Gaming the Social Changes

There’s a cure for familial problems – the great American western road trip, as satirized by National Lampoon, and in Mind Games, a waning attempt to recall nostalgic social standards.

Mind Games isn’t a slasher movie. Rather, a psychological drama, steeped in conservative ideals where ills stem from women and one college educated psychiatrist. In the Lund family, husband Dana (Edward Albert) is a middle class breadwinner, trying to better himself in night school. Tensions rise because Rita (Shawn Weatherly) dares to seek a career opportunity rather than be a housewife.

Part of Mind Games resents change, that no longer could a household sustain itself on a single income. That’s honest, yet skewed. Rita is depicted as insufferable, miserable, and dissatisfied; Dana counters as calm and rational. The hero/villain attitudes spare nothing, written with ‘50s style gender roles in mind. The woman is emotional, manipulable, and sexual. To Mind Games, that’s terrifying.

Educated elites intrude on a healing journey through California – Mind Games’ honest tagline

Enter Eric (Maxwell Caulfield), using his supposed education to worsen things. A west coast, book smart elite intrudes on a healing journey through California – Mind Games’ honest tagline, were show business ever honest. It’s absurd and slow, obvious too, as Eric drifts toward lessening sanity. Rather than push the Lund’s together, his tinkering makes things worse. Then, he tries to kill. And in a weird, uncomfortably suggestive turn, he skirts pedophilia. Those embracing sexuality, in Mind Games’ world, take things to impure extremes.

Although released in 1989, Mind Games doesn’t exploit the slasher genre (by then a formula falling out of favor). Rather, the approach is different, turning people against one another rather than directly hack and slash through victims. It’s a clever switch, even exotic, if embarrassingly paranoid about shifting cultural dynamics (even comically so). Mind Games demeans intelligence, sticking to a belief that classic nuclear family dynamics work, if only things were allowed to stay as they were.

Credit where due: California location shots give Mind Games a boost. Rarely does it look low budget, rather isolated. That works too, inducing growing fears between people and that need to stray from others. The Lunds have no friends, no one to call, and must escape on their own.

In the finale, the setting becomes an abandoned mine. The town is gone, the mine dry. Out went the workers, and in comes Eric. What follows is a showdown between IQ and the working class. Given how Mind Games played out to this point, surprises are few. The past is buried, and the Lunds must contend with this new reality. Alone and scared of changing norms, but as a family.

Video

MVD adds Mind Games to their Rewind Collection, and this is dazzling work for something this obscure. While still mildly dirty at times, overall print condition nears pristine. Encoding handles grain, maintaining filmic qualities with minimal digital artifacts.

Location shooting brings heavy sun, near clipping, if not going too far. Same goes for black levels, keeping intent (which includes crushing shadows). In the final act, light becomes a premium. Blacks hammer this sequence, yet do so with careful composition. Density holds to the needed firmness, and avoids letting noise slip into darkness.

The color looks untouched by digital grading. Maybe elevated, but not skewed by modern tools. Flesh tones hit a satisfying precision and primaries follow in kind. Better is resolution. Texture pours from these images. Facial definition misses nothing when in close, while location scenery resolves beaches and forests. MVD’s packaging doesn’t note any scan details, but Mind Games is presented (at the least) from a new 2K master.

Audio

Prior to the final reel, a light popping is heard under the action. That’s the only fault in this PCM stereo track in terms of technical gaffes. Fidelity matches most late ‘80s offerings from this period, slightly worn and dry yet organic.

A few stereo touches stick out, although not in the best way. While on a beach, water splashes on the shoreline from the right yet never moves even as the camera alters the view, putting the water visually on the left. Otherwise, it’s fine, and mostly centered.

Extras

A making of runs 117-minutes, longer than the movie. This is great stuff. Interviews include the main cast, director Bob Yari, and producer Mary Apick. It’s honest, open, and better than Mind Games itself. A second half hour featurette explores Bob Yari’s career beyond Mind Games, another solid bonus.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Mind Games
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Movie

Absurd and even ludicrous, Mind Games fears changing social norms when using a college kid to terrorize a middle class family.

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