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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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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2017 10:04 pm

    I remember seeing both movies but I forgot that Hennenlotter directed them each. This one had a lot of good practical effects I remember. Good choice

    • John Leavengood permalink
      December 4, 2017 7:41 am

      He did surprisingly well with effects given the clearly low budget. I also appreciate that the sense of humor eclipses the perversity.
      Have you seen Basket Case???

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

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