Jan 4, 2015

Brain Damage

I am fairly convinced that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program and anti-drug PSAs are designed to get kids interested in using and abusing drugs, as they are so preposterously patronizing and agitating to the juvenile mind that they could only inspire any self-respecting kid with a natural aversion to authority to want to smoke a joint, pop a benzo, snort an oxy, and/or huff some glue in protest against such patently pathetic propaganda campaigns. On the other hand, ostensibly anti-drug flicks like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun (2002) romanticize the addict lifestyle in a nauseatingly naïve way, as if such a non-existence is constantly exciting and full of magical wonder and intrigue, even when suffering from major withdraw as reflected in the unintentionally absurd dream-sequences in these rather retarded works, hence why so many diluted dope addicts love these dumb ass films, as it makes them suffer the delusional that they are part of some super secret arcane world that can only be adequately understood and appreciated by the truly initiated. Indeed, I certainly can only think of a handful of films that might dissuade someone from trying junk, like the decidedly dejecting and equally degenerate Finish doc Reindeerspotting: Escape from Santaland (2010) directed by Joonas Neuvonen (who, ironically, is currently surviving jail-time for drug trafficking), but probably the most bizarre and counter-intuitively effective anti-dope flick I know of is the nice and nasty little ‘neo-exploitation’ flick Brain Damage (1988) directed by self-described “exploitation” auteur Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case Trilogy, Frankenhooker).  A sort of absurdist anti-drug allegory in a bawdy and ballsy ‘body horror-comedy’ package, Henenlotter’s darkly comedic piece of highly conscious low-camp kitsch depicts the strangely hypnotic homicidal hilarity and excess-ridden eccentricity that ensues when a young and rather dumb dude begins a mutually dependent relationship with a parasitic phallic-like creature named ‘Aylmer’ that gives him a truly transcendental high via a direct injection of meta-narcotizing blue fluid into his brain in return for procuring the pathologically sassy micro-monster a steady supply of fresh human grey matter. Unquestionably the most wonderfully and wickedly warped take on the deleterious effects of dope on human brain chemistry since Slava Tsukerman’s stylishly sleazy sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky (1982), Brain Damage is easily the most fun can have while dealing with anti-drug themes, which might say much considering the banality of the topic, but then again the film's greatest appeal is that it is a Henenlotter flick, thus guaranteeing the sort of feverishly fucked filmic facetiousness that will only appreciated by the truly initiated and/or criminally insane. 

 Brain Damage begins unpredictably enough with the introduction of two over-educated married old farts named Morris (Theo Barnes) and Martha Ackerman (Lucille Saint-Peter) that live a semi-hermit-like existence in a crummy NYC slum apartment that is strangely decorated with primitive tribal art and exotic warrior masks, thus hinting they might be cultural anthropologists and certainly xenophiles. For whatever reason, the old odd couple also have a dozen are so fresh brains sitting on their kitchen table as if they are being prepared to be fed to some sort of large bloodthirsty beast that eats ten times more than a large adult male. The brains are for something or someone named ‘Aylmer’ (voiced by old school horror host John Zacherle aka ‘Zacherley’) and when the mysterious creature disappears from the eccentric elderly couple’s bathtub, Morris and Martha suffer a major histrionic freakout to the point where they rudely barge into the apartment of an uppity negress (Beverly Bonner, who played the scary black tenant in Basket Case) to check her bathtub for their missing little friend, which they fail to find. Ultimately, Aylmer makes his way to the apartment of handsome yet hapless protagonist Brian (soap opera actor Rick Hearst) while Morris and Martha are lying on their apartment floor and foaming at the mouth as if suffering from a seizure as a result of super hellish drug withdraw. Indeed, the Ackermans are elderly junkies and their choice of drug is the venomous blue juices of Aylmer, who is a repugnant yet strangely charming and eloquently spoken creature with goofy beady blue eyes that looks somewhere in between a dried up donkey turd and a burnt crisp STD-ridden black cock. Aylmer survives and thrives off of a steady diet of raw brains, but he is tired of animal grey matter, so he decided to escape from the Ackerman stronghold and he ultimately wisely chose dullard boy Brian—a proud yet seemingly unlikely fan of punk, thrash metal, and goth music as demonstrated by The Cramps, Slayer, and Bauhaus posters hanging on his wall—as his new host. After blowing off a date with his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry) and brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald) due to feeling more than a little bit under the weather as a result of his body being invaded by a penis-like parasite, Brian goes back to sleep and later awakes to find a large blood stain on his pillow. After going back to asleep again, Brian awakes to a bright light in the form of an entrancing glowing eyeball on his ceiling, as well as a deluge of translucent blue fluid engulfing his entire room and eventually his body in what will ultimately give the protagonist a heavenly otherworldly high that he will never again be able to top, though he surely will try as he is now the servant of a hostile, albeit good-humored, entity that lives to kill. 

