Thursday, October 11, 2012

80's Horror Week: Brain Damage (1988)

Frank Henenlotter is a name many a horror fan knows. He's the man who gave the world the 1982 film "Basket Case" and it's sequels (an alright first one and a pretty bad third one), "Frankenhooker" and the somewhat disappointing "Bad Biology." What I especially find interesting is the fact that everything he's done is heavily inspired by the kind of films you would watch in Grindhouse theaters and late night horror shows on TV. He doesn't even like to say he makes horror movies-he will tell you outright that he makes exploitation films, and all his films have that edge too.

A boy and his parasite

I find "Brain Damage" to be his best movie. The films tells the tale of Brain (Ryan Hurst), whose just your average guy who one day wakes up to a euphoric feeling, as if he's high. Well, he is high thanks to Aylmer, a talking worm like creature (voiced by horror host John Zacherle) who injects Brian in his neck with a drug that makes him feel great. On the downside, Aylmer needs to eat human brains, and Brian soon finds himself trying (and failing) to stop Aylmer, as his addiction starts to get the best of him.

As you can tell, "Brain Damage" is a parable for the horrors of addiction, and it's a damn fine one too. When horror films usually try to deal with issues like this, they end up becoming too preachy or sloppy for their own good, but "Brain Damage" manages to capture the enslavement of addiction and how it ruins the lives of the addict and those around him without taking on a hectoring tone. In a way, this is reminiscent of "Basket Case" in that it manages to throw in some genuine pathos into a film that's essentially an exploitation picture. Unlike "Basket Case", this is a better put together and acted film that feels like it was made by a real pro.

That being said, you don't need to worry about Henenlotter growing up. Sure, "Brain Damage" is a little more mature than his last film, but it still knows that at the end of the day, you shouldn't be taking all of this too seriously. Like "Basket Case" and "Frankenhooker", there's a wonderfully dark sense of humor that runs throughout most of the film, as you get plenty of weird imagery, warped gore gags (the highlight being a blowjob gone horribly wrong) and even an amusing "Basket Case" callback. This is a movie that, in spite of it's serious commentary, ultimately wants you to have fun, and that's what Henenlotter's best movies are: fun movies that know what their target audience wants.

Me after having to listen to The Offspring

To hell with all those anti-drug commercials and D.A.R.E. "Brain Damage" is the kind of thing people should see if they want something that actually has something to say about addiction. It's actually fun, never rams it's message down your throat, and is never boring. Plus, it's a genuine artifact in that it's one of the last true Grindhouse movies, and is one of the best examples of it's type. 

Rating: 9/10

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