Posted May 10, 2017 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Brain Damage (1988) Blu-ray Review

No one should ever take Frank Henenlotter’s films seriously. They are cheaply made, grotesque, sleazy, gooey and with plenty of misfired sick humour. It is surprising to find therefore, especially for Arrow Video aficianados he has only directed a small handful of feature films including Frankenhooker (1990) (the plot of which is written all over the one word title) as well as the three Basket Case films, the first of which was his first cult success made in 1982. The plot of Basket Case (again, another great jokey title) is about a man who  he carries around his seriously deformed siamese twin brother who he transports around in a basket and plots to murder all the doctors who left him as a blobby mess. Apparently the film warranted two dreadful sequels. All the more surprising that Henenlotter didn’t direct the similarly and equally trashy Street Trash (1986) (that films director, Jim Muro was an assistant director and steadicam operator on Brain Damage).

In many ways Brain Damage isn’t a million miles away from Basket Case in plot or style, the first film he made 6 years after that first success. There is even a cameo with Basket Case star Kevin Van Hetenryck as a man sitting on the subway train with a basket on his lap. In a poor New York flat Brian (Rick Herbst) lives with his girlfriend. Brian is due to go out with his girlfriend but he says he is ill with a cold. She goes out with their friend instead. Meanwhile his neighbours, an older couple are searching for something or someone and are pulling their apartment to pieces to seach for it. They were about to serve someone they call Aylmer some brains and are frought with anxiety that they can’t find him. Aylmer it would seem has left the building. He is clearly small as they are searching cupboards and book shelves for him. They then begin to froth at the mouth. Meanwhile, Brian wakes up in his bed covered in blood and soon discovers that a parasite has entered his body. All of a sudden he gets a feeling of euphoria as though on a hallucinogenic trip. The cause of this soon makes itself known. Aylmer is a talking parasitic turd like creature that is using his host’s body to live on. In return for this feeling of euphoria and trips Aylmer requires brains to feed on. Brian starts to act crazy and begins unwittingly helping the suave talking Aylmer to acquire his brain food.

The plot plays out like a remake of William Castle’s The Tingler (1959) starring the irrepressible Vincent Price. In Brain Damage (1988) it is not fear that brings the monster out of its host but instead a desire to eat brain. Equally, unlike in The Tingler the creature is grotesque and comic like, resembling Mr Hankey in ‘South Park’. This comedy element jolts with the more serious subjects of the film, namely the dangers of addiction, the blurrings of reality and hallucination and some rather graphic murders. One of the sickest is the PVC clad girl at the party who goes down on a delirious Brian to perform oral sex on him. Shockingly Aylmer emerges from Brian’s zipper and penetrates through the girl’s mouth to eat her brains. Of course Aylmer is somewhat phallic anyway.

Needless to say for those familiar with the Arrow titles the dual format discs are filled with a thorough smattering of extras that raise the profile of the sleaziest of films (Frankenhooker has also been released through the label). As well as a 52 minute Making Of documentary other featurettes include ones on the special-effects giving a completist overview of any single film. A sleasze classic, as with most cheap horror films is badly acted, trashy and gross that has a dated appeal all of its own.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick