HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.82. THE LAWNMOWER MAN 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 141 mins/110 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dr. Lawrence Angelo works for Virtual Space Industries, running experiments in increasing the intelligence of chimpanzees using drugs and virtual reality. One of the chimps escapes using warfare technology that he was being trained to even though Angelo is generally a pacifist who would rather explore the intelligence-enhancing potential of his research without applying it for military purposes. The ape is befriended by Jobe Smith, a local church groundskeeper with a learning disability, before it is shot by the military. Angelo falls into alcoholism, threatening his relationship with his wife, then one day he notices Jobe mowing his lawn. Perhaps, with some alteration to his old formula, he could begin his work again and make Jobe smarter……
After Tron and Brainstorm first employed the concept in the early 80’s, the next major motion picture to deal with virtual reality was not for over a decade. The Lawnmower Man is almost a really good science fiction thriller, and it certainly has one of those stories that is rife with meaning, though in the end it’s mostly just another variation on the Frankenstein idea of the scientist who goes too far playing God and the creation who goes wrong because of this, and actually if you remove the ground-breaking [for their time] computer effects it’s not really very original at all. It doesn’t bear much resemblance to Stephen King’s short story The Lawnmower Man, which is about a man who hires somebody to mow his lawn and that somebody has the mower cut the lawn all by itself and kill the owner as a sacrifice to the God Pan. The film’s initial script was called Cyber God but was rewritten when New Line wanted to put in elements from King’s story which they held the rights to. When the film was released, to decent box office, under the title Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, the writer, who was unhappy about having a film boasting the title of one of his stories but not being much like it, sued the studio three times before they complied and removed his name from prints.
Seen today, one cannot help but consider the film very dated technically. The occasions when computer-orientated things happen outside of the virtual reality world, like a man on fire, look awful, and why does anyone who needs to go into the virtual reality need to wear spandex suits like the ones in Tron? The actual virtual reality sequences still look rather good though; yes, things have moved on, but I don’t think the intent was to create a realistic virtual world anyway. Everything leaps out at you [as much as it pains me to say this, they could almost justify re-releasing this movie in 3D, perhaps with more and maybe improved virtual reality sequences] as we fly over a landscape with islands in the sky and through a Star Wars climax-like environment. The best sequence is when Jobe takes his girlfriend for a spin in the world and, after they have sex and meld into a butterfly, he turns into a monstrous demon, partly because he is playing with her and partly because he can’t help revealing his true evil self.
Of course this stuff is only a small part of the movie which is for some of its length a variation on the Daniel Keyes novel Flowers For Algernon, which was made into the really moving 1968 film Charly. Once again a mentally disabled man is turned, by science, into a man of great intelligence, but for it to eventually go wrong. Jeff Fahey perhaps overplays Jobe in the early scenes with his wide eyes and gormless expression, but it’s interesting watching him gradually change. The story is also about a scientist who desperately wants to do good and doesn’t see what is wrong with what he is trying to do, even if he is against the US military getting involved. Things get rather silly around half way through when Pierce Brosnan’s scientist briefly becomes an action hero when he has to deal with shady government agents. By now Jobe has some special powers, but unlike the lead characters of the King-based Carrie, Firestarter and The Dead Zone, ceases to be sympathetic, even if those he kills have all been nicely set up earlier as nasty people we look like to see buy it [sadistic priest, abusive husband etc]. Sadly, the idea of someone who can control minds doesn’t create as much fear or tension as it should and the climactic scenes, even the ones set in virtual reality, are not as exciting as they ought to be.
Brosnan gives a really strong performance in this film and Jenny Wright does her best in a thankless role as the tart who Jobe starts sleeping with. Dan Wyman’s music score, relying greatly on synthesised voices, is pathetically weak. Overall this is still worth a watch especially in its Director’s Cut. The Lawnmower Man is a perfect example of how extra footage, in this respect 31 mins, can alter and improve a movie. The pace is certainly slower in the first half, but more footage of Jobe and the monkey make its death more traumatic and the film goes on to become as much about Brosnan’s character as it is Fahey’s. He becomes a more complex and at times less likeable character. We even see a major character killed which did not occur on the Theatrical Cut! A little quaint and very cliched, but still a fairly involving film which to my mind [not having watched it for many years] succeeded better in many of its quieter scenes than its louder ones.