 After unwittingly getting high for the first time on the hardest and most natural ‘psychedelic painkiller’ in the world, Brian soon discovers grotesque foot-long creature Aylmer popping out of his body in a fashion that seems to mock Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). Ultimately, Aylmer makes a Faustian pact with Brian, calmly assuring him in a most devilish fashion like some sort of charlatan cult leader that, “This is the start of your new life Brian…a life without worry, pain, or loneliness…a life instead full with colors, music, and euphoria…a life of light and pleasure” and “I am you, Brian…I am all you’ll ever need.”  Aylmer gets Brian high by directly injecting his brain with his blue juices via a needle-like tentacle he has located inside of his mouth. The blue juice gets Brian so high that Aylmer is able suck the brains out of human victims while in his presence without him even remembering the brutal murders ever occurred. Indeed, Aylmer’s first victim is an authoritarian Nordic-like negro security guard at a junkyard and while Brian hallucinates seeing glowing kaleidoscopic totaled cars while high as a kite in outerspace, Aylmer drains the brain of the spade victim. At first, Brian and Aylmer’s symbiotic relationship seems perfect, at least as far as they are concerned, but after the former discovers that he has a giant bloodstain on his underwear that is clearly not his own, he begins to realize something fishy is going on. Unbeknownst to Brian, he wandered into a punk club called “Hell” while he was high and met a big bosomed slut who tried to give him a blowjob after grabbing his cock and excitedly stating, “feels like you got a real monster in there,” but instead of receiving a meaty member in her mouth, the sensual slut fellated a ‘real monster’ that sucked her brains out. Eventually, old man Morris Ackerman catches up with Brian and tells him he is a total moron for feeding Aylmer human brains, as it has made the creature too strong and has enabled him to easily gain the upper hand over the protagonist. After Morris reveals during a hysterical rant that ‘Aylmer’ is an old English name for “the all inspiring famous one” and that he paid for the ancient creature with “money and blood,” Brian decides to confront his phallic-like pal and learns that he has indeed been the unwitting accomplice is a series of grisly murders. Eventually deciding like so many drug addicts that “I have to be in control,” Brian decides to take Aylmer to a seedy apartment where he will try in vain to control the cock monster and withdrawal from dope, not realizing that his brain chemistry has changed drastically as a result of his recreational drug use. Needless to say, as Aylmer tells him he would, Brian begins begging the creature for his blue fluid after going through a truly haunting cold turkey withdrawal where he hallucinates seeing his ear fall off and buckets of blood pouring out of his head. Ultimately, Brian is forced to procure victims for Aylmer before the creature will agree to soothe his raging withdrawal symptoms. While Brian finds Aylmer a nice big buff naked guido (as perfectly personified by Joseph Gonzalez, who later played the meathead pimp in Henenlotter’s 1990 feature Frankenhooker) in a humorously awkward homoerotic scene where the viewer almost expects the protagonist to be brutally anally pillaged, the turd-like brain-eater opts to eat a defecating high yellow negro horror fan who was minding his own business while reading a horror magazine while on the crapper. 

