Frank Henenlotter’s tale of a boy and his penis-shaped parasite.
Brian (Rick Hearst) is a mind his own business kind of guy, but when he awakens one morning with a parasite he discovers a fresh interest in the neighbors and strangers around him. To be fair, his interest consists solely of whether or not they’d be good brain food for his new friend, Elmer the well-spoken and phallic-looking parasite.
Elmer (voiced by John Zacherle) needs human brains to survive, and in exchange, he squirts some blue sunshine directly into Brian’s own which immediately gives the man a high like he’s never experienced before. Colors, hallucinations and unfettered joy are the name of the game, and while he doesn’t exactly approve of Elmer’s murderous habits he’ll forgive just about anything to ensure his next fix. His girlfriend becomes concerned, the elderly couple next door want their Elmer back, and the weirdo on the subway with the basket in his lap looks a bit off, and soon Brian’s addiction becomes unsustainable.
Henenlotter’s Brain Damage, his second feature after his cult hit debut Basket Case, has all the goofy hallmarks of his filmography while adding a slight subtext of a far more serious nature. The “hit” that Elmer gives Brian could easily be that of heroin, crack, or meth, and the resulting damage to his life and to those around him is equally severe. Okay, maybe having your brains eaten out is a bit more severe, but you get the idea.
None of that is to give the impression that the film is all that serious though as it’s still a silly affair from beginning to end. A big part of that is due to Elmer’s personality and Zacherle’s calmly eloquent voice. It feels off when applied to the visuals, but that’s what makes the little beast so damn charming. He’s funny even while being a real threat, and his appearance as a dick-shaped creature with a brainy head and knowing eyes is equally to blame.
The film’s plenty gory as Elmer chews his way through his victims’ skulls dragging their brains out afterward and others meet equally grisly fates. Some of the optical work is understandably dated, but the messy stuff still looks good.
I still lean towards Frankenhooker as Henenlotter’s most enjoyable film, but Brain Damage has plenty of fun to offer genre fans who appreciate silliness as much as they do the bloody effects.
Arrow Video’s new release features a strong HD transfer of the film along with numerous special features including a trailer, photo gallery, booklet, and the following extras:
- Commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter
- *NEW* Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage [54:13] – Crew members recall the film from its early beginnings through production.
- The Effects of Brain Damage [10:00] – Gabe Bartalos discusses his work on the film accompanied by on-set and behind the scenes footage.
- *NEW* Animating Elmer [6:40] – Al Magliochetti talks about his work as visual effects supervisor on the film.
- Karen Ogle: A Look Back [4:29] – The film’s still photographer, script supervisor, and assistant editor recalls the film’s production.
- *NEW* Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage [8:48] – Michael Gingold takes a tour with Henenlotter of the NYC shooting locations. Sadly, Ted Geoghegan is absent.
- *NEW* Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession [10:00] – Superfan Adam Skinner shares his love for the film.
- Brain Damage Q&A [20:36] – Henenlotter sits down for a post-screening Q&A in 2016 to discuss the film’s origin and production.
- “Bygone Behemoth” [5:08] – A stop-motion animated short from Harry Chaskin featuring John Zacherle in his final screen credit.
Buy Brain Damage on Blu-ray from Amazon.