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Bad Movie Tuesday: The Guardians (2017) aka Zashchitniki, a Russian superhero movie about werebears, fake muscle suits, a clone army we never see, and world domination.

December 12, 2017


A terrible superhero movie that makes me want to watch my least favorite Marvel/DC movie five times in a row.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The GuardiansIf you need a better Russian action movie, maybe try just Night Watch (2004) or Day Watch (2006). They’re the only ones I’ve really seen.  Sorry, guys.  I could use better suggestions myself.

Okay, so full disclosure… I don’t watch a lot of Russian (or eastern European) movies—but I was soooooo excited about this trailer for months.  My attention to cinema from this region has been limited to the few genre films to cross my Amazon/Netflix suggestions over the years—so far, just Night Watch (2004), Day Watch (2006), and Viy: Forbidden Empire (2014).  So, if this region’s cinema boasts gems to be mined, please tell me about them in the comments.  Thusfar, this film directed (and co-written) by Sarik Andreasyan is the worst I’ve seen (among Russian language films).

In preparation for future foreign threats in the wake of the Cold War, the Soviet Union experimented with genetically-engineered super soldiers—the Patriot project.  The secret laboratories and headquarters responsible for their creation are architected much like Hellboy’s (2004) Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense or Stryker’s Weapon-X facilities in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), and their geek squad tracks down the location of their sleeper cell superheroes with greater technological savvy than Dennis Rodman’s techno-monks in Simon Sez (1999).  Our heroes are recruited from their secret lives in Siberia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Moscow… and these scenes depicting their recruitment are just awful.

Zany concepts and “bad movie” staples abound. To start, these Russian mad scientists “engineered” a werebear!  Every bit of dialogue is raw exposition… like, really… throughout the ENTIRE movie.  The top security clearance superhero handler (Valeriya Shkirando) looks like a runway model too young to have completed the military training required for her rank.

The huge unevenness of the production value shocked me.  The opening scenes were so gorgeously crisp.  Yet, the moment the special effects polluted the screen, I was bombarded by cheap CGI SyFy channel robots.  I’d liken the special effects to a really awesome videogame or a laughable direct-to-video movie from 10-15 years ago.

So… our heroes!  Ler (Sebastien Sisak) has Magneto-like telekinesis…that only works on small rocks.  So, he’s like a geomancer (or something) manifesting rock shields, pelting minions with pebbles, and even making himself into a little Gorignak (Galaxy Quest).

Kseniya (Alina Lanina) controls her body temperature and can become invisible—perhaps a play on Sue Storm (Fantastic Four).  Then we have our Incredible Hulk-Bruce Banner analogue Arsus (Anton Pampushnyy), who is a werebear that loses all control in bear form and fears that the bear may eventually take over the man… sound familiar (i.e., Thor: Ragnarok)?  Arsus looks like some early 2000s videogame fighter—like newer Mortal Kombat quality. At one point he actually uses the phrase “full bear mode” and, against all good taste, the term is repeated by someone else.  Armed with huge sickle-swords, the only cool hero is Khan (Sanjar Madi).  With the speed of The Flash and the black “poof” ectoplasm of Nightcrawler, the only enjoyable special effects in this film are derived from watching him slice through military vehicles and goon platoons as he teleports about.

Behold the videogame effects of Full Bear Mode!

And then behold the guy in the Batman suit that should have had his own movie!

The big bad guy is Kuritov (Stanislav Shirin).  Once part of the team that created the Patriot heroes, he was mutated in an accident and became a hulkingly muscled Resident Evil (2002) monster bent on world domination.  Covered in shamefully fake veins, his latex muscle suit looks horrible.  The clichés are rich here… Kuritov needs the Patriots for his plan, he’s building an army of clones (eyeroll), and at one point Arsus actually says “you know that you need our superpowers, but you’re not going to get them.”  Barf!  None of these concepts ever come to be in the movie either—it’s all just talk.  Oh, but it gets worse… the team gets supersuits (that never seem to matter) and, since Ler was once defeated because he “ran out of rocks” they have “modified” the suit—i.e., there are rocks affixed to it like a bandolier.

