Monday, August 31, 2009

Brain Damage (Frank Henenlotter, 1988)

When you get right down to it, life is all about having blue goo swimming around inside your brain on a semi-regular basis. The big question being: How does one get the blue goo in there? I'm no brain doctor, but I don't think the blue goo is gonna inject itself. Well, if there's one person who can shed some light on this unique dilemma, it's definitely writer-director Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case). The most comprehensive cinematic guidebook for all those unfortunate souls out there who have unwittingly found themselves ensnared in a symbiotic relationship with a thousand year-old parasitic, psyche-devouring, hallucinogen spewing slug named Aylmer, Brain Damage is a touching parable about a young man who has gotten so hooked on the blue nectar, that he fears for the brains of his loved ones. You see, Aylmer needs to consume brains, while you require a steady dose of the psychedelic ooze that only Aylmer can provide. And while you're tripping out, blissfully riding a wave of colours and transcendental gladness, Aylmer might be eyeballing the skull meat of your irregular girlfriend. A disgusting worm with a large oral cavity replete of jagged teeth, Aylmer is actually a rather charming fellow once you get to know him. And, believe me, when he becomes attached to you, the chances of being exposed to his world famous charm are quite high. Fleeing the apartment of an elderly couple when he grows tired of eating animal brains, the leech-like Aylmer decides to shack up with Brian (Rick Hearst), a nondescript chap living with his brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald). Piercing his flesh with a retractable straw, Aylmer gives Brian's brain its first blue sludge hit while he's asleep.

The shock of waking up to a find that there's a small hole on the back of his neck starts to dissipate when he stops fidgeting and begins listening to the light. A vibrant kaleidoscope of bright colours and blurred shapes greets the youngster's cerebral cortex with an orgasmic thud.

Alienating himself from his brother, his adorable lady friend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), and the world in general, Brian, after some trepidation, seems to be at ease with his newfound acquaintance. Filling his room with buckets of water and spending an inordinate amount time in the bath (Aylmer is a big fan of water), the withdrawn teen starts to bring his slimy pal out with him on nocturnal jaunts to junkyards and punk clubs.

This relaxed attitude is upset somewhat when Brian discovers that Aylmer kills people when he eats their brains (it's virtually impossible to eat someones brains without causing the brain owner a modicum of harm) . The potency of the drug sloshing its way through his noodle may have clouded his recollection of the exact moment a person's brain was eaten, but the fact that he is starting to notice that is clothes are, more often than not, covered in blood when all is said and done is an alarming trend he could do without.

Saturated with the kind of unsettling gore and freakish behaviour I've come to expect from Frank Henenlotter, Brain Damage is a disgusting, yet wonderfully deranged affair that will have you laughing and gagging at the same time. Blessed with a haunting synthesizer score by Clutch Reiser and Gus Russo (particularly the music heard during that long, unbroken tracking shot of Brian walking down the street), and fantastic special effects (I loved the throbbing meatballs that looked like brains), the film beautifully mixes moments of playful absurdity with ones of absolute revulsion.

Obviously, the scenes where Brian and Aylmer (voiced by an uncredited John Zacherle) talk to one another were rife with an indescribable oddness. How else would you describe the image of a rational man conversing with a worm-like creature that exudes a hallucinogenic substance that looks an awful lot like toilet bowl cleaner? The fact that Aylmer's voice was so friendly sounding (as supposed to the unfriendly sounding brain-sucking slugs in all the other blue sludge spitting parasite movies I've seen) did nothing but add to the film's status as a cockamamie work of demented genius.

Brilliantly deadpan, Rick Hearst (General Hospital) perfectly conveys the horror one must go through when they find themselves locked in a soul draining relationship with a debilitating entity, especially one you originally thought was named Elmer. (I can only imagine how humiliating it must be to fucked in the back of the neck by something called "Elmer.")

Whether projectile hemorrhaging from his right ear hole or having his parasitical companion receive an alleyway mouth massage from an attractive punk club patron (Vicki Darnell) in the zipper region where his penis should be, Rick does everything within his power to make Brian seem like a regular guy. But not too regular; I thought the band posters that adorned his bedroom were a nice touch, as I spotted ones for The Cramps, Bauhaus and Suicide. They gave Brian that slight edge one needs when battling a crippling addiction. I mean, who wants to watch a fan of The Replacements or Hüsker Dü come to grips with the creature injecting a blue gel directly into his medulla oblongata? I know I sure don't.

Anyway, no matter what kind of posters Brian had on his wall, there is no doubt in my mind that Brain Damage is a great film.

video uploaded by FlixTrailers



  1. I have this one on DVD and really need to set aside some time to finally watch it. Henenlotter's stuff is out there and I think this weekedn will be the time I am in the mood to sit down and finally indulge BD.

  2. >>"When you get right down to it, life is all about having blue goo swimming around inside your brain on a semi-regular basis. The big question being: How do you get the blue goo in there?"

    Yum-Yum, you're a true philosopher and student of the Big Questions of the Universe. I am gobsmacked at the truth and wisdom of the above. I'd never known that's what I was looking for until now, but dammit, you're right--it's blue goo for my brain.

    Somehow I've missed this Henenlotter flick, though I count myself a big fan of his other work. This oversight cannot be allowed to stand. Thanks!

  3. Dude...dude...dude...

    Sorry, I don't know what to say. I'm almost in tears reading this. Tears of laughter.

    I like slugs, but not ones that eat my brain.


  4. Geof: There's never a wrong time for Brain Damage. Enjoy. :)

    The Vicar of VHS: Brain Damage is considered to be Henenlotter's most accomplished work to date. Hell, even the director himself lists it as his favourite. So, yeah, I think you should correct this oversight as soon as possible. The blue goo not-yet in your brain commands it.

    Karim Amir: Cool. I thought I might have gone overboard with all the brain eating talk.

    Your slug trepidation is totally understandable, as the people having their brains consumed in the movie don't seem like 'em, either.

    Oh, and that extra dude you threw in there at the end really hit the spot. 'Cause you know what they say? Four dudes are better than three.

  5. I saw this one years ago. I had pretty much forgotten about it. Thanks for reminding me. I do remember we all enjoyed it.

  6. absurdity of the movie = hilarity of the review = comic gold

  7. Keith: No problem, man. :)

    Karim Amir: I'm no math whiz, but your logic makes perfect sense.

    Emile Hirsch is on the Jimmy Kimmel show tonight.

  8. I'd refer to Brain Damage as a masterpiece right now, but that would be redundant. After all, "masterpiece" and "Brain Damage" are synonyms. Frank Henenlotter is a deity in my universe. As far I'm concerned, the only movie he's done better is Frankenhooker. But, really, how can ANYTHING compete with Frankenhooker?