roadside collision that left him with a nasty scar and a limp as reminder, and an absentee businessman father. Having never properly dealt with the loss of his mother and spoilt rotten by his overcompensating absentee father Michael is a socially handicapped doofus that immerses himself in ungodly amounts of heavy metal, horror, and video games as a cry for someone, anyone, to love him. If only that someone would be Kimberly Keller (Amy Hargreaves), who he surreptitiously spies on in ways that the Twilight novel (2005) and its subsequent screen adaptation (2008) would enshrine as the apex of romance. When his only friend Kylie (Jamie Marsh) reads him an ad in Fangoria about Brainscan, a literal murder simulator, Michael’s interest in piqued. As a seasoned veteran of all things weird, one that has “seen it all, played them allBrainscan offers an experience like no other. When a murder committed in the game occurs in the real world, Michael’s life starts to unravel, and before long he fears of losing possession of the one thing he still has control over, himself. All the while detective Hayden (Frank Langella) is investigating the murder case. The more Brower plays Brainscan the more the gameworld and his own bleed together. With only the macabre and devious Trickster (T. Ryder Smith) as his guide only one question remains: what is real, and what is not?

Brainscan very much wants to be a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies. Figures of authority, specifically principal Fromberg (David Hemblen), at one point or another, voice their disapproval of Bower’s extracurricular interests. Likewise does Walker’s script demonize Michael for engaging in videogames and horror by making him a social outcast and forcing him into murdering his friends as punishment. Since Brainscan is a thriller masquerading as a horror-movie-with-a-message Michael needs to have the prequisite love interest which is where the underutilized Amy Hargreaves comes in. Hargreaves, who was in her mid-twenties, has a few scenes of implied nudity – but since this was released in 1994 and more of a thriller that will be the extent of what is deemed permissable. Once Brainscan is done moralizing it rewards Michael with a fresh view on on life, the possibility of Kimberly as a girlfriend (she shows reserved interest, and never outright declines his advances) while pushing the Trickster to the back as a mere video game host. It even gives complete cipher Kyle a girlfriend in Stacie (Michèle-Barbara Pelletier). The rank hypocrisy of Brainscan’s screenplay knows no bounds.

For all the things it does right Brainscan shortchanges itself by abiding to the sanitization the horror genre was subject to in the 90s. There are but two slayings that occur over the course of the movie, one of which happens offscreen. After the wild 1970s and the excesses of the eighties, the 90s pushed horror into the self-reflective, self-referential, and the comedic. As horror became shunned and considered a non-legitimate genre, many movies referred to themselves as thrillers instead to avoid the stigma. Brainscan both wants to be a horror movie all while disassociating itself from the genre at every turn. The ambiguity of Brainscan, and the ambivalence of its screenplay, ultimately work against it. There’s nary a drop of blood anywhere in Brainscan, and it is completely bereft of nudity, the very things that horror was decried for in the decades prior. It will have its protagonist showing León Klimovsky’s gothic horror potboiler The Dracula Saga (1973) to the Horror Club attendees, but then will have Michael sarcastically refer to it as Death, Death, Death, Part II just to spite the principal. To its credit at least the makers of Brainscan knew their Mediterranean Eurocult classics, Spanish or otherwise.

Brainscan is also custodian to one of the greatest 90s horror villains, the enigmatic Trickster. In the gameworld the Trickster acts as a master of ceremonies, and with his red mohawk skullet the long-nailed, sharply dressed apparition comes off as a combination of a pre-Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992) Pinhead, a heavy metal frontman, and a 1970s gothic horror villain complete with the snark of earliest Freddie Krueger. In short, the Trickster is the embodiment of the darkness of whoever plays the game. The screenplay never reveals exactly what the Trickster is; whether he is a spectral manifestation of the player’s vices, or the physical incarnation of a sentient program. T. Ryder Smith revels in playing up the red mohawked fiend’s ambiguous loyalties. The Trickster is for the nineties what Freddie Krueger was for the eighties. In a delicious slice of life imitating art T. Ryder Smith ended up lending his voice talents to video games Manhunt 2 (2007), BioShock (2007), BioShock Infinite (2013) and its DLC expansion pack Burial At Sea (2014). The Trickster has done well for himself.

The screenplay was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, later of Se7en (1995) and 8MM (1999) fame and a script doctor on The Game (1997), Stir Of Echoes (1999) and Fight Club (1999). Walker’s screenplay tries very hard to pass Brainscan off as an adolescent version of The Lawnmower Man (1992), or similarly themed David Cronenberg movies as Videodrome (1983) or ExistenZ (1999) without any of the body horror or pathos. The script’s cardinal sin is that it is never follows up on what it promises. It puts its protagonist in a literal murder simulator (exactly what certain detractors called videogames at the time) and exacts swift punishment by having him murder his best friend and love interest. The role of Trickster starts out as a guide for Michael in the gaming world only to turn him in a Freddie Krueger styled antagonist since the script lacks a real opponent to square him off against. Michael defeats Trickster in the gameworld, but the sequence is rendered moot as Trickster materializes in the corporeal realm where Michael can see him in the event of Brainscan becoming profitable enough to warrant a follow-up. Thankfully, the essence of Brainscan remains untarnished by unnecessary sequels.

Frank Langella and Amy Hargreaves do their best with the little they are given to do. Langella is the closest thing to an antagonist during the first half whereas Trickster becomes the antagonist during the second half. Hargreaves is given little else to do besides looking misty-eyed, pouting, or strutting around in lingerie. For reasons that will remain largely unexplained, Kimberly shows reserved interest in Michael at the end. Hargreaves has the prettiest smile but there isn’t an inkling of chemistry between her and Furlong, who by this point had perfected his troubled youth shtick. Hargreaves’ character is of no significance, and much of the running time Kimberly is a complete nonentity until Furlong’s character arc requires a Hollywood-mandated love interest. Langella and Hargreaves maintained a steady career in television and movies while Furlong fell into obscurity due to his puzzling professional choices and a private life that matched Lindsay Lohan’s in sheer dysfunctionality and drug abuse. All the promise that Furlong showed early on in the Aerosmith music video ‘Livin’ On the Edge’ and James Cameron’s blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) was squandered all too quickly. The career revival that American History X (1998) and the Metallica music video ‘The Unnamed Feeling’ lend Furlong failed to cement his potential as an actor.

As a product of its time Brainscan is both frustratingly middle of the road and agonizingly afraid of its own implications. Lacking in both scares and grue it’s exactly the sort of thing Hollywood would try to pass off as genuine horror. Obviously it’s anything but. As a thriller Brainscan never puts its protagonist in deep enough trouble to warrant the classification. Even as evidence and corpses mount there always seems to be an exit waiting for Michael. As a proxy-horror exercise it fails not only because it lacks the scares and grue, but because it never truly ventures into the territory. To the untrained eye Brainscan indeed looks as a fairly typical horror movie of the day, but beyond the superficial ties with the genre are practically non-existent. Brainscan was a timecapsule of 90s counterculture. Michael’s room is adorned with posters from Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Metallica, and Fangoria. The soundtrack features, among others, OLD, White Zombie, Primus, Pitchshifter, Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney, and Wade. It’s strange that Furlong chose this Canadian co-production after the high-profile Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) from James Cameron. Brainscan is woefully banal and if it wasn’t for Furlong it would have fallen into much-deserved obscurity ages ago.