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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/19/99

Brain Damage
1987 (1999) - Synapse Films (Image Entertainment)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Brain Damage Film Ratings: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/A

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

Brain 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. Hankey.

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 done.

Todd Doogan

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