Did they think no one would notice the resemblance or affinity for electricity?

The martial arts are terrible, the term “superpowers” is used like everyday vocabulary, and the bear transformation makes me miss the dated CGI of An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) and Underworld (2003).  You can tell this movie is trying (I think), but it’s failing miserably at every possible turn.  Except for Valeriya Shkirando’s make-up.  With her ever-damp hair and bright lipstick, she always looks like she’s attending New York’s Fashion Week as she tries to save the world.

Speaking of bad special effects, anyone else notice the suit wrinkling at his wrists?

Dare I say it, but this film only worsens as it progresses.  The action becomes so boring I find myself thinking “I should watch Ultraviolet (2006) again, it deserves another shot.”  Even the training scene sucked—and training scenes have the potential to MAKE the movie memorable! I’m sure the martial arts fight choreography would have impressed American eyes (unexposed to Asian cinema) back in the 80s and 90s, but compared to today’s martial arts stars (e.g., Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins) the Guardians’ fights look like a Frank’s South Philly Tae Kwon Do demo team in a high school gymnasium.

Things end flat when the Guardians basically combine their Captain Planet power rings a mile away from their big bad guy.  Stupid…smh…just stupid.  I almost tightened up and recoiled to the sequel-harbinger closing line: “we found more Guardians.”  Ouch!  Please don’t let this sequel happen.


I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: I Can’t Wait to See What Macon Blair Does Next

December 8, 2017

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a fantastic film that showcases director/writer/actor Macon Blair’s (Blue Ruin, Green Room) many talents. His performances in Blue Ruin and Green Room are perfection and it seems like he used his time on set with director Jeremy Saulnier to learn the directing ropes.  I really liked how he let this film bounce between genres while keeping it reigned in enough for it to remain cohesive. I’ve been a big fan of actress Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Win Win) for a long time and I love that this film put her front and center in a “hero” role.

The story revolves around a woman named Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) hunting down items that were stolen from her home. Before her house was robbed she was the type of person who let people push her around as she silently watched the world unfold. The robbery pushes her over the edge and she becomes embroiled in a world way out of her league.  Her journey to reclaim her stolen items finds her teaming up with her squirrely neighbor Tony (a very fun Elijah Wood) and becoming enemies with some dangerous criminals. Her misadventures see her dealing with ninja stars, throat strikes, crushed windpipes, poisonous snakes and some grisly death.


The stakes are relatively low and that is why I love it. It’s refreshing to watch a small stakes crime story unfold in ways you didn’t expect. I dig that the villains are suitably violent but they are still out of their league when amongst proper criminals. I’m a big fan of Jane Levy (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead) and it was fun watching her play the villain instead of being terrorized. The final showdown is a thing of gnarly violence and I found myself laughing at all the chaos and blood. Blair was able to create a classic Tarantino-esque showdown that incorporates humor with violent carnage. You will never look at ninja stars the same way again or trust all the guests at your holiday party.

This film earned its Grand Jury Prize from Sundance and hopefully it is able to build an audience so Macon Blair is able to showcase his skills again. The guy has made a very good film and I can’t wait to see what he does next.


John’s Horror Corner: Raw (2016), a French horror film offering coming-of-age allegory on addiction and impulse control.

December 7, 2017

MY CALL:  This is one of those neo-contemporary pseudo-horrors that are difficult to classify.  Just watch it.  It’s cool—and even if you don’t like it, it’s likely worth the experience.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Raw:  Films that have a lot to say include The Neon Demon (2016), Black Swan (2010), Antichrist (2009), Ginger Snaps (2000) and Brain Damage (1988).

