I’ve always felt that 90’s horror has gotten an unfair shake. Part of that is nostalgia based, I’m sure. I grew up in the 90’s and that’s when I fell in love with horror. Sure, I spent plenty of time watching 80’s and 70’s horror on VHS and cable, but my horror movies were the ones released in the 90’s and I loved them dearly. Over the years I’ve gone back and re-visited films from the era that I loved and films that I’ve missed and it’s only made me more defensive of the horror entries we received in the 90’s. Having now checked Mind Ripper off my 90’s horror list, I can firmly say the decade was stronger than many give it credit for.
In the middle of an isolated desert, a group of government scientists work in a secret research facility hoping to create a superhuman soldier. Their primary specimen is a corpse they located just outside the facility and worked to re-animate. In a way they are successful. The formerly dead man gets a second life, but as often is the case when people try to play God, the re-animated man is less of a man and more of an uncontrollable monster. Oops.
Before the shit really hits the fan, one of the lead scientists on the project, Stockton (Lance Henriksen), quits because he morally disagrees with where the research appears to be headed. Stockton plans to use his new free time to re-connect with his two kids, Wendy (Natasha Gregson Wagner) and Scott (Giovanni Ribisi). After making plans to take his kids on a camping trip he gets a call from the lab — the monster is on the loose and they need Stockton’s help. Being the good father that he is, Stockton decides he’ll still take the kids camping, but first, they’ll make a pit stop at this remote desert facility that is home to a superhuman being that can destroy the entire world.
The film is oftentimes referred to as The Hills Have Eyes III, a link largely drawn because Wes Craven served as a producer on the film with his son, Jonathan Craven, co-writing the script. Mind Ripper isn’t tied into that franchise at all, however. Both films take place in a desert, but beyond that, there isn’t much similar. That’s not to say Mind Ripper is an entirely original film, because it surely isn’t. It borrows from a lot of successful genre tropes and is a play on your basic Frankenstein story. There are also some similarities to the Alien franchise. Just picture this lab inside a space station floating off in space and maybe, you’ve got an Alien film! You even have Bishop!
Despite the film’s penchant for borrowing from better, more enjoyable movies, this one still manages to be pretty damn fun. The villain is cheesy but in a good way. He’s a large, muscle head named Thor that looks like he would be featured on the cover of romance novels. As he starts to transforms he begins to lose his hair, along with a few other body parts, but also gains some new snapping head thing that protrudes from his mouth that may or may not resemble a penis. Also, another nod to Alien. The special effects all look fantastic, even though it’s clear they are on the cheaper end. Back in these days, stuff was still almost all practical which as we all know makes for a more enjoyable film for all.
Mind Ripper is noticeable for featuring an early performance from Giovanni Ribisi who does a stellar job playing an angsty 90’s teen. Adding to the dripping 90’s nostalgia is a soundtrack with the likes of Lucifer Wong and Charley Horse.
The film was recently released on a region B Blu-ray courtesy of 88 Films and it looks gorgeous. A new HD transfer of the film, sourced from the original negative, brings this film and all its 90’s glory to life in the best possible way. The disc only contains two special features, one of which is a trailer. That second special feature is a nearly 45-minute interview with Jonathan Craven that is easily one of the best special feature interviews I’ve seen on any Blu-ray or DVD release ever. Jonathan talks about what it was like to grow up as the son of Wes Craven, which turns out to have been a pretty mixed bags. From the sound of things, Jonathan didn’t leave with his father which complicated matters a bit and throughout most of his youth it wasn’t really cool to be into horror films. So if horror films aren’t cool and your dad happens to be one of the biggest names in horror then it’s easier to see how that’s not so great. As Jonathan got older and into his teen years he started to discover and realize just how special his dad’s work is and it really inspired him. At the time he has been hesitant to do too much in horror because he doesn’t want to be viewed as someone who can only work in the same genre as his much more famous father.
In specifically discussing Mind Ripper, Jonathan shares some interesting stories with working in Bulgaria where filming took place. It was the first film shot in the country after they had a shift in government, making it a really unique time to be in the country. People were unsure of how to act and were trying to get used to this new way of life. Jonathan also has some fascinating stories involving his relationship with OJ Simpson and what it was like to know him right around the time of the infamous white bronco chase. It’s all pretty wild and makes for a terrific interview.
Going into Mind Ripper you have to know what to expect. Forget the Craven name is attached, because it can’t really compare to all the great work that Wes did throughout his lifetime. But not all horror films need to be great. Mind Ripper is a film that understands the genre and knows what horror fans want. It’s not going to reshape anyone’s opinion, or make you view the era of horror films in a different light, but it gets the trick done and delivers on a solid 90 minutes.
Mind Ripper is available now on region B Blu-ray from 88 Films.