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Brain Damage (1988)

Arrow Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/9/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/16/2017

If you haven't seen Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage, you have to see it now, because it's a great film. And that's all that I have to say on that subject.

OK, I'll say a little bit more. In Brain Damage, average-joe Brian (Rick Herbst) awakes one morning and begins to have very vivid hallucinations. Why? Because a small, snake-like creatures named Aylmer (voiced by horror-host Zacherle) has attached itself to Brian's neck and begun injecting him with a very strong drug. Aylmer will continuing supplying Brian with this drug if Brian will allow the worm-like animal access to human brains. Brian is disgusted by this notion at first, but as he become's addicted to Aylmer's "juice", he succumbs to the creature's ways, forsaking his girlfriend Barabara (Jennifer Lowry) and his brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald). Despite his growing depedence on Aylmer, Brain still struggles for independence, leading to a clash between servant and master.

With Brain Damage, Henenlotter, the twisted genius behind BASKET CASE and FRANKENHOOKER, has created a great film which works on (at least) two levels. First of all, Brain Damageis fun and insane gorefest. If you can buy into the fact that the film's co-star is a talking turd with a velvety voice, then you are going to have fun with this one. The movie offers some classic gore set-pieces, and this Blu-ray Disc contains the uncut version of the film, so it is even gorier than the version previously available through Paramount. (The "blow-job" kill is a true must-see!) As with any of Henenlotter's films, he makes great use of New York locations and he mixes in some very dark humor with the proceedings. Also, the cast of relative unknowns do a fine job in the film, with Herbst holding his own against the talking worm.

But, it's the more literary level of Brain Damage that I truly love. While there are many ways to read the film, there's no argument that the story is analagous to drug addiction. Brain Damage presents must every facet of addiction such as denial, rejection of family and responsibilities, and detoxification. While many "serious" films have tackled this issue, only a gonzo film such as Brain Damage could handle all of the complexities of addiction by presenting the story as a metaphor. (The fact that Aylmer is on Brian's back speaks very clearly to the underlying theme.) As someone who works in the substance abuse treatment field, I can say that addiction can be a very ugly thing and BRAIN DAMAGE isn't afraid to show that hideous face to the audience.

Fans of Brain Damage will certainly want to upgrade to this new release, as the re-mastered transfer looks great. Those of you who missed the first DVD release, which is now out-of-print should jump on this limited-edition release before Aylmer scurries away again.

Brain Damage needs to go to residential treatment on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only slight traces of grain and some mild defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the blues, and the image is never overly dark or bright. Someone took some time with this transfer, as the shower scene, which has looked too bright in the past, looks good here. The picture has a nice amount of depth and it's rarely soft. (Although a few moments looks slightly out of focus.) The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects aren't overwhelming, but they add presence to the nightclub, junkyard, and subway scenes. We don't get an abundance of bass effects here, but Aylmer's silky voice comes through just fine.

The Brain Damage Blu-ray Disc contains several extras features, most of which are new to this release. We begin with a new AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Frank Henenlotter. "Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage" (54 minutes) offers comments from Producer Edgar Ievins, Special Effects Make-up Artist Gabe Bartalos, Visual Effects Artist Al Magliochetti 1st AD Greg Lamberson, Make-up Artist Dan Frye, Editor James Kwei and actor Rick Herbst, all of whom reminisce about how they got involved with Henenlotter and the film. We get some on-set photos here and a bit of video, but mostly it's anecdotes which propel this piece and it certainly gives a detailed look at the production. Gabe Bartalos returns in "The Effects of Brain Damage" (10 minutes) where he discusses the creation of Aylmer and the various effects. We get some home movies from the workshop here. "Animating Elmer" (7 minutes) has Visual Effects Artist Al Magliochetti discussing how he made Aylmer move in the film, mostly through stop-motion animation. "Karen Ogle: A Look Back" (4 minutes) has the film's Still Photographer, Script Supervisor, and Assistant Editor share her memories of the production. Horror journalist Michael Gingold and Henenlotter visit the places where the film was shot in "Elmer's Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage" (9 minutes). "Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession" (10 minutes) is an interview with "super fan" Adam Skinner who shows off his collection of memorabilia from the film. Watching this leads the viewer to a second menu which offers four songs based on the film. "Frank Henenlotter Q&A" (21 minutes) was recorded in March, 2016 and has the filmmaker discussing his views on the film. We get three IMAGE GALLERIES -- "Stills", "Behind-the-Scenes", and "Ephemera". "Bygone Behemoth" (5 minutes) is an animated short featuring John Zacherle, who voices Aylmer. The extras are rounded out by a THEATRICAL TRAILER and an ISOLATED SCORE TRACK.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long