While watching Brain Damage, you might start to see similarities between it and other horror comedy classics such as Frankenhooker and Basket Case. Not just in how it looks visually but also in the writing. That’s because it was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. The same mind that brought us the aforementioned movies.
His classic style of madness runs through Brain Damage like a thick and bloody vein. The similarities are there but Brain Damage is its own thing.
It’s wacky, it’s gross but most of all it’s very entertaining. It opens at the apartment of an elderly couple who have excitedly brought back piles of brains to feed something called Aylmer. They are hysterical though that Aylmer has disappeared out of the bathroom where they were keeping it captive.
It turns out Aylmer is a large slug-like parasite who relies on brains to survive. It attaches itself to a host and demands feeding in return for euphoric highs. Having escaped the elderly couple, Aylmer finds a new host in Brian (Rick Hearst).
Brian experiences the highs offered and discovers a life without pain or suffering. All he needs to do is ensure Aylmer is fed. Of course, once Brian discovers just what Aylmer feeds on, he finds himself repulsed by it. However, the high is just too much to resist sending the man on a downward and bloody spiral.
For all it’s silliness and it is a silly movie, Brain Damage deals with a very difficult subject…drug addiction. Brian grows to despise Aylmer but his desperation for just another hit drives him to continue his destructive relationship with the parasite.
One particular sequence where Brian is trying to ‘quit’ Aylmer by going cold turkey is pretty harrowing to watch. His descent into despair while living in a filthy hollow is bad enough but having Aylmer tease him and encourage him to fail is even worse.
Talking of which…to make the subject matter a little lighter, Aylmer is a comical looking creature with a voice (John Zacherle) that is reminiscent of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. Just like the hungry plant, Aylmer is charismatic and not willing to take no for an answer.
The black humour will amuse and it works in contrast to what is often a really gory movie. Slapstick but still pretty vile, such as the scene where Brian pulls his own brains out through his ear.
In anyone else’s hands, this mesh of styles would be messy but in Frank Henenlotter hands, it’s very entertaining. Especially if you’ve seen any of his other work. Look out for a Basket Case cameo near the end!