Welcome to the Friday The 13th The Series rewatch. Each day throughout October, we’ll watch one episode of the seminal 1987 television series and tackle the highs, the lows and Micki’s hair (of course). Now step into Curious Goods and peruse our cursed antiques, won’t you?
S01E018: “Brain Drain”
Wikipedia Plot Summary: A mentally impaired man (Denis Forest) uses a cursed trephanator to steal brain-power from smart people, and his next target is Jack (Chris Wiggins)’ bride-to-be, Dr. Viola Rhodes (Carrie Snodgress).
- Director: “Tales of the Undead” and “Tattoo” director Lyndon Chubbuck returns for his final Friday episode
- Writer: “Shadow Boxer” writer Josh Miller returns for his second (and last) Friday script
- Famous Guest Star: Denis Forest, who played Eddie in “Cupid’s Quiver“, returns for another villainous turn
Cursed Antique of the Week: A trephanator that takes the intelligence from one person who dies and gives it to another
Setting: The Museum of Science and History
Best Death: Pangborn’s (presumed) death by trephanator may be on the nose, but it feels just right
Quirkiest Add-On: The basement of the museum is filled with all kinds of odd objects, but an extended close-up on the skull of an animal is my favourite funny little bit
Character Bits: Jack and Viola were engaged to be married twenty years ago. When they reconnect, they snog and get engaged a second time!
Corny Finish Line: No jokes, just heartfelt sentiment as Jack loses the love of his life a second time
80s Fashion Closet: Nothing too distinctly memorable, although Micki (Louise Robey)’s giant black trench coat which appears to be about five times too big seems very much of the time
Kissing Cousins Incest Watch: The banter when Ryan (John D. LeMay) and Micki are nearly discovered by Pangborn in the museum’s basement contains just the right amount of quippy repartee. Ryan asks Micki who her boyfriend in the crate is (it’s a skeleton) and her disgusted face at his suggestion is hilarious
At times Friday The 13th feels like a yo-yo: one episode it’s down and the next it’s up. Thankfully the cleverly titled “Brain Drain” is a winner, in part due to another creepy turn by bad guy Denis Forest. While Pangborn doesn’t have the same malice as Eddie from episode 1×03, he’s still quietly threatening as a man desperate for intelligence. What really works for me about Forest’s performance are the subtle mannerisms that he adopts each time he consumes another person’s intelligence, especially when he dons glasses and an accent after he murders Dr. Verner (Brian Paul).
Not unlike “Root Of All Evil” the main reason that this episode works so well, however, is that it directly affects a core cast member’s story arc. Similar to how “Root Of All Evil” addressed Micki’s frustration at being caught between Curious Goods and her relationship with Lloyd, here Jack is confronted with a life changing opportunity to reconcile with his ex-fiancé, Viola. The fact that his romance runs even more directly afoul of the case of the week helps to dramatically increase the stakes when Viola’s life is put at risk by her work with Pangborn.
Even more surprising is the episode’s grim conclusion when Viola actually dies. Not unlike recent series best episode, “Vanity’s Mirror“, the decision here by screenwriter Miller to go dark and actually murder Jack’s fiancé is hardcore. I was certain that Jack would find a way to revert the process (something he even mentions, but ultimately elects not to pursue). It’s legitimately shocking when the episode ends with a grief-stricken Jack staring down the obituary card for Viola. Hats off to Friday The 13th for not playing it safe with this ending.
What Doesn’t Work…
Although I will give credit for Miller’s script decisions, at times his dialogue is more than a little tin-eared. This is particularly true when it comes to the romantic conversations between Jack and Viola. Part of it is uncomfortable word choices and part of it is Snodgress’ delivery. As much as I like the idea of Jack having a fiancé, I think Snodgress is miscast. She’s far from convincing and even seems uncomfortable in front of the camera at times (is it extremely bitchy to say that she’s most convincing after her brain has been sucked out? LOL)
Also: it’s a minor critique, but this is the second time in two episodes where people gets powers from a chair that kills. See yesterday’s complaint about the series reusing the same ideas so early in its run.
Stream of Consciousness Musings
- Just like the last episode, we hardly know anything about Pangborn’s victims, but at least they have distinct personalities. Take Dr. Vincent Robeson (François Klanfer): he must deliver a big exposition dump to introduce the trephanator and the artificial brain, but he’s such a douchebag when he’s chatting with his colleague that you actively root for his death!
- In case you were wondering the trephanator is a based on a real device and school of thought, though it is not typically used in such a magical way
- The imagery and sound design when the trephanator is activated is quite good. Fangborn’s need to really crank the lever to activate the device gives it weight and the impact of the needle jabbing into victims’ necks is suitably jarring. Add in some gross suction sounds as the green liquid courses through tubes and the entire procedure becomes an appropriately horrifying fate
- Aside from the exposition dump and the awkward romantic dialogue, the entire first act cruises along nicely without many hiccups
- Does Ryan think that people get holes in their neck if they fall down the stairs? When Micki raises the puncture mark she saw on Dr. Verner’s neck after his fall at the museum, Ryan suggests the hole is from the fall, which…makes no sense
- This exchange — right before Jack goes on his date with Viola — cracked me up. Why bother offering?!
Micki: “Do you want some help with your tie?”
Jack: “Isn’t it alright?”
- Did we know that Jack was married before? Did I just repress that?
- More hilarious line readings: Why does Chris Wiggins pronounce Kenya like KIN-YA?
- Also: why does Louise Robey adopt a UK accent when she’s talking to Ryan at one point?
- If you’re keeping score at home, Micki and Jack have both gotten lucky now. Ryan alone remains the perennial virgin
- Micki and Ryan claim that they waited up all night solely to ensure that Jack was alright. I call bullshit on these two; they’re gossip-y hens waiting for a debrief about his date
- The distance between Pangborn and Viola’s timeline for teaching the brain linguistics is hilariously incompatible
- My favourite campy scene from the episode occurs when Micki and Ryan investigate the museum and wind up hiding from Pangborn: they are identically dressed in leather jackets like the most uber-fashionable cat burglars imaginable
- Two questions from this section:
- Why does it go on for soooo damn long?
- How does Micki get trapped in that crate?
- Jack and Viola’s re-engagement happens so quickly that I half expected them to get married in the very next scene
- Another hilarious dialogue exchange: Jack: “Viola and I are engaged.” Micki (without pause): “Jack, Viola’s in danger!” LOL. I get that time is of the essence, but you’re not even going to offer a congratulation?!
- When they’re searching for Pangborn, Ryan laments that “he could be anywhere”. So where does Pangborn wind up being? Exactly where he’s been the entire rest of the episode
- The moment that brain-sucked Viola stumbles into Pangborn immediately before he shoots Jack reminds me of the scene from The Faculty when Famke Janssen’s headless body is stumbling around the parking lot. It looks somewhere between “drunken” and “accidental”
- I was genuinely surprised when Jack doesn’t try to reverse the procedure. I was also similarly surprised when the brain in the glass jar doesn’t appear in Curious Goods (or something equally ridiculous) at episode’s end
- Finally, I get that Micki is trying to comfort Jack when she encourages him to focus on his time with Viola, but since it was approximately 48 hours, that’s not really a great suggestion…
See you back here tomorrow for Friday The 13th The Series episode nineteen: “The Quilt of Hathor” which is the first part of a two-parter! Dum dum dum!