Yes. This is that film that every well-seasoned horror fan told you to see. It’s the film that made everyone’s “best of” lists.  But what exactly is it?  That’s something on which you probably weren’t advised.  It’s a contemporary something or other… but which… something, or other?  I heard some compare it to movies about cannibals… others to modern werewolves or zombies or… it’s best to leave it alone until you see it for yourself.

Living a sheltered, conservative life, Justine (Garance Marillier) is dropped off at her dorm with a pink suitcase and a kiss.  New to veterinary school, Justine finds herself hazed by the upper classmen.  She’s ridiculed, subjugated, and forced to eat rabbit kidneys as a rite of passage.  Being from a family of vegetarians, it took some significant peer pressure that apparently even broke her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf).

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, this exploration of academic normatives provisions allegory to the consequences of such submissions.  Despite being against her will, Justine develops horrible itching and rashes as she falls into an impulsive addiction-withdrawal behavior after her exposure and begins to crave blood… meat… raw meat… and more.  Her drive is almost primal, and you may recoil as you witness Justine pushing away those who care, hurting those she loves, and alienating herself.  It’s all too familiar (for some of us viewers, anyway).

Justine’s innocence is not limited to ingested carnal exposure, but to more intimate experiences as well.  Her cravings for flesh are paralleled by maturing desires, conflicts, complications; and her journey may just as readily remind one of Ginger Snaps (2000) as Brain Damage (1988)—although far more elegantly executed.  But be not fooled.  This description has all the trappings of something that could topple affray into exploitation—and nothing of the sort will befall your eyes.  Scenes of premiere sexual encounters, a graphic bikini wax, and collegiate drug-induced nudity are equally provocative yet uncomfortable.  This foreign film will shock you with scenes of disfigurement and gory revelations.  They are few, but they are unnerving.

All temptations are mitigated with consequence, and those consequences may be awkward or serious.  I guess interesting, however basic the term, is the best word for all this.  This film is interesting, and it constantly taunts one to wonder with every scene to what end Justine will succumb.  Let’s just say it’s neither outside the realm of predictable, nor expected.

It won’t please everyone, it may even disappoint, but this film is a unique journey well worth the ride.

MFF Podcast #107: The Best Face Punchers of 2017

December 6, 2017

You can download the pod on Itunes or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back and we are talking about cinematic face punchers. Whether it be Vince Vaughn crunching people in Brawl in Cell Block 99 or Tessa Thompson drunkenly brawling in Thor: Ragnarok we believe we’ve picked the best 2017 brawlers. It was a great year for action films (John Wick: Chapter 2, Baby Driver, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk) so we did a lot of soul searching in order to give you the best list and podcast imaginable.

You need to watch Brawl in Cell Block 99

As always we answer random listener questions and discuss the greatness of Dunkirk. If you are a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy the pod!

You can download the pod on Itunes or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

MFF Special: National Treasure: The Mystery of the Lemons

December 6, 2017

In honor of the 13th anniversary of National Treasure, I decided to clear up (with educated guesswork) the infamous lemon mystery.  Why is a scene involving lemons infamous? Having lemons in a refrigerator is nothing groundbreaking or worthy of internet snark. It is the way the lemons are presented that has confounded audiences for well over a decade.  The issue the nitpickers have revolves around the lemons resting nicely in a big bowl in the middle of Jon Voight’s refrigerator.  It is a one-second scene in a two-hour movie that has joined the ranks of world-famous mysteries like Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, and magnets.

Watch the clip below to get a feel for the scene:


In my quest to be more like Benjamin Gates I’ve watched the scene over and over and did some lemon research to best guess why he had those lemons in a bowl in the middle of his refrigerator.

Between the soda, leftover boxes and lack of other ingredients I’m guessing he doesn’t use these lemons for cooking.

Here is how the scene plays out. Nic Cage and crew steal the Declaration of Independence in Washington D.C. and make their getaway to Philadelphia to hideout in Jon Voight’s house. They realize they need lemons for the declaration and the scene starts to take place.

