Brain Damage (1988)

In a sleazy New York apartment building, an elderly couple serve up a plateful of nice raw sheep brains to the monster that lives in their bathtub only to find it gone. Elmer, the hand-puppet parasite, has defected from its masters because it really wants to eat human brains, and it soon latches on to young Brian. The deal Elmer works out is that he'll inject Brian's brain with a blue fluid that gives him amazing psychedelic experiences if Brian helps him get his jaws into the kind of eats he likes the most. Soon, Brian's brother and girlfriend are getting puzzled at his bizarre behaviour, and Brian himself is getting squeamish about the Faustian nature of the bargain he has made.

Like Henenlotter's debut feature Basket Case, Brain Damage comes up with a brilliant concept for a monster - in this case derived equally from William Castle's The Tingler, David Cronenberg's Shivers and Chuck Jones' cartoon One Froggy Evening - and then has trouble thinking of a storyline to go with it. Particularly damaging here are the would-be psychedelic images, buzzing rock music and trashy distortions. It's hard to see why anyone would want to have hallucinations as banal as the ones Elmer gives Brian. However, there is one quite brilliant sequence halfway through when Brian tries to go cold turkey and imagines he's pulling his brain out through his earhole in a long string while Elmer suavely taunts him by crooning the Tommy Dorsey hit Elmer's Tune, and the reasonable-sounding, charmingly offhand monster himself effortlessly walks away with the picture.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: City Limits no.335 (3 March 1988) p.27 (UK)


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