Brain Damage (1988) – dir. Frank Hennenlotter

It’s hard for me to come to terms on exactly what it is I liked about Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage. I’ve watched his Frankenhooker about a year ago (not the best introduction, I’ll admit), and had been looking forward to checking out more of his genuinely bizarre cinematic vision

Brain Damage is creepy as hell. It follows an average 20-something named Brian, who comes across a strange talking, phallic-shaped parasite named Aylmer, who hooks itself to his brain and feeds him a mysterious blue liquid. Brian becomes hooked on this hallucinogenic substance, but at the expense of his sanity, as Aylmer uses Brian as a carrier with which he lures in unsuspecting individuals and feeds on their brain matter.

Watching this film, it’s easy to see that there are obvious implications to drug addiction (or addiction/obsession in general), replete with scenes of mania and even crippling withdrawal symptoms. Moreover, the message seems to imply the neediness to be wary of how such substances affect the addicts’ actions and motives, often treading upon immoral waters. The viewers have the front seat at watching Brian submerge into these murky territories, deteriorating from free-thinking principles. By the final third, the film becomes a bit detached from these themes, but these connotations are interesting to observe nonetheless.

Crucial to Henenlotter’s style, however, is his absolutely deranged sense of humor. I had a taste of this in Frankenhooker, but this is definitely more pronounced in Brain Damage. Besides the numerous site gags involving the copious amounts of fake blood (as well as Aylmer’s rather suggestive physique), a few scenes are rather perverse, perhaps even sickening for the average film-viewer.

The humor may not always work, but its sheer twistedness makes for a completely wacky, unpredictable narrative. I did feel that the ending was a bit of a cop-out, uneven in relation to the rest of its manic consistency, but Brain Damage is, in all, a worthwhile component of good ol’ trashy cinema.

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