Say what you will about weird eighties horror comedies like Brain Damage but they’re still better than most of the crap produced today. First of all, they grab your attention within the first five minutes with intriguing setups. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know more about the thing that this elderly couple is keeping in their bathtub. A thing that has particular dietary requirements and I’m not talking about paleo. Secondly, the cast went all in giving very committed and believable performances. Granted, the brother was a bit wobbly but he’s in the movie for like five minutes. And finally, there’s something transcendent in the artistic approach that the director took here.
Brain Damage is Frank Henenlotter’s second movie after the huge success of Basket Case. I have to admit that I am yet to check it out although I loved his next movie Frankenhooker. So, by now, I think you get a picture of what kind of movie Brain Damage is. However, you should also know that despite all the humor this is at times a very serious and dark movie. Frank drew inspiration for the story from his cocaine withdrawal process and you can really feel it. I mean, this isn’t Trainspotting or something like that but it effectively paints the picture of an addict and his troubles. Add to this a bunch of overt and not-so-overt sexual references and you’ve got yourself one hell of a movie.
Morris and Martha, an elderly couple living in an apartment building have a secret. A secret kept hidden away in their bathroom, far away from prying eyes. At the same time, their young and handsome next-door neighbor Brian is enjoying his life. Living with his brother, he has a good job and a great girlfriend. However, all of that is about to change.
Due to the small budget, practical effects vary from extremely good and nasty to laughable. Still, most of them are quite effective and have this visceral quality about them. I just wish they’d spent more time on The Aylmer. Finally, there’s a lot of padding that messes with the pacing tremendously. The first cut of the movie was only 66 minutes long, so they had to do reshoots and all kinds of stuff to stretch it to 80 minutes. Luckily, the nightmarish atmosphere and artistic visuals help with that. You kind of feel like you’re too under the influence of these mind-altering substances. Plus, all the death scenes are quite creative, gory, and memorable. Just the way we like ’em.
Brain Damage also has that juicy eighties vibe complete with a nightclub scene. By the way, the song that was playing during the nightclub scene is Corruption by The Swimming Pool Q’s. I mean, just when you thought you’ve seen all the good movies from that decade, another one pops up. Oddly enough, 1988 saw the release of another movie with the word brain in the title. The Brain is a more straightforward Canadian science fiction movie that’s one of those movies so bad that they’re good. We will have to wait a couple of more years before we would get probably the best movie with the word brain in the title: Braindead.
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Writer: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, Vicki Darnell
Fun Facts: Frank Henenlotter claimed that he had make up effects give Rick Hearst a split lip throughout the movie because he thought he “looked too fucking pretty” and that it wasn’t from a deleted fight scene.