Thursday , September 24 2020
Frank Henenlotter's twisted follow-up to Basket Case. . .

Brain Damage

It’s Brian’s simple misfortune to have an apartment just down the hallway from the elderly couple with the vast collection of African artifacts and the brainsucking parasite swimming in their bathtub. When said parasite – a big sperm-shaped creature named Aylmer (which stands for “the awe-inspiring famous one,”) – escapes the duo’s apartment, he doesn’t have to venture far for his next sucker. For Aylmer (or “Elmer”) is capable of injecting an addictive hallucinogenic blue liquid directly into his host’s brain, to get them to do his bidding. Once he has Brian (Rick Herbst) hooked, he gets the poor stoned-out-of-his-mind sap to carry him out into the New York City night in search of fresh brains to devour.
So it goes in Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (Synapse Films), the writer-director’s 1988 typically gory and idiosyncratic follow-up to Basket Case. A parable about drug use (possibly), Damage contains plenty of the director’s trademark sick humor, imaginative use of low-budget fx and over-the-top violence. His monster, Aylmer, speaks with the rolling tongue of a teevee horror show host. When he feasts on his first victim, an auto graveyard guard, he pronounces the meal, “Not bad, a bit underdone.” Taking a fucked-up Brian to an 80’s dance club called Hell (as with Basket Case, the flick really conveys the period look of its New York neighborhoods), he picks up a clubgoer for some back alley oral sex. What follows (“Feels like you’ve got a real monster in there,” the hapless young girl notes before undoing Brian’s zipper) is a monumental scene of horror film perversity, the kind of moment you might’ve gotten in 70’s underground horror comix (Skull, for instance) but even more startling for the flashes of soft porn imagery Henenlotter incorporates.
Our hero futilely attempts to gain the upper hand, fleeing his girlfriend and the apartment he shares with his brother to hold up in a seedy hotel that looks like it’s part of the same chain that offered the heroes of Basket Case refuge. While Brian suffers the torments of going cold turkey, Aylmer taunts him by singing the WWII era big band classic, “Elmer’s Tune.” Eventually, Brian succumbs again, and at one point we see the dazed-&-controlled human puppet on the New York subway. There, he sits opposite Duane from Basket Case, who is so disturbed by the sight of Bri that he grabs his basket and backs off the train.
It all ends badly for our protagonist, of course, who gets his mind literally blown when the couple who were originally Aylmer’s vessels track down the boy and his parasite. But not before the film’s perky heroine Barbara (Jennifer Lowry) has her own comically hideous encounter with the wisecracking, fanged creature. (Sometimes, a kiss is more than a kiss.) Few people get out alive in a Henenlotter horrorflick, but even with their grim conclusions, his best movies have a deliberate goofiness to ’em that keeps the experience from being totally oppressive. It’s been years since this cult moviemaker lensed one of his sordid feature fancies – the world of horror has definitely been much poorer for it. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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