Here are the clues I’m working with:

  1. They start their drive from Washington D.C to Philadelphia well after sunset (7:30PM) around 9:00PM.
  2. Mr. Voight has a sizable bar that looks to be loaded with cognac, gin and Irish whiskey. Also, to the left of the bar there is a decanter filled with a mystery booze.
  3. If you look to the left of the characters during the clip you will see several glasses filled with iced tea and lemon.
  4. When Harvey Keitel is at the house later on you will notice there is a half-filled iced-tea pitcher.
  5. There is a bowl of apples and bananas in the same place where the iced tea glasses are
  6. There is a massive library inside the house
  7. Next to the apples and iced tea glasses there are poker chips.

Here are the Benjamin Gates style deductions:

  1. They arrived in Philadelphia around 12:30AM which means a late night lemon pickup was pretty impractical. Also, the van they were driving in was being searched for so they would want to keep it off the road. This means the lemons had to be in the house.
  2. Before they say “we need more lemons” they already have a cut up lemon in a tiny bowl. This means that they must’ve found the lemons in the refrigerator, taken them out of the bag and placed them in a bowl in the middle of the refrigerator. Nothing in his refrigerator looks organized, so I highly doubt that Voight would organize them in a bowl.
  3. After looking at various retailer websites it seems that there are approximately ten lemons in a two pound bag that is commonly sold. Due to the contents of his fridge it seems clear that he would rather grab a bag of lemons then pick them individually. If you look at the picture above you will count nine lemons. The tenth was used for the initial tea and lemon plate.
  4. Due the contents of the refrigerator and the large pizza box I’m guessing that Voight rarely cooks. Thus, I don’t see him making lemon chicken or anything of the sort. Also, you won’t see him making any lemon cheesecake bars.
  5. There were no lemons in Harvey’s iced tea. Thus, they were all used or Jon Voight straight up dissed Harvey.
  6. The inclusion of poker chips means that Voight most likely has a weekly game with several of his friends. The lemons could easily be used with iced tea and various drinks.

Lemon hot take: After several discussions about the lemons I’ve learned there is a small group of people who believe Voight placed the lemons in the bowl himself. The reasoning is he decided to wash all the lemons at once instead of cleaning one at a time. After the cleaning he placed them in the bowl. This would make it easier for him to access. I think these people are delusional.

Why were the lemons in the refrigerator?

  1. The loaded bar and empty contents of a wine bottle suggest that Jon Voight likes the occasional drink. I didn’t see any mixers in his bar or house so it looks as if he likes his booze neat or on the rocks. Lemon may seem like an odd garnish but it combines nicely with a whiskey hot toddy or gin/vodka tonics.
  2. During the inspection of the declaration I’m deducing that Voight set them up with a nice pitcher of caffeinated iced tea. It was already late so they needed something cool and refreshing to keep them up. The fact that there are lemons inside the drinks show he is used to entertaining people (Poker) at his house and has no problem using lemons in their drinks/cocktails.
  3. He has a massive library and since he is eating dinner at 12:00AM I’m assuming he likes to stay up late and read. Since he loves making iced tea,  he most likely enjoys brewing tea. Perhaps he likes to make lemon tea (needs half a lemon for squeezing) or cuts up a piece of lemon for his tea. The lemon has a nice detoxification element and helps with immune system building and digestion.
  4. After researching lemon drinks in Philadelphia I found a treasure trove of articles talking about drinks and lemons. People love their iced tea, lemon shandys, and lemonade. Also, I managed an annual event in Philly and many of my volunteers could be seen with half gallon iced tea jugs from WaWa (they were obsessed). Thus, the dude loved his city and embraced drinks that could benefit from a lemon.

Conclusion: The lemons were already at the house and were most likely used for cocktail garnishes and iced/hot tea flavoring. They were in the middle of the refrigerator because Nic Cage pulled the lemons from the crisper and placed them in the bowl for easier future use. The mystery has been solved (or potentially creates more mysteries….)!

