Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: Brain Damage (Frank Henenlotter, 1988)

For today's post we're moving far away from the Olde Worlde crumbling Gothic castles of the Count and co. to explore the grimy hotel rooms and back alleys of late 80's New York, in those delightfully seedy halcyon days before the city was apparently cleaned up. From the same family of subtle-as-a-sledge-hammer cautionary tales as Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (which would no doubt make for an interesting and intense double feature with today's title), Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage is a brilliantly grotesque, once-seen-never-forgotten, black-comedy-horror tale of addiction, plotted as a monster movie.

Brian (Rick Hearst) wakes up one day to discover a phallic parasite has attached itself to the base of his neck. Whilst this is admittedly pretty gross, it isn't all bad, as said creature is soon dosing him with some strange blue juice that makes him feel pretty fucking groovy, man. At first, he's enthralled at how the fluid opens his doors of perception, giving him, among other things, feelings of oceanic rapture and visions of pulsing coloured lights. Unsurprisingly however, all is not as it seems, as the creature turns out to be a ancient, sentient, brain eating monster called Aylmer, that enters into a symbiotic relationship with however it latches onto, giving them a buzz in exchange for fresh grey matter. As Brian is now unfortunately hooked on the little fella's Blue Sunshine, he's forced to become an accomplice to its feeding frenzies, or otherwise suffer the agony of withdrawal.

This is another of those movies, like the Stuart Gordon H.P. Lovecraft adaptations we looked at a few days back, that manages to pull off a consistent balancing act between horror and humour. With this particular film it's especially welcome, as otherwise it would probably be pretty grim and borderline didactic. As suggested earlier, there's plenty of imagery here that will scorch itself upon your mind's eye and most probably never leave. In one particularly memorable bit, where Brian and his girlfriend are at a restaurant, he starts tripping while trying to tuck into some spaghetti and meatballs, transmuting his previously tasty looking grub into breathing, pulsating brains. And then there's the infamous fellatio scene, which I'll leave the uninitiated to discover for themselves.

With its balls-out gore effects, cool midnight-movie blue gel lighting and a wonderfully typical late 80's synth-laden soundtrack, Brain Damage is an extremely direct but imaginative take on the old good-times-on-drugs-gone-off-the-deep-end story. Plus, it's a damn sight more fun than Requiem for a Dream (not that Aronofsky's flick is a bad movie or was meant to be a lark of course). Henenlotter's other films, such as the cult-classic Basket Case (1982), the delightfully titled Frankenhooker (1990) and the relatively recent Bad Biology (2008) are also highly recommended.   

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