• Brain Damage

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: May 9th, 2017.
    Director: Frank Henenlotter
    Cast: Rick Hearst, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, John Zacherley
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter in between the first and second Basket Case Films, 1988’s Brain Damage tells the strange story of a young man named Brian (Rick Hearst), a seemingly normal enough guy who lives in Manhattan. His live takes a strange turn when a parasitic creature known as Aylmer (or Elmer - and voiced by the legendary and uncredited Zacherley!) escapes from the nearby apartment of elderly couple Morris (Theo Barnes) and Martha Ackerman (Lucille Saint Peter). Aylmer proceeds to attach itself to Brian, something that the human host objects to, until the rather phallic creature basically ejaculates a hallucinogenic secretion into Brian’s brain, sending him on a psycho-sexual trip that he very clearly gets off on.

    So soon enough, Brian and Aylmer have made a Faustian bargain wherein Brian helps to procure human victims for his new parasitical friend to feast on and in return, he gets juiced up basically whenever he wants (which is often). As Brian essentially becomes an addict, Aylmer’s control becomes stronger Brian has to try to figure out how to deal with all of this and, maybe, return to whatever semblance of a ‘normal’ life he may have once had.

    Well-paced and often times genuinely funny, Brain Damage is quirky take on Faust that offers up plenty of screwy entertainment and some unforgettable set pieces. The effects work that brings Aylmer (or Elmer if you prefer) to life is really well done here, all handled with practical appliances and some stop motion techniques to make the creature look ‘tangible’ in the way that CGI just can’t seem to do. Of course, the fact that the voice work for the creature is done by Zacherley is a big plus as well, as he manages to make this rather disgusting looking critter downright charming when the script calls for it.

    Henenlotter keeps things moving at a nice clip, getting into the meat of the story pretty early on and from there taking us on a pretty wacky ride through New York City’s late eighties underbelly. Lots of great sight gags here – a few of which involve Aylmer’s shape – though they may be crass and gory there’s a cleverness to them that makes them fun to watch. Rick Hearst is in on all of this, basically playing things as straight as the script requires. He makes for a likeable enough lead and it’s interesting to see how his relationship with Aylmer sort of mirrors the one that we see Henenlotter explore in Basket Case.


    Arrow presents Brain Damage on Blu-ray in a very nice looking transfer taken from original film elements. Framed 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, things look really great here. Detail is very strong, the transfer is very colorful without looking oversaturated at all while black levels stay pretty solid and quite deep throughout. Texture and depth are impressive and there are no problems with any obvious compression artifacts. The image is nice and clean, showing only natural film grain and very little in the way of actual print damage.

    Audio chores are handled by way of your choice of an LPCM Mono track or a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, both options in the film’s native English, with optional English SDH provided. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Clarity of the audio here is fine. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. The LPCM track is clearly closer to the film’s theatrical sound but the 5.1 mix does a nice job of spreading some of the directional effects and score around to the rear channels to nice effect.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by writer-director Frank Henenlotter moderated by ‘Mike Hunchback’ that covers everything you’d want a commentary from Henelotter to cover. He talks about the casting of the film, how he got Zacherley on board for the film, some of the effects work featured in the picture, the locations used for the shoot, difficulties that they ran into during the production and loads more. Henenlotter never has trouble finding things to say about the picture and he’s got a great sense of humor that shines through here, making this a lot of fun to listen to.

    Also included here is a fifty-four minute featurette entitled Listen To The Light: The Making Of Brain Damage. A retrospective look back at the making of the film and that this entailed, here we’re treated to new interviews with Henenlotter, Rick Hearst, producer Edgar Ivins, makeup artists Gabe Bartalo and Dan Fry, VFX artist Al Magliochetti, editor James Kwei and assistant director Greg Lamberson. As this plays out we’re treated to a lot of interesting stories about the making of the film, the effects work and the makeup work, the locations, the writing, the editing and quite a bit more. There’s also a lot of great behind the scenes footage, sourced from an aged VHS source, included here as well that’s great to see, along with some other interesting archival bits and pieces. This is very well put together, very comprehensive and quite enjoyable.

    Arrow has also included a twenty-minute Q&A with Henenlotter that was recorded after a screening of the film at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival. It’s interesting enough that it’s worth checking as it covers some different ground in terms of the story ideas and writing than is gone over in the commentary. In the ten minute long The Effects Of Brain Damage, Greg Bartalo returns to talk about how he created the different pieces that were used to bring Elmer to life on camera in the film and to discuss some of the other effects set pieces featured in the picture. In the ten minute Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession, #1 Brain Damage fan Adam Skinner appears on camera to talk about how and why he came to be so obsessed with the movie before then showing off his collection of memorabilia and then segueing into a bit where he talks about how it influenced his music (we then see that in action). The nine minute long Aylmer’s Turf is a fun location visit with genre expert Mike Gingold where he takes us to some of the locations used in the film so that we can see what they look like now. Not enough? Animating Elmer is a seven minute piece with effects artist Al Magliochetti demonstrates some of the models that were used to create the film’s stop motion sequences. The four minute Karen Ogle: A Look Back is a nice little retrospective piece that explores Ogle’s work behind the scenes on the film and her relationship with Henenlotter while the four minute Aylmer: The Brain, The Voice, The Worm is a decidedly strange music video featuring the character. Last but not least, Bygone Behemoth is a five minute long tribute to Zacherley in stop motion form – a nice little tribute to the actor who passed away last year and who lent his distinct voice to Aylmer in the feature.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film’s original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release a DVD version of the movie is also included, featuring extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray disc. Both of these discs fit inside a clear Blu-ray keep case that also contains an insert booklet containing an essay on the film from Gingold alongside credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release. This is all packaged up with some nice reversible sleeve artwork featuring the film’s original poster art on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck on the flip side. That Deck art is also featured on the slipcover that fits nicely over the keepcase – Arrow really did a great job on the packaging for this release.

    The Final Word:

    Brain Damage, like the best of Henenlotter’s work, finds the right balance between funny, gross and creepy. It’s a picture that holds up well, a wickedly creative work of filmmaking firmly rooted in genre conventions that simultaneously carves out its own little niche. Arrow Video have done an excellent job bringing it to Blu-ray in a special edition release loaded with extras that presents the film in fantastic shape.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

  • Recent Article Comments Widget

    Paul L

    Of Unknown Origin

    Nice review, Ian. This is a good film. I think I'll have to import this, especially considering my... Go to last post

    Paul L 05-23-2018 06:11 PM
    Paul L

    Shocking Dark

    Really looking forward to getting my hands on this disc. I've only seen the film via pretty dire... Go to last post

    Paul L 05-23-2018 06:07 PM

    Shocking Dark

    Huge Mattei fan and this is an entertaining one for sure. Never thought it would get a disc release... Go to last post

    moviegeek86 05-23-2018 11:57 AM
    Jason C

    Shocking Dark

    Wow. I need this.

    Amazing review. Thanks

    "the good guys always win, even in the eighties." Go to last post

    Jason C 05-22-2018 02:20 PM
    John Bernhard

    Old Dark House, The

    Confirmed here
    http://forum.blu-ray.com/showpost.php?p=15077181&postcount=392 Go to last post

    John Bernhard 05-19-2018 11:02 PM