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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Brain Damage (1988)

Film Review: Brain Damage (1988)

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SYNOPSIS:Poor Brian…a young man who has it all only to find that a centuries old creature that lives with an elderly couple in his building has something he doesn’t have. Something Brian doesn’t even know he wants…yet. Once he experiences it, he becomes insatiable & the only way to get more of it is to feed the creature the one thing it craves…human brains.


The Black Saint has such fond memories of the year 1988, My first child made her debut February of that year, I was (Happily) working 2 jobs (8AM – 2:30AM) five days a week. Married for 2 years & still in the “Discovery” stage of my marriage. There were some pretty good movies that year as well: “Rain Man”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (say what you will but Judge Doom was scary!), “Die Hard”, “The Naked Gun” & “Beetlejuice” among them. But there was one very special movie that I saw that year. One that still sticks with me to this very day. Why? Well we’ll talk about it later acolytes but the name of the film was “Brain Damage” and I will tell you now that once seen it can never truly be forgotten.

Directed By Frank (Basket Case) Henenlotter, “Brain Damage” tells the story of a young man named Brian. Who lives a pretty good life in his small lower East side apartment that he shares with his brother. He has a good job, a lovely girlfriend, the whole nine. But one evening his elderly neighbors, Morris & Martha discover something is missing from their apartment. Morris comes home with a fresh batch of cow brains & Martha is exuberant over how fresh they seem. “He’ll love them!” she cries as she places some on a plate with some garnish on the side. She takes the plate to the bathroom tub & finds that whatever was supposed to be there waiting in the tub…isn’t. This causes the both of them to go into a hysterical frenzy, turning their apartment upside down looking for…it. They go to other people’s apartments asking to look in their bathtubs as well in search of it. But they cannot find it & end up on the floor of their apartment, foaming at the mouth in pain & grief.

But they didn’t check Brian’s apartment. His girlfriend, Barbara comes by to pick him up for a planned date only to find him looking physically ill. He’s feeling lousy & tells her to go with his brother Mike instead. She demurs & takes his advice but both of them comment isn’t usually ill as they leave him to his bed to rest. Soon afterwards, Brian wakes up to find blood on his hands & all over his bed/pillow. He rushes to the bathroom mirror to check & see where it’s coming from when he suddenly collapses & giggles for a bit. He crawls back to bed a slights start flashing before his eyes. As he lays in bed, he stares at the light fixture on the ceiling as it suddenly changes into what seems to be an eyeball. Soothing mood music fills his head as the room fills with beautiful blue water, The light fixture is completely an eye now & as he stares at it, the water washes over him completely, the last thing he sees is the big eye staring down on him from the ceiling.

He awakens later more in control of his facilities & racing back to the bathroom he finds that the tub is full & immediately declares that he knows “Someone is in here..might as well come out.” All of a sudden, something comes from UNDER his shirt curling it’s way upwards to his head. This “Thing” that looks like a deformed snake with a very big head & tiny little eyes promptly looks at him and declares “HI”! In the next scene we see Brian wit his new friend in the bedroom. It is in a bucket of water & Brian is on his knees listening intently to what it’s saying to him. These are the most important words in the movie to me so I’m going to repeat them verbatim as spoken to Brian: “This is the start of your new life Brian. A life without worry or pain or loneliness. A life filled instead with colors & music & euphoria. A life of light & pleasure”. When Brian asks “Who are you…What are you?”, it answers “I am you. I’m all you’ll ever need.” Brian claims not to understand but it assures him, “You will Brian. From now on your life will take on a whole new light. And all you have to do is look into the light and listen to the light Brian…just listen to the light”. Brian responds with “Yes, I’d like to again but…I don’t see it now” The creature offers Brian a deal: It will show him the light if he’ll take it for a walk. Anywhere will suffice…it’s hungry. When Brian proclaims that he’s confused it tells him “Then don’t worry about it. You don’t need to worry about anything ever again. I’ll do all your thinking for you. Just place me on the back of your neck. Trust me Brian…trust me. It’s at this point where we see a long thin needle like protrusion emerge from it’s toothy mouth & inject a blue serum directly into Brian’s brain stem at the base of his neck. Within seconds Brian is docile & satisfied.

He’s also gone as Barbara & Mike return home to find Brian’s bed empty. Brian is running through the streets of Manhattan seeing colors & lights emanating from all over. Even the old junkyard he’s climbed over a fence to get in. As he’s jumping up & down with excitement over the light show no one can see but him, a security guard hears the ruckus he’s causing & gets up to investigate. The (Armed) guard slowly tracks behind Brian watching him with his pistol drawn as Brian pauses to look at a shattered windshield shining bright Orange at him. He orders Brian to freeze & as he pats Brian down he feels…something under Brian’s shirt. Brian’s buddy leaps out & attaches itself to the guards forehead where it promptly begins to eat his brains. As Brian bemusedly watches, he asks “Is he OK?” to which it replies “Not bad..a bit Underdone. We better get out of here”. But Brian asks for another shot to the brain & gets it (In each of these scenes Henenlotter treats us to a sot of the blue fluid enveloping Brian’s brain. It crackles with electricity as it makes contact with his brain matter.)

