Blu-ray Review: Brain Damage



Frank Henenlotter made a name for himself during the glory days of VHS rental when it came to people looking for off-kilter horror on the shelf. The two titles people immediately grabbed in his filmography were Basketcase and Frankenhooker. They were the films your cool pals would tempt you into double featuring with the promise of New York City flavored weirdness. One featured a tale of twin and the other about a mad scientist bringing his dismembered girlfriend back to life. Brain Damage is Henenlotter’s film that came between his major titles that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. This might not be as perverse of a concept, but it has it’s freak shock moments among its metaphor.

Morris and Martha are an elderly couple in an apartment who seem charming enough except they’re preparing a brain for dinner. Instead of eating it themselves, they take it into the bathroom for some sort of guest. But what type we don’t know since their pal has escaped. Morris and Martha panic at the escaped guest and go nuts looking for it. Soon neighbor Brian (Rick Hearst) discovers what’s up when a strange creature attaches itself to his back. The parasite doesn’t take over Brian, but feeds him a narcotic substance that makes Brian feel really good. The creature is named Elmer and only wants one thing in return from Brain and that’s brains. And he doesn’t want the prepared brains like the old people served. He wants brains straight from the skull. Elmer turns Brain into a killing machine. This includes a rather shocking encounter with a woman behind a dance club. Can Brian escape the grips of his addiction to Aylmer’s sweet juice? And what will happen if the old couple find out what happened to their guest?

Brain Damage somehow didn’t get as much of a push in my local videostore as Basketcase and Frankenhooker which is a shame because we could have truly enjoyed a Henenlotter triple feature evening. The film is a fine metaphor for heroin or even crack which was becoming all the rage in 1988. More importantly is Elmer is a seductive monster. Horror host legend John Zacherle provided the voice. He pours on the charm even in the most horrific of situations. He is the voice of addiction. The movie also has the outrageous gore effect from the back of the dance club that you’d want to show friends with the disclaimer, “You won’t believe this.” The Arrow Video transfer is the uncut version so it gets pretty gruesome. Brain Damage really messes with you mind.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The resolution brings out the rough New York City qualities in the frame. The details on Elmer can be appreciated now. The audio has the original LPCM Mono with its low budget vibe. Surprisingly enough there’s also a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track made for the release. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary with Frank Henenlotter covers so much of the film’s mysteries and joys.

Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage (54:13) digs deep into what it took to make Brain Damage come to life. Cast and crew remember the conditions and the reactions to the film.

The Effects of Brain Damage (10:00) allows Gabe Bartalos to explain the special effects done on a shoestring.

Animating Elmer (6:40) touches upon what effects supervisor Al Magliochetti did to give the puppet character.

Karen Ogle: A Look Back (4:29) allows her to reflect upon being the production’s still photographer, script supervisor and assistant editor.

Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage (8:48) sends Michael Gingold and Frank Henenlotter around the city trying to remember where they shot sequences. The neighborhood has changed a little.

Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession (10:00) is about a fan of the film’s recollection of the movie.

Frank Henenlotter Q & A (20:36) from the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival in Brussels lets him relate more tales from working on the film.

Image Galleries includes Stills, Behind the Scenes and Ephemera.

Original Theatrical Trailer (1:15) from its short theatrical run.

Bygone Behemoth (5:08) is a cartoon by Harry Chaskin about a giant monster forced into retirement by the movie industry. This turned out to be John Zacherle’s last film.

Isolated Score in LPCM 2.0 in case you just want to love the music.

DVD with all features found on Blu-ray.

Arrow Video presents Brain Damage. Directed by: Frank Henenlotter. Screenplay by: Frank Henenlotter. Starring: Rick Hearst, Jennifer Lowry & Gordon MacDonald. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 86 minutes. Released: May 9, 2017.

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