Director: Joe Gayton
Screenplay: Jonathan Craven, Phil Mittleman
Starring: Lance Henriksen, John Diehl, Giovanni Ribisi, Claire Stansfield, Natasha Wagner
Duration: 95 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Mind Ripper was originally intended by Wes Craven to be the third entry in the The Hills Have Eyes series, but this idea was dropped in pre-production. As it is, the film was co-written by his son Jonathan and Wes was given a credit as Executive Producer, whilst the film is billed as “Wes Craven Presents Mind Ripper”. Eventually Wes and Jonathan wrote the screenplay to 2007’s The Hills Have Eyes II, which was a sequel to Alexandre Aja’s remake of the original.
The film starts with a team of scientists in bio-suits discovering a man in the desert who is barely alive after attempting to commit suicide. Taking him into their underground bunker and trying to save his life, Stockton (Lance Henriksen) injects him with an experimental virus he has developed which helps the man regenerate.
The action moves forward 6 months, after Stockton has left the bunker disgusted that the military have ordered that the man they saved (now called Thor!) be used as a lab rat to attempt to create a super soldier. We are introduced to the rest of the team led by morally bankrupt Alex (John Diehl) – there’s ageing hippy Larry (John Apicella), tech nerd Rob (Gregory Sporleder) and token female scientist Joanne (Claire Stansfield). Thor starts having dangerous seizures and Alex decides the only way to help him is to call Stockton and persuade him to return.
We catch up with Stockton at his home, as he is preparing to go on a camping trip with his teenage kids. His daughter, Wendy, is also bringing along her boyfriend, Mark, who is one of those highly annoying horny teenage characters that you can’t wait to be killed off! Stockton’s son, Scott (played by Giovanni Ribisi in his first role), is another cliché – the surly teen who hates his dad, smokes and listens to heavy metal on his Walkman. After receiving the call to return, Stockton decides to take the kids with him (why not have a family holiday at a top secret genetic research bunker?). Before Stockton can arrive, Thor’s seizures worsen and he apparently dies on the operating table. However, later on Thor reanimates and begins to stalk the corridors of the bunker, whilst regurgitating weird egg like growths.
As the film unfolds, Thor starts to pick off each member of the team, whilst they try to track him down, and Stockton and his kids arrive at the bunker unaware of the danger that awaits them. It is obvious that the filmmakers are influenced here by Alien, but to me it seems more like an old episode of Doctor Who. You know the type of episode I’m talking about – a small team on a distant interplanetary outpost uncover an ancient evil when The Doctor and his companions arrive to save the day – hell, even the sets are barely an improvement on 1970’s BBC constructions! Not sure Lance Henriksen would have made a good Doctor though.
In truth, Mind Ripper is not a great film. The story is pretty unoriginal and very predictable and the direction is very pedestrian. There are some positives though. As the films monster, Thor is surprisingly sympathetic. Having no control on how his body is mutating, he does appear to be in conflict with himself, not wishing to become the killing machined he is destined to be.
Having Wes Craven’s name attached to the film undoubtedly allowed director Gayton to assemble a pretty impressive cast for such a low grade B-movie. Lance Henriksen is always dependable and a joy to watch, as is John Diehl, again playing a bit of lowlife. The newcomers are also a welcome addition, Natasha Wagner (daughter of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner) does a good job as Stockton’s daughter and particularly great is Giovanni Ribisi in his film debut, showing hints of the talent we’ve come to know him for.
If you’re a fan of B-movies, then Mind Ripper is an enjoyable enough way to waste 95 minutes – just don’t expect too much from it and you won’t be disappointed. It’s no The Hills Have Eyes, but at least it doesn’t include a scene showing a dog having flashbacks…
Mind Ripper is released on Blu-ray on 25th June by 88 Films or it’s ready to ship now over at the 88 Films website. The Blu-Ray features a limited edition slipcase that includes the original VHS artwork, a limited edition booklet containing a rundown on the tangled five-part THE HILLS HAVE EYES franchise by Calum Waddell and a brand new 40 minute on-camera conversation with Jonathan Craven himself.