A Quick Pitch: If National Treasure 3 is ever made I think it should be about Nic Cage and crew rescuing a kidnapped Kurt Russell (dude is a national treasure).

If you like my dumb data make sure to check out the other posts that feature more weirdness.

  1. Jet Ski Action Scenes Are the Worst
  2. How Long Did it Take The Joker to Setup the Weapon Circle in Suicide Squad?
  3. Michael Myers Hates Blinkers
  4. Jason Voorhees Can’t Teleport?
  5. How Far Did the Merman Travel in The Cabin in the Woods?
  6. How Far Did Matthew McConaughey Jump in Reign of Fire?
  7. How Fast can Leatherface Run?
  8. Deep Blue Sea and Stellan Skarsgard
  9. How Far Did Michael Myers Drive in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
  10. How Did the Geologist Get Lost in Prometheus?
  11. People Love a Bearded Kurt Russell
  12. A Closer Look at Movies That Feature the Words Great, Good, Best, Perfect and Fantastic
  13. An In-Depth Look At Movies That Feature Pencils Used as Weapons
  14. Cinematic Foghat Data
  15. Explosions and Movie Posters
  16. The Fast & Furious & Corona
  17. Nicolas Sparks Movie Posters Are Weird
  18. Predicting the RT score of Baywatch
  19. The Cinematic Dumb Data Podcast
  20. What is the best horror movie franchise?
  21. How Fast Can the Fisherman Clean a Trunk in I Know What You Did Last Summer?
  22. It’s Expensive to Feature Characters Being Eaten Alive and Surviving Without a Scratch
  23. How Long Does it Take Your Favorite Horror Movie Characters to Travel From NYC to San Francisco?
  24. What was the Guy’s Blood Pressure in Dawn of the Dead?


John’s Horror Corner: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), mixing The Hidden (1987) creature, The Evil Dead (1981) mythology and The Dream Child (1989) twist.

December 4, 2017

MY CALL:  We’ve left everything you thought you knew about Jason Voorhees and Crystal Lake behind us only to venture into a zany land of bonkers fun and thematic mash-ups that seem to violate any and all canonical axioms of Friday the 13th.  Some hate it for this; I love it for this.  It’s definitely something different!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Jason Goes to HellObviously, Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) for sure.  Sadly, I’d only suggest part III (1982) for the sake of story continuity (it didn’t impress me at all, but many seem to highly favor it), but part IV: The Final Chapter (1984), part V: A New Beginning (1985), part VI: Jason Lives (1986) and part VII: The New Blood (1988) were all quite redeeming.  Although part VII and part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) get a bit more silly.  So I’d suggest fans of this turn to later Freddy sequels like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) and The Dream Child (1989).

Part 8 SIDEBAR:  Tommy Jarvis wrapped up part VI by defeating the lightning-resurrected Jason (Kane Hodder; parts VII-VIII, Hatchet) in the first of his undead movies, which ended leaving Jason drowned (yet again) and chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake.  Then in part VII, Tina telekinetically resurrected and subsequently dispatched Jason, sending him back to his watery grave.  No surprise, part VIII (in a stroke of originality) also resurrected him with electricity and then drowned him, this time leaving him in a New York City sewer.

In his writing and directorial debut, Adam Marcus (Secret Santa) wastes no time before diving into the entertaining mania that is this ever-developing franchise.  Jason (Kane Hodder; parts VII-VIII, Hatchet) seems to grow ever more powerful while ever more decomposed with each sequel. His water-bloated flesh now engulfs the margins of his crusty hockey mask and grossly swells around its straps, and we see straggling long hairs whisping in the moonlight.  He’s become pretty awesomely gross…but I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been drowned and waterlogged three times between various forms of electrocution (i.e., parts VI-VIII).

