The Films Of Frank Henenlotter : Brain Damage

Posted: April 6, 2009 in movies
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Synapse Films' Special Edition DVD

Synapse Films' Special Edition DVD

Brian ( played by Rick Herbst) has a little problem—that’s getting bigger. One night his neighbors’ parasitic brain-sucking symbiote “pet” escapes and worms its way into neck neck where it intends to stay for a spell, using Brian to get ahold of its favorite source of sustenance—human brains. In return for helping him procure his food of choice, the parasite will inject the psychedelic fluid that’s produced as a by-product of his digestion directly into Brian’s brain, giving him some awesome hallucinogenic experiences.  If this sounds like a fair trade to you, then you, my friend, need some serious help. Soon getting his “brain juice” consumes all of Brian’s waking hours, and he abandons his girlfriend, brother, and all semblance of a normal life in his quest to have another mind-bendingly outrageous trip.

Leave it to Frank Henenlotter to come up with a premise for his second film that’s even more outrageous than his first feature, the previously-discussed “Basket Case.” His follow-up, the 1987 comedy-horror shocker “Brain Damage” ups the ante in every way imaginable—and frankly some ways that aren’t imaginable.  There’s a bit more of a budget to play with here than there was in Henelotter’s debut feature, and he puts it to good use—the effects are pretty solid, the brain parasite creature, Aylmer,  looks terrific in a pleasingly cheesy way, and the overall acting ability of the cast is a notch higher.

For all the added semi-professionalism, however, none of the demented charm of Henenlotter’s debut feature is lost—this film is just as quirky and —ermmm—brain damaged as its predecessor, maybe even moreso. The scene where Brian (a self-consciously groaningly obvious anagram for brain) picks up a young lady at a club and feeds her brain to Aylmer in a most—shall we say—original way simply has to be seen to be believed, as does the scene where Brian sees his dinner at a restaurant transform into writhing, pulsating little brains.



Truth is, Aylmer is a jovial and friendly little parasite, but that doesn’t mean that Brian doesn’t know he’s got a problem that he needs to lick, and his withdrawal scenes in a dingy 42nd street hotel (another Henenlotter staple, as you can tell by now) are very well-done and pretty damn harrowing for a movie that’s otherwise got a decidedly comedic tone.  Soon, it’s  down to a struggle of man-vs.-brain parasite as Brian tries his best to kick his Aylmer addiction—but can he survive without the “juice” that his brain-eating buddy provides?

Lots of words and phrases come to mind to describe this film, Gratuitous. Deranged. Over the top. Outrageous. Incredible. Tasteless. Gross. Hysterically funny. Yet I think the English language itself actually comes up short in describing the truly twisted world of “Brain Damage,” and in the end you’re just got to see it to believe it—and even then, you’ll find yourself rewinding in several spots just to make sure that, yes, you really saw what you just did.

Fortunately, you can replay each and every scene should you so choose to your heart’s content on Synapse Films’ absolutely awesome special edition DVD release. Featuring an absolutely pristine 1080P/High Definition D5 16:9 anamorphic transfer, the film looks like a million bucks even though the budget was considerably less than that, and the newly-remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is well and truly awesome, with all speakers getting in on the action. There’s a terrific commentary by Henenlotter and Bob Martin (who wrote the now-highly collectible paperback novelization of the film) and the original theatrical trailer among the extras, as well, making this an absolutely essential purchase for fans of late-era —or any era, for that matter—low-budget exploitation films. All in all, this is a “must-add” to your DVD library.

Next time around, we’ll finish our little Henenlotter retrospective with a look at his third “essential” film, the 1990 classic “Frankenhooker.”  Until then, as always, thanks for reading, and have fun in your own quest to dig up diamonds in the cinematic rough.

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