Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/19/99
1987 (1999) - Synapse
Films (Image Entertainment)
review by Todd Doogan,
special to The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
86 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided,
single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with
director Frank Henenlotter, novelization writer Bob Martin and
filmmaker Scooter McCrae, theatrical trailer, additional trailer for
Basket Case hidden in
filmography section, isolated musical score, film-themed menu
screens with animated transitions, scene access (22 chapters),
languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: none
Damage is the touching tale of a boy and his parasite.
It's also a quite effective metaphor for drug addiction, and its
effects on both you and the people you love. Of course, we ARE
talking about a gore flick here, so who gives a rat's ass about
metaphor? I don't. This film features (among other things) a
gruesome oral sex trick, brains being unspooled from an ear, and a
couple of scenes where a blue phallic parasite burrows into people's
skulls. It's a great way to spend 86 minutes.
Brain Damage is about a young
New Yorker named Brian (brain with the "A" and "I"
mixed-up - how novel). Brian, as we first see him, isn't feeling so
good, and has to pass on a date with his best girl. He insists that
his brother take her out in his place, and after a bit of back and
forth, she goes. Brian, as we later find out, has been stung in the
back of the neck by a parasite named Aylmer. Aylmer (pronounced
Elmer for argument sake) is an ancient being that, up until
recently, has been in the service of an old couple, who are even now
turning the apartment building upside down looking for him. You see,
Aylmer gives his host a bit of the "joy juice" in
repayment for company, conversation and living HUMAN BRAINS! You
don't get the joy juice for free, oh no. You have to pay by feeding
Aylmer's appetite. Hey, there could be worse things. Aylmer is a
dark blue phallic-looking thing, that has the voice of horror show
host Zacherley, and the prettiest blue eyes a monster could ever
hope to have. He sings and dances and, as it's pointed out in the
commentary, might have served as inspiration to Trey and Matt in the
creation of South Park's Mr.
The key moments in the film, are when Brian first meets Aylmer,
when Brian goes to a club to hook up with a large-breasted femme who
learns the true meaning of deep throat, and when Brian slowly starts
to realize his deal with the devil, and wants to quit cold turkey.
In that scene, Brian brings Aylmer to a fleabag hotel, and tries to
wait out the joy juice withdrawal. The problem is this stuff isn't
your typical drug, and there doesn't seem to be a way to shake the
addiction. It changes your body chemistry, and you become a slave to
Aylmer. This is where we get the famed "pulling-the-brains-out-of-the-ear"
scene. It's very effective, very creepy, and it's amazing to know
the film cost about 3 bucks to make. The wonderful thing about this
DVD, is that most of these key scenes were horribly edited for video
release, so for many, this may be the first time they see this film
in its complete version. Praised be Synapse.
The man behind Brain Damage
is Frank Henenlotter. Those of you familiar with Fangoria
magazine during the 80s know his name. He's the guy who gave us
horror comedies like Basket Case
(more an uncomfortable comedy), and Frankenhooker
(a damn funny flick). He is the king of low-budget New York
filmmaking, and a master of gore. Brain
Damage is nothing short of a masterpiece in low budget
filmmaking. It succeeds visually, storywise, and metaphorically. The
end, where the old couple and Brian battle over who will be Aylmer's
host, is worth the disc's price tag alone. Wild and wacky stuff.
This DVD from Synapse Films is a grand piece. Not only does this
have a remarkable transfer, with a great mono sound field (believe
it or not), but it's a tricked-out disc as well. It isn't
anamorphic, but it looks amazingly good. The menu screens are
wonderful, with some of the coolest transitional animations I've
seen. The bonus area features a super trailer (transferred as well
as the actual film quality-wise, which is rare), and a commentary
track with Henenlotter, begrudgingly talking about the film. He
sounds a little like Quentin Tarantino here, which makes the eyebrow
go up. The track is pretty amazing. Henenlotter is fast-talking, and
passionate about the film, shooting off funny little nuggets about
how cheap the film was to make. He's joined by former Fangoria
editor (and Brain Damage
novelization writer) Bob Martin, as well as Scooter McCrae, the
maker of a wacky little zombie film called Shatter
Dead (and something I've never seen before, but the title
has me oddly peaked -- Sixteen Tongues).
Scooter asks the questions, and Frank and Bob answer. It works out
rather nicely, and everyone gives some great information. The "extra"
extra, is an isolated soundtrack featuring the music of Clutch
Reiser and Gus Russo. The music is pretty funky and adds greatly to
the fun of the film.
I'm a big fan of low budget films, and I always get excited when I
see them come out on DVD. It's films like these that make it hard
for people to say no to this format. My praise goes out to both
Synapse and Image, for doing this one justice, and for not just
dumping it on DVD (like so many other horror flicks have been). Well