Franchise Timeline SIDEBAR:  So when does this movie take place???  Part 1 took place in “present day” (1980), parts II-IV all occur in rapid succession 5 years after the events of part 1 (so 1985), then part V jumped forward 5-6 years (so 1990-1991-ish) and (probably more of a writing flaw than anything) part VI took us questionably another 10-ish years yet further into the future (soooo, 2001…?).  Parts VII provides no time statement, but could just as well occur in the same year as part VI.  I guess it makes sense that too much time hadn’t past, or the fish and freshwater bacteria would’ve whittled him down to nothing.  I’d guess that parts VI-VII took place in the same summer, and that VIII is about 10 months later (into the next year; so 2002???) since our victims are on a high school trip around graduation.  But, as you read on, you’ll find this sequel (and part VIII) seem to have little regard for continuity…

Not sure how Jason was resurrected this time or how he got back to New Jersey’s Crystal Lake after being drowned in a New York City sewer.  Perhaps he respawns like some World of Warcraft or Call of Duty player… or perhaps a lower Manhattan power grid’s electrical surge awoke a rather homesick Jason.  Our opening sequence finds Agent Marcus (Julie Michaels; Doctor Mordrid, Witchboard 2) as a topless coed decoy to lead her SWAT team to capture Jason.  And, by “capture,” I mean shoot him about 100 times and then detonate his body leaving his head and still beating heart to be transported to a morgue.

Now this is where things get crazy.  After some feisty autopsy narration over some crispy sundered body parts, our coroner (Richard Gant; Godzilla 1998, Hood of Horror) gorily eats Jason’s beating heart in a ravenous fit!  And so, Jason has a new body—apparently now having the ability to possess and swap bodies via heart-eating (or another method to be discussed later).

Franchise Admixture SIDEBAR: Like part VIII, this sequel seems quite self-aware of its thematic silliness. And, also like part VIII, we find numerous callbacks to Freddy Krueger and his Elm Street franchise (e.g., Jason’s remains are taken to Ohio).  Part VIII had premonitions of young Jason warning our protagonist (or haunting her, as if she was somehow connected to him) much like the nursery rhyme girls and Amanda Krueger did in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and someone warns that the kids on the cruise to Manhattan were “the last of them” (and that was why the voyage was “cursed” and Jason was coming) much as NOES 4: The Dream Master (1988) was all about Freddy getting the last of the Elm Street kids. Now, Jason Goes to Hell follows in the path of NOES 5: The Dream Child (1989), in that Jason seeks to be reborn through another Voorhees much as Freddy sought to be reborn as Alice’s baby.  Breaking the Voorhees-Krueger emulation pattern, Jason switches bodies by way of an evil worm parasite passed mouth-to-mouth like in The Hidden (1987).  As if there weren’t yet enough honored movie flavors, we visit the run-down Voorhees house (a la 1428 Elm Street) and find a Necronomicon!  Yes, as in the exact book from The Evil Dead (1981; in concept) and Evil Dead II (1987; exact book design)!  So apparently Jason is a deadite, and there’s an article to such effect in Bloody Disgusting.  Makes sense, right?

I’m a major fan of the gore and effects.  Not only was Jason’s body fantastic, but the death scenes were spectacular!  The sex scene kill was brief but awesome, there were some abrupt but gruesome arm and jaw breaks, a blood-geysering head crush (a classic Jason maneuver), and the outstanding post-parasite-partem body melt.  That body melt was so gooey and slimy, rich with the kind of awesome that reminds me of The Blob (1988) or the transformation scene from Hellraiser (1987)!  The effects of the slimy demon parasite itself are pretty cool, too—even if it’s the campiest aspect of the movie.  Well, to be fair, the truly silliest thing about the movie was the bounty hunter (Steven Williams; It, Supernatural, The Leftovers) who somehow knew all this “hand-waiving” new mythology about Jason Voorhees, how only a Voorhees can kill a Voorhees, and all this hoo-ha about the magical dagger.  Yes, I just said magical dagger! LOL

Yup. That’s exactly the book you think it is…and there’s Voorhees dying by the prophesied hand of a Voorhees.

