Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.
Sometimes, I just don’t know where to begin. With a film like Brain Damage, there are a lot of places I could go, but I have no idea if any of them are the right place to begin. Is this a horror movie? Yes. Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it an attempt at a psychedelic freakout? Yeah, it’s that, too. Brain Damage manages to be funny, stupid, and incredibly offensive all at the same time. It honestly feels a bit like this film was created, at least in one part, to up the ante on the oral sex gag from Re-Animator. I’ll do my best to make sense of this film, but I’m not entirely sure it’s possible.
We begin with an older couple who seem pleasant enough despite the fact that the husband (Theo Barnes) has just brought back a large collection of brains from a butcher. His wife (Lucille Saint-Peter) places one of the raw brains on a plate with a sprig of parsley and walks into the bathroom and suddenly begins freaking out. Something, obviously the something that was soon to be snacking on brains, is missing. The couple panics and starts ransacking their apartment in search of whatever it is.
Cut to the apartment of Brian (Rick Herbst) and his brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald). Brian has a date planned with his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), but is sick, so Mike goes instead. While trying to recuperate, we learn what the couple from the beginning of the film misplaced. It’s Aylmer (voiced by John Zacherle). I’ll do my best to describe what Aylmer looks like, but the picture at the top of the page is a start. Aylmer is a blue, veiny slug, and there’s no question that his vaguely phallic look is completely intentional. He has a mouth that is capable of opening extremely wide and two close-set eyes that are almost certainly intentionally to be comic.
Aylmer, in addition to talking in a voice that sounds like somebody’s next-door neighbor, has two real qualities. First, he is capable of secreting a blue fluid that he can place directly on the brain of the person of his choice, in this case, Brian. We’re given a couple of shots of this; it looks remarkably electrically charged windshield washer fluid. This fluid is evidently a powerful hallucinogenic. In the world of the film, this translates as things changing colors. Alymer’s other ability is to devour brains, which he does with particular relish.
And really, that’s the movie. Aylmer attaches himself to Brian and plies him with sparky windshield cleaner so that Brian will take him out into the world and help him find brains to devour. Conveniently for Aylmer, Brian never remembers what happens since he’s too busy tripping on windshield fluid. We get a number of gory deaths caused by Aylmer’s eating, including a fairly epic moment of attempted oral sex from a girl in a punk club that results in her brains being devoured from inside her mouth. We also get a number of interesting hallucinations from Brian when he’s trying to withdraw from the juice. Those withdrawal hallucinations, which including him ripping off parts of his body, are a lot more interesting than his drug trips. In fact, the drug trips are pretty disappointing. Mostly, things just change color.
There’s also a subplot about Brian’s brother and his girlfriend stressing about Brian’s sudden change in behavior and hooking up themselves. But really, it’s all about the brain eating.
There’s no way in hell Brain Damage was meant to be taken seriously. It’s just too goofy and too weird. It’s too damn weird, no matter how straight Rick Herbst tries to play the role. In fact, him playing it straight actually makes the whole thing funnier. There’s no way that Aylmer (misspelled as “Elmer” in the credits) is anything other than a comic nightmare.
Let’s be completely blunt here: Brain Damage is a low-budget exploitation film made to capitalize on its audience’s desire to see gore. One would presume it was also made to capitalize on that audience’s desire to see rampant nudity, which makes it funny that Henenlotter gives us far more man-ass than female nudity. This is all about the gross out, about how far the film can go to make sick jokes and show us brains than it is anything else.
So did I like it? A part of me wants to say yes. It is funny in that sick way that only a low-budget horror film can be. It succeeds in everything it attempts to do. I kind of respect it for that, and I love that there’s even a nod to Henenlotter’s classic Basket Case near the end. But this is not a good movie. This is what you watch with a bunch of drunk friends on a weekend night. It’s nothing more than that, and it’s not trying to be anything more than that. It’s trash and it’s intended to be trash. It just happens to be really entertaining trash.
Why to watch Brain Damage: It’s funny.
Why not to watch: It’s also stupid and pretty offensive.