Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage.
Brain Damage just might be the strangest movie that Henenlotter ever made, and for a man famous for creating both Basket Case and Frankenhooker, that’s saying a lot. Brain Damage follows Brian and his friend Aylmer. Aylmer happens to be a brain-like leech monster that secretes hallucinogenic fluid and devours brains. To start off, the cast is great. Much like Henenlotter’s other films, this movie doesn’t take itself very seriously and he assembles a cast with some pretty great comedic timing. Rick Hearst really runs the gamut of emotions here and is a strong lead. When he’s hooked on Aylmer’s brain fluid, tripping balls, he plays the role completely over the top and like he’s having the time of his life. As he’s hooping and hollering there is no doubt that nobody has ever had as much fun as he’s having in that moment. When he goes through “withdrawals” later, he’s in a darker place than anybody’s ever been. John Zacherle plays the voice of Aylmer, and there is absolutely no way to describe it and do it justice. It’s perfect, the way it taunts and feels strangely pretentious, but inviting.
What might be the strangest part of this film is just how well it’s done. Spoilers, this movie is good. It’s funny, it’s gory, it’s good. Still, it’s such a bizarre premise that to see it written and shot so competently just creates this weird dissonance that’s hard to explain. This isn’t the kind of movie that should have a tight script or be well-directed. This is the kind of project you’d expect to have terrible lighting, scenes that linger on with no direction, and actors on par with “guy you picked up at a bus station.” Instead, it’s performed so stylishly and confidently that it works. This strange premise just works.
While this movie is a pretty obvious and overbearing drug metaphor, it’s just so batshit insane that it’s hard to really see it as “preachy.” Every drug trip is complete lunacy, lit in bright saturated purples and blues. There are bizarre surreal images sprinkled throughout and they really blur the line between dream and reality a number of times. The effects are great. They don’t always look convincing, but the occasional cheapness just helps push the comedy. In particular, Aylmer is just obnoxiously goofy while still being gross and creepy at the same time. There’s plenty of gore, and those bits are some of the best effects in the film.
I like this movie a lot, so if this review seems short then you know why. It’s easier to pick something apart than to praise it, and really you should dig up this movie and check it out. The script is tight, it’s well-directed, it’s gory, it’s funny, and the cast really hit it out of the park. It has something to say about addiction, but it’s so completely out there that it doesn’t ever beat you over the head with it. Check it out!
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.