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BRAIN DAMAGE (director/writer: Frank Henenlotter; cinematographer: Bruce Torbet; editors: James Y. Kwei/Frank Henenlotter; music: Clutch Reiser & Gus Russo; cast: Rick Herbst (Brian), Jennifer Lowry (Barbara), Gordon MacDonald (Mike), Theo Barnes (Morris Ackerman), Lucille Saint-Peter (Martha Ackerman), John Zacherle (Voice of Aylmer), Vicki Darnell (Blonde in Hell), Michael Bishop (Toilet Victim), Bradlee Rhodes(Nightwatchman); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Edgar Ievins; Mackinac Media; 1988)

“So NYC deranged.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Henenlotter (“Basket Case”/Frankenhooker“/”Basket Case 2”)directs this silly low-budget indie horror film that surprises with a serious moralistic message. It had a short theatrical release before appearing in video stores. It’s meant to be taken more as a comedy than a scary horror film, but is a hybrid pic that breaks new ground by being so NYC deranged. It successfully makes use of cheap special effects, some imaginative trippy visuals leftover from the 1960s, and a delirious gross-out sick humor. Henenlotter used the storyline of a confused young Manhattanite, Brian (Rick Herbst), developing an unhealthy symbiotic relationshipwith a parasitic monster to good effect. Brian becomes addicted to a strange psychedelic drug given him by the slug-like monster, and it’s uphill and then all downhill for the wasted lad. The film works best, perhaps, as a public service warning over the perils of drug addiction, but leaves a lot to be desired if judged only as a horror film.

The parasitic worm-like creature, feasting on human brains, escapes from the apartment bathtub of the elderly European couple, the Ackermans (Lucille Saint-Peter & Theo Barnes). The creepy couple name their talking pet monster Aylmer (Zacherle, a NYC radio DJ, provides the cheery voice). He escapes because they feed him animal brains instead of human brains, his preferred diet. Aylmer, preferring to be called Elmer, appears in the apartment of the bored twentysomething Brian and gets in his head. The depressed Brian is a tenant in the same building as the Ackermans and his roommate is his brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald). When Elmer grasps Brian’s neck and injects him with a blue psychedelic juice that reaches his brains and makes everything seem beautiful, the stoned kid is hooked as he once again finds life exciting. But the addictive drug causes great mood swings and Brian’s life goes topsy-turvy, as he moves to a cheap hotel and like a junkie tries going cold turkey to kick his habit while a mocking Elmer sits on the sink crooning and jeering at his futile efforts. Brian tries in vain dumping his clinging girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), as he hopes to learn how to handle his addiction without harming himself or others. When Brian realizes that the monster controls him and uses him to murder innocent vics so he could exist by sucking out their brains, Brian wants out of this Faustian deal. Brian has sunny hallucinations, followed by coming down ill from the high without remembering what happened. There are a number of ghastly incidents while Brian hallucinates that result in such deadly things as murder: a nightwatchman (Bradlee Rhodes) in a car junkyard gets his brains consumed after he arrests Brian for breaking in and dancing around in the yard, a hot girl (Vicki Darnell) in an East Village rock club has an awful bloody experience as she performs fellatio on Brian, and a guy (Michael Bishop) gets zapped by Elmer while taking a dump.

The addiction becomes too strong for the kid to handle, as his life unravels and no one can help. This is serious downbeat stuff going down, that might be more painful than comical for those to watch who experienced the difficulties involved in withdrawal symptoms from a powerful drug.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”