Brain Damage (1988)
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Rick Hearst
Frank Henenlotter films have a couple of distinguishing factors about them: they are sexually charged films starring freaks who are frustrated individuals; socially dysfunctional in one way or another. The main characters in Henenlotter’s films are often times social outcasts who have been dealt an ugly card by life. For example, in Basket Case (1982) the main character is a guy who's born with a deformed twin brother stuck to his chest! In Bad Biology (2008), one character has a monstrous penis that can only be controlled with drugs and another character has a vagina with seven clits! And in the film I’ll be reviewing today, the main character is addicted to a drug that is administered to him by a talking worm! Welcome my friends, to the freakish world of Frank Henenlotter films!
Brain Damage is all about Brian, a young man who one night gets a visit from a worm named Aylmer. I call it a worm, but others have described it as a slug, a turd, a talking brain; all of which are correct. So anyhow, Aylmer is a creature that sticks to your neck and injects this hallucinogenic blue liquid into your brain that gives you an incredible high. Problem is that once you get a taste of Aylmer’s juice, you are hooked for life! Ah, but there’s a catch, you also have to feed Aylmer, if you don’t feed him, he won’t give you the blue liquid. The real problem is that Aylmer only eats human brains! So if you want to get high, you have to find Aylmer a victim! Will Brian start killing off people in order to get high? Can he ever stop?
So as you can probably surmise, this film is all about drug addiction. I’ve seen films like this one before, cautionary tales about drug addiction. Brain Damage brought to mind films like Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Trainspotting (1996), films that are meant to show you the horrors of drug addiction. The difference is that Brain Damage tells its tale through the filter of b-movie magic, with a talking slug as an allegory for drugs. Imagine if Heroin or Crack could suddenly personify themselves and talk to you, this is what you’re going to see in Brain Damage. The film is crystal clear with what it wants to say, and even though it is about a talking turd, the message it sets out to give is a very truthful one. Brain Damage goes step by step through the kind of things that you can expect to go through if you ever became addicted to hard drugs like say, heroin. Brain Damage depicts the alienation, the euphoria, the obsession and the degeneration that follows. Brian goes through it all to the point where the blue liquid is the only thing that matters, going as far as not caring about anything in life, family, relationships, nothing matters except the next high.
What is awesome about this movie is how Aylmer, the talking slug, personifies drugs and talks to Brian telling him things like “I own you know, you are mine” “I want you to beg for it now” and “Let’s see who cracks first”, I think that was just a brilliant idea because it shows us exactly how drugs end up dominating your life, taking over it. Aylmer tells Brian “This is the start of your new life Brian, a life full of colors, music, lights and euphoria, a life without pain, or hurt or suffering” I think this is with a doubt Frank Henenlotter’s best film because not only does it give us entertaining visuals, and gross out moments to boot, it also has something to say. Since it is a film about drugs, it also speaks about the big attraction that drugs have. Why exactly is it that people crave them even though they are obviously harmful to their bodies and lives? This is something that the film also explores because whenever Brian takes a bit of the blue liquid, we get to see what he sees, and this is when the film goes on these visual trips. Brian obviously enjoys the enhanced state that the blue liquid puts him in, colors are more intense, life is amplified somehow and he wants that all the time. Every time Brian takes the blue liquid, the film goes on these visual trips that are one of the highlights of the film.
But what would a Henenlotter film be without some gory, gross out moments right? Brain Damage goes all out in this department, we get some of the grossest, most shocking moments on any Henenlotter film, and that’s saying a lot! There is one scene that was so graphic and shocking that some of the crew members actually walked out of the set as it was being filmed! You’ll know it when you see it, but it involves fellatio, that’s all I’m saying! On the downside of things, the acting is sometimes not the best, but I guess that goes fine with the whole b-movie vibe, honestly I don’t mind bad acting in this kind of thing, it makes the film more entertaining somehow. And some of the lines on this movie, wow, they’ll have you rolling! Here’s an example, at one point, Brian goes on a killing spree but doesn’t remember what happened and Aylmer fills him in on what happened, then he tells Aylmer: “You ate her brain?!” followed by “Is she DEAD?”
So what we got here my friends is an anti-drug film that explores every single aspect of drug addiction, through the lense of a gory, graphic, loud b-movie. I love it how this kind of film can go deep, as opposed to what a lot of people think of b-movies, which is they are tripe, banal things. Well, most of the time they are, but in Brain Damage’s case, I say b-movies can be deep and profound without losing what makes them b-movies. So hurray for Brain Damage, undoubtedly Frank Henenlotter’s best film.
Rating: 4 out of 5