My past comments (see the “Incontinuity SIDEBAR” in my review of part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) about movie inconsistency get Hulk-smashed by the nonsense transpiring before my eyes as I watch with a sort of child-like wonderous glee.  Ever since part VII: The New Blood (1988), things have grown ever more exponentially bonkers and I couldn’t be happier.

A scene from the alternate ending.

The ending slips all the way into batshitcrazytown when Jason tries to mouth-demon impregnate an infant, Jason’s demon larva crawls up a dead Voorhees woman’s you-know-what, and Jason is pulled (like, by actual elemental demon arms emerging from the ground) down to Hell and Freddy Krueger’s clawed hand grabs his mask.  I get that this may sound stupid and a bit off-track for what you thought you knew about this franchise, but trust me in that this was AWESOME FUN!

John’s Horror Corner: Brain Damage (1988), Frank Henenlotter’s horror-comedy allegory for drug addiction.

December 3, 2017

MY CALL:  I’d call this a higher quality B-movie that actually has something to say.  If you’ve ever enjoyed a Henenlotter film, then you should try this.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Brain DamageObviously, Frankenhooker (1990) and the Basket case trilogy (1982, 1988, 1991).  I’d also suggest Dead-Alive (1992).

This review is all sorts of NSFW.
Just FYI… very NSFW
You’ve been warned. NSFW

This film drops us right in the middle of some weirdness.  Feeling a bit under the weather, Brian (Rick Hearst; Warlock III) awakens to find a sort of brain monster parasite attached to his spine.  And this little brain snake has an anthropomorphous face and a name: Elmer (Aylmer).  Elmer injects Brian with some intoxicating blue liquid which brings about a euphoric state.  However, in exchange for additional treatments, Elmer demands access to victims so he may feed (on their brains)—clearly an unsubtle social commentary on the desperate behavior behind drug addiction.  The dialogue and presentation are quite blatant, often depicted as a man (Brian) having a sober conversation with the very personification of his addiction.

Brian begins to act all sorts of weird.  He prefers seclusion, distances himself from his girlfriend, puts locks on the bedroom and bathroom doors, and seems to care about little more than his next dose from Elmer.  He doesn’t even remember some of the things his done to earn his next fix.

Writer and director Frank Henenlotter (Frankenhooker, Basket Case 1-3) tends to produce a mix of stylized dark slapstick humor, very gory low budget effects, heavy allegory, and perverse sexualized themes.  Being no exception, this film parallels sexual acts in its horror (e.g., the alley scene behind the bar in which Elmer assumes an analogous role to oral sex).  But despite the disturbing themes, this is a dark horror comedy complete with a musical number and it does not rely on smut (there’s very limited nudity).

Elmer appears to be a mix of puppeteer work and stop-motion, he’s sufficiently slimy, his face looks kind of cute yet evil, and they have a lot of fun with his ever-widening mouth when administering Brian’s fix.  We also see plenty of him, even (in one scene) in the form of cartoon animation!  Although the effects are cheap, they’re highly effective in this B-movie.  When the scenes merit gore, it’s gooey and chunky and exactly what you were hoping for given the silly movie posters.  Some highlights include the brain-eating sex scene, the deliciously gory withdrawal scene (yanking a brain through an ear) and the mouth-to-mouth kiss death scene.  When Elmer attacks it’s hilarious—akin to the larvae in The Deadly Spawn (1983).

Voiced by John Zacherle (Frankenhooker), Elmer/Aylmer sounds surprisingly like Jeffery Combs!  Elmer gets so much screen time that I’m left to wonder if Henenlotter or someone close to him endured a bout with addiction.  This work was clearly important to him, and it presents itself much more significantly than most random B-movies ever could.  We watch as Brian goes through every stage of addiction (including self-awareness).

This was surprisingly satisfying. The gore was adequate and silly and fun, the story actually worked and had something to say, and the title monster was quite likable.

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