 While Brian was busy getting high and acting as a slavish accomplice to various murders, his brother Mike was ‘comforting’ his girlfriend Barbara by catering to her insecurities and vulnerabilities while putting up the false front of being a ‘nice guy’ who has selflessly come to the aid of a lovelorn lady in need. Indeed, after Brian decides to go back to his apartment, he overhears his brother boning Barbara, but he is far too high and disoriented to give a damn. After hallucinating that he has black rectum-like orifices on his stomach and he has eaten Barbara’s brains during an imaginary borderline incestuous quasi-threesome with her and Mike, Brian catches his brother and girlfriend naked in bed together, but instead of getting mad he altruistically attempts to warn them to stay away from him so that he does not accidentally kill them during one of his deadly dope-addled stupors. Not listening to reason, Barbara, who does not seem the least bit guilty about the fact that she has just cheated on her boyfriend with his brother, follows Brian to a subway in the hope that she will be able to salvage their broken relationship. In a sadistically farcical scene of bittersweet anti-romance, Brian kills his girlfriend after she states, “I don’t want to lose you” and gives him a kiss that naturally result in her brains and inwards being drained out.  Although Brian does not seem to be too upset over the fact that he has just played an unconscious role in murdering his beloved girlfriend via literal brain drain, he is gracious enough to lie her corpse down on a couple subway seats in an exceedingly delicate fashion as if he is putting a sleeping baby in it's crib.  When Brian gets back to his apartment building, old man Morris confronts him with a German luger while his wife Martha wife pulls Aylmer off of the protagonist’s back. Of course, Aylmer soon drains the brains of the two elderly old farts, though, unbeknownst to the penis-like parasite, Morris does not die. While Aylmer is attaching to Brian’s brain to reward him for all the delectable cerebral cuisines that he procured him that night, Morris randomly emerges and pulls the parasite off of the protagonist’s brain just before it properly injects it's host's grey matter with the blue fluid. After Morris ends up strangling Aylmer to death in a fit of rage before succumbing from his brain injuries, Brian begins suffering a serious reaction as a result of his botched high that results in his head mutating in a warped fashion and blue juice squirting from his mouth and nostrils. Like many disillusioned drug addicts who have thrown in the towel on life and given up on their fight against addiction, Brian decides to commit suicide by blowing his brains out with Morris’ luger, but instead of dying, a heavenly light begins beaming from the area of his head that he had blown off in a shockingly ambiguous transcendental ending that seems to be Henenlotter’s own equivalent to the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). 

 In its grotesquely exaggerated depiction of both the physical and metaphysical hell that is full-blown drug addiction, Brain Damage ultimately manages to contain more truths than any of the obscenely overrated pseudo-artsy (anti)drug dramas like Requiem for a Dream and The Basketball Diaries ever could. Indeed, anyone that watches Henenlotter’s film and still finds themselves fantasizing about using drugs might as well quite while they're still ahead and take a lethal injection of junk, as there is surely no hope for them. I certainly cannot think of another film where the dope-addled protagonist is so far gone in his junk-addled somnambulistic stupor that he mindlessly listens without even the most minute worry or hint of jealousy while his scheming brother passionately penetrates his girlfriend, among countless other similarly disturbing, albeit oftentimes humorous, examples. Of course, while Brain Damage features a preternaturally potent anti-drug subtext that it is certainly singular in terms of the mostly mindless (sub)genre(s) it belongs to, that does not mean the film is not pleasantly plagued with the sort of mirthfully unhinged moral retardation and superlative sleaziness that one expects for any genuinely worthwhile exploitation auteur. Unquestionably, it certainly takes a certain degree of uncompromising cultural cynicism mixed with rampant moral bankruptcy to sire a darkly comedic body horror parable about the particularly pernicious effects of narcotic addiction in a work that would surely be much appreciated by the more discerning pothead. For fans of Henenlotter’s distinctly debasing oeuvre, Brain Damage is notable for feature a tongue-in-cheek cameo from Duane Bradley and his basket-bound mutant twin brother of Basket Case fame during a subway scene near the end of the film.  Rather humorously, Duane gets creeped out by the discernibly deranged parasite-possessed protagonist and runs away with his basket.  While I am not sure I would describe Brain Damage as director's crowning achievement as so many Henenlotter groupies seem to do, I do have to admit that it is unequivocally a masterful miscreation of a movie in relation to the particular dark, slimy, and scum-ridden cinematic ghetto that it belongs to.  Indeed, what other movie features a lecherous lady of the night giving a sloppy deep-throat blowjob to a phallic-like brain-devouring parasite.  If you ever get the urge to shoot junk or smoke rocks, just watch Brain Damage and remember the wisecracking cock-turd with teeth named Aylmer and you might be brought back to your senses, or at least cause you to crack a twisted smile that might make people think you're some sort of scheming pervert.

-Ty E


stefaneechi said...

Seeing Basket Case gave me Brain Damage - at least that's what my dad said after watching it with me. It became a totem of nadir for him in evaluating my choices of what videos we watched. "At least it's no Basket Case." :P I don't think I was ever able to convince of the worthiness of Brain Damage though.

Anonymous said...

reading these articles is worth it just for the alliteration...

Nate O`Hanlon said...

"The hurdy gurdy, the birdie, the girl on the moon, all sing Elmers tune", it was great seeing the parasite sing that song, i just wonder what Glenn Miller and the Andrews sisters would`ve thought ! ?. BTW, Trainspotting is one of the most appalling and unwatchable piles of dog-shit in the entire history of film.