Movie Review: Brain Damage (1988)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

At this year’s Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon I had to skip out of the last film, Brain Damage, a Frank Henenlotter film I’d been meaning to see for a while, so I resolved to make it next on my netflix queue. The cult director’s sophomore feature, it follows the misadventures of Brian (Rick Hearst), a young man who unwittingly finds himself playing host to a parasitic worm creature known as Aylmer. This mythical beast injects an addictive substance directly into his victims’ brains, and it causes an intense, psychedelic euphoria. But Aylmer himself feeds on human brains, and manipulates his hosts into finding him food. Brian is at first unaware of his new friend’s hunger for human parts, but by the time he finds out what’s happening he’s in too deep to pull away. His girlfriend and brother worry over his strange mood swings and sudden misanthropy, but he doesn’t want them sucked into Aylmer’s cycle of drugs and murder. Meanwhile, Aylmer’s former owners- now sick with withdrawal- are searching for him.

A little bit dark, a little bit funny, and largely just gross, Brain Damage wasn’t quite the head-trip I was hoping for. It was underwhelming as a whole, to be honest, and I felt like Henenlotter didn’t have enough story to fill out the running time, but could have fleshed out some of his ideas more. I also didn’t love how Aylmer was done- his voice was annoying and I felt like he was supposed to be funnier than he actually was? Maybe a different voice actor would have worked better, or stronger dialogue. That being said, it’s an impressively original low budget horror, with DIY special effects that made me lose my appetite, which I assume was the point. I loved the trippy drug-fueled sequences, the weird premise, and the gooey over the top kills, though the oral sex scene was too ridiculous even for me. It’s a silly movie overall, naturally, but it maintains a gritty aesthetic and a slightly dark tone throughout. This balancing of camp horror and drug addiction is not always successful, though, which might be why I thought the film was a bit dull overall. NOT BAD just not as good as I wanted it to be?

Loved the Basket Case nod, though. I haven’t even seen that one yet (I know, I know, I will) but I totally got the reference! And I love the idea that these films all take place in the same world. Maybe Frankenhooker‘s wandering around there somewhere off-camera.


Pair This Movie With: The whole thing is kind of a gritty, gooey update to Little Shop of Horrors, or any film with that familiar premise. I of course will heartily recommend the 1986 musical (especially the director’s cut!) as a pairing.

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