Brain Damage (1988)

In a clever gag, Kevin Van Hentenryck, star of Henenlotter's début feature Basket Case, gets into a subway car with Barbara and the parasite-infected Brian, is made uncomfortable by Brian's fascination with his basket, and gets off at the next station. Basket Case was also the story of a boy with an unhealthy attachment to his pet monster; and although Brain Damage creates a wonderful rationale for its monster and gives it a distinctive personality, like its predecessor it fails to come up with much connective tissue for its gory set-pieces or the confrontations between the hero and the creature. Just as the heart of Basket Case was the scene in which the drunken hero gabbled out the pathetic / scary / funny story of the monster's origins to a disbelieving hooker, the one sequence that really justifies the current film is the intimate bit of torture in the hotel room, which features not only the film's most bizarre, amusing and gross gore effect (a hallucination in which Brian pulls his brains out through his ear in a tangled string) but also the best of the monster's personality scenes.

Elmer is at his best when purring in a calm, cultivated voice, taunting Brian for his slowness and weakness and, in a truly funny moment, crooning Elmer's Tune as Brian writhes on the floor in cold turkey. Otherwise, the monster is either distressingly conventional, as when dosing Brian with rather ordinary hallucinations - lapping blue waters, negative images, droning music, lights in the sky - or sucking out victims' brains via overdone special effects (one sure-to-be-censored coup has Elmer shoot out of Brian's trousers into the mouth of an amorous girl for the screen's only fellatio / brain-eating sequence to date). Although Morris Ackerman's rattled-off parody of The Maltese Falcon as he incomprehensibly recounts the Aylmar's history through various crusades, curses and changes of host is amusing, the film continually falters because of Henenlotter's lack of interest in the secondary characters and his failure to spin out his premise into any kind of story. His declared intention of keeping the dangerous balance between humour and horror all too often results in a simply twisted quality that doesn't really capture either.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Monthly Film Bulletin vol.55 no.651 (April 1988) pp.106-107 (UK)


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