Soon afterwards, Brian begins to become more & more distant. And far more dependent on the blue juice that his little buddy supplies him with. He exults to Barbara as to what he sees now but it won’t let him explain the situation to anybody. This particular scene takes place at a restaurant where Brian’s plate of Spaghetti & Meatballs turns into a plate of Spaghetti & pulsating brains in a nifty & nasty looking effect. He leaves Barbara at the restaurant as he roams the streets with his buddy looking for a new victim. He finds an alley and after a shot of the blue goo he’s feeling a lot better. He hears music coming from a club called “Hell” across the street. He enters & immediately enters and just starts dancing & hugging the speakers. He catches the eye of a young girl at the bar & immediately starts to dance with her. She tells him “You’re high aren’t you?” but enjoys the attention he’s giving her & she takes him down to the boiler room underneath the club where after some heavy petting & kissing she grabs his crotch & recites the film’s funniest line: “Feels like you got a monster in there”. She unzips his zipper & out pops his brain eating buddy into her mouth. This scene was actually cut out of the “R” rated release because of the obvious oral sex correlation. It does look like she’s throating a large misshapen penis when in actuality it’s eating her brain.

Brian goes to the alley behind his building to throw away his blood stained underwear. He is accosted by Morris, who is calling Brian a fool by feeding him human brains, thus making him stronger. It has a name “Aylmer” & Morris explains that Aylmer has been up to these shenanigans for centuries. It has quite a history & none of it is good, It has been ruining lives for ages & Morris had been able to subdue it by feeding it animal brains rather than the human brains it craves. Brian decides that he has to leave & beat the Aylmer at it’s own game & prove that he is in charge…not it. This turns out to be an unmitigated disaster for him as he holes up in a sh*tty little hotel room to go “Cold Turkey” on the blue juice until the Aylmer agrees to his demands. But the Aylmer has been around a long time and as he explains to Brian what has been going on in a calm, rational manner..Brian loses his temper & declares that he’s going to be in control as soon as he gets the blue fluid “Out of his system”. The Aylmer accepts the challenge & decides to wait Brian out. As Brian goes through heavy withdrawal symptoms…the Aylmer mocks him mercilessly To the point where it even begins singing a tune to him in a jaunty voice as Brian hallucinates that he’s pulling a long thread of bloody flesh from his ear until it falls off & a gusher of blood flows forth. All the while, the Aylmer sits in the filthy sink, taunting Brian with the promise of more blue juice. It can wait…can Brian?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Henenlotter’s film is all about the horrors of drug addiction & what becomes of those who are among the addicted. A few paragraphs earlier I told you what Aylmer’s exact words were to Brian upon their first meeting. I did this because the words rang true to me then and they still do in a sense. I have had members of my family fall to the needle and the damage done by it. I have buried members of my family who have died of drug overdoses. I, myself take a great deal of prescription drugs to combat pain stemming from an auto accident I was in years ago. Last week in NY, a man coldly murdered 4 innocent people in a drugstore, not for money but for Oxycontin tablets. Oxycontin is one of the (many) opiates I take to manage my pain. The film means so much more to me because of this. And while I’m not an addict, I know what it’s like to be around one. I’ve lived with them & their demons for many moons now. I sometimes feel like I’m 2-3 pills away from becoming a full blown addict myself on occasion. The Aylmer represents all that is evil about the abuse of drugs & the lengths that men will go through to get at them…no matter the cost to them or their loved ones. “Brain Damage” is the best “Drugs are bad for you” film ever made in my opinion. Better than “Panic In Needle Park”, “The Man With The Golden Arm” & countless other movies with higher profiles than it has. It’s better because it’s more visceral, more in your face than any film like it. It gives addiction a face & a voice that could sway anyone. It starts off as a goofy looking horror movie but ends up being so much more.

I know I’ve left out the ending but some things should be experienced for oneself to see. I will say that the Aylmer was created by Gabe Bartolos & voiced by “Cool Ghoul” Zacherle & both of them excel at their jobs. The Aylmer undulates & waves to & fro constantly. Almost never shutting up…constantly reminding Brian on how much he needs it to survive. Quite literally it’s the “Monkey On His Back”. It’s a stunning animatronic creation done on a very low budget. And Zacherle’s dulcet voice suits the creature to a tee. Perfect casting. All of the actors are more than up to the task at hand & perform their parts well. There’s also a great cameo on a train where some characters from one of Henenlotter’s first films make an appearance that’s a basket full of laughs. The film ends tragically as most films dealing with this subject matter do. It just does it in a more spectacular way, but the tragedy remains the same. “Brain Damage” will entertain you immensely but if you know someone who has a monkey on his/her back that they cannot shake, it will both bother & entertain you in equal amounts, because it will give you a sense of what this person is going through. Either way, you will never forget it. I know I never will for reasons I pray none of you will ever have to experience in your lifetime.

One comment

  1. I saw it on tele, here in Australia, for the first time ever last night!


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