Brain Damage | Varied Celluloid

Brain Damage

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 15 - 2008
This review was originally written between 2003-2006 and has since been slightly edited. The opinion remains the same as the original posting, but slight errors have been revised or smoothed out.

The Plot: The film starts off in the apartment of an elderly couple. An older gentleman just makes it home where he is greeted by his anxious wife, he hands her a package that she then opens. Inside the package is a plate of many, many brains. The woman is ecstatic over the brains and brings them to the bathroom, but once inside she begins to frenetically bounce around the room. Turns out someone named “Aylmer” was supposed to be inside the tub of water, but he isn’t, and together the elderly couple freak out. Tearing everything inside the house apart as they search for the mysterious Aylmer, we can see that something obviously isn’t right with this picture. We then leave this couple and head to the home of Brian (Rick Hearst), an average guy who lives with his brother. Well, things get turned on their head when Brian wakes up in a pool of blood. Turns out Aylmer is a slug-like creature who has implanted himself in Brian’s body and has some seriously messed up plans. Aylmer gives Brian a taste of what he can offer, a liquid that Aylmer shoots into Brian’s brain and gets him high. When Brian gets wasted, Aylmer then uses him to find humans so he can eat their brains. Now Brian is going to have to wean himself away from Aylmer, but will he be able to before it is too late?

  

The Review
When I first sat down to watch Basket Case so long ago, I thought to myself “wow, this is too good to be true”. It’s a b-movie for sure, but it’s also very purposefully entertaining and actually has some very decent and original content to it. It had a strong lead character, it had an interesting story and the director actually incorporated some style and humor into the mix. Sure, bad-good films aren’t exactly a rare thing, but Basket Case was bad-good in a way that was actually… well, good! I was actually hesitant about looking up any more of Frank Henenlotter’s work initially because lightning never strikes twice, does it? Besides, the Basket Case sequels tend to get horrible reviews, so why would Brain Damage be any different? I should have looked more carefully at the IMDB, because Basket Case doesn’t exactly have a score to rave about either and yet Brain Damage is actually rated higher! For once, the general public that votes on the IMDB may have got things right! Brain Damage comes out of left field and may be one of the most surprisingly great horror films I have seen in a very long time. It’s violent, it’s funny, it’s cheesy… and it’s an incredibly good time!

Henenlotter took everything that made Basket Case such a great little film, and multiplied it by eleven. He showed me with Brain Damage that not only is Henenlotter’s work criminally underrated, he is a filmmaker that deserves as much recognition and accolades that fellow horror film alumni Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi have been lavished with. The first thing you should notice about Brain Damage is the step up in budget from the likes of Basket Case. Not that Basket Case was deprived of technical merit, for what it was it had some interesting camerawork and was quite ambitious, but with the budget they had there’s not much they really could do. Brain Damage on the other hand is actually quite the visual film, from the trippy drug endued dreams of our leading man to the seemingly ordinary rooms dressed in fantastic lighting. Henenlotter shows a legitimate cinematic vision and decorates his world accordingly. So many schlock directors go out there and shoot heaps of gore, but forget to bring anything original when it comes to what the film should look like… it’s always nice to find a film that takes both the gore and the technical aspects serious. For those of you who don’t like to focus your mind on the filmmaking aspects, Brain Damage also ups the ante in levels of violence. While Henenlotter’s original horror classic really didn’t have much in terms of any violence, Brain Damage is chock full of bloody goodness. One of the most disgusting moments for me was when our lead character has a dream where he pulls his brain out of his ear. Quite the sick moment and a horror classic!

One thing that didn’t change from Basket Case is the level of the acting, Rick Hearst definitely displays charisma and comes off looking just right on camera but his acting isn’t really something you can rave about. It’s a certain level of campyness that Henenlotter demands and almost all performances are relatively over the top. Brain Damage isn’t Evil Dead II or Dead-Alive, it takes itself just serious enough to actually be a horror film but at the same time it dabbles heavily in the world of satire silliness. The apparent anti-drug message reinforces this. The film is consistently taking stabs at drug culture, the war on drugs and works as a metaphor on dependency. Who says you can’t make a smart horror-comedy? It has been mentioned dozens of times before, but I might as well mention it too. For a fun reference, keep your eyes open for Kevin VanHentenryck as his character from Basket Case making a special appearance on the subwway train sequence of the film. I wasn’t expecting it and it had me laughing. So in the continuity of the Basket Case series, where does that place Brain Damage? Fun stuff to think about!

The Conclusion
The simple and easy way to know if this film is for you is to ask yourself this question: Did I get any enjoyment out of Basket Case? If the answer is yes, snag Brain Damage up right away. If you haven’t seen either, then pick them both up. If you say no, then steer clear of this one. Despite it being the better made film, it is still very much a Henenlotter film. I imagine it’s capable of being loved by any horror enthusiast. If there are people who love The Burning, then there have to be people who LOVE Brain Damage.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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