Wednesday, May 23, 2007

#11: Brain Damage (Frank Henenlotter, 1988)

I have a soft spot in my head for schlock filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, writer/director of "Frankenhooker" and the "Basket Case" trilogy, but I'd never seen "Brain Damage" before. This was a terrible oversight. It's his best film. One of the last, and best, psychotropic drug films, "Brain Damage" is about an average guy, Brian, who lives in a modest apartment in New York City with his brother. He has a regular job and a nice girlfriend, Barbara. One night, feeling a little sick, he passes on going to a concert with Barbara and tries to sleep off his illness. He wakes up with blood all over the sheets and the back of his neck. He goes to the bathroom to try to figure out what's happening to him, and finds a small creature who resembles a hunk of brain with teeth and a long, thin tongue in his bathtub. The creature, escaping from its current keepers and winding up in Brian's place, has basically tongued a hole in the back of Brian's neck where it periodically injects a mysterious blue liquid into Brian's brain. This liquid supplies pleasant psychedelic hallucinations, but with the addictive aspects of heroin. Brian loves the high and is soon convinced by the creature, Aylmer or "Elmer" as Brian calls him, to hit the streets and have a little fun. Aylmer needs to eat brains, but he also needs to spend most of his day soaking in water to survive, so he finds some chump to keep high and help him do his brain-eating and water-soaking. The symbiotic relationship escalates, and Brian is soon freaking out his brother and girlfriend and some unfortunate New Yorkers. Aylmer is voiced by none other than TV horror host and fucking lunatic the "Cool Ghoul," an unbilled Zacherle. I love that guy.

"Brain Damage" is a tight, lean, economical, short, and inventive film. Even the strongest exploitation films tend to have pacing problems, but "Brain Damage" clips along without ever dragging. Henenlotter does a lot with his limited budget, the hallucinations are intentionally funny, the gore is disgustingly satisfying, the acting is strong, the visual palette of deep blues and reds is striking, a couple cast members of "Basket Case" have funny cameos, and a scene on the subway and the film's final scene are inspired lunacy. I like this movie. It's fun and weird, and I need weird fun in my life.

Zacherle, the "Cool Ghoul":

Dan Quayle should have consulted with Henenlotter before trashing Murphy Brown. Despite his films' blood, nudity, and profanity, Henenlotter is a family values man to the core. The "Basket Case" films are pro-family and urge brothers to stick together and look out for each other, even if one of them is a telepathic bloodsucking deformed mutant dwarf; "Frankenhooker" warns against playing God and promotes the old adage "you can't buy love," or more accurately, assemble it from the body parts of dead prostitutes; and "Brain Damage" is a cautionary, albeit metaphoric, tale about the dangers of drug abuse and addiction. Obama/Henenlotter 2008!

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