“A Headache From Hell”
Frank Henenlotter’s “Brain Damage” is a little film that caused a lot of talk when it was first released. When its distributor decided to release it with an R rating in the U.S., the film lost two of its most over the top sequences (one involving a club girl getting her brains literally knocked out, and the other featuring a nasty string of brain matter being pulled out of an ear). The watered down version still managed to find a cult audience and now, finally, Americans can see it in all its uncut glory.
Brian (Rick Herbst, later Rick Herst), shares an apartment with his brother, Mike (Gordon MacDonald). He wakes up with a strange headache and finds a crusty, eel-shaped creature lurking in his room. The creature talks and occasionally slips a needle-like appendage from its mouth into Brian’s neck, whereby it injects the young man with a psychedelic chemical causing hallucinations.
Brian (Rick Herbst), develops an unhealthy symbiotic relationship with the creature to good effect. Brian becomes addicted to a strange psychedelic drug given him by the slug-like monster and we soon realize that one of themes of the film is that it is a public service warning over the perils of drug addiction.
The parasitic worm-like creature, feasts on human brains and escaped from the apartment bathtub of the elderly European couple, the Ackermans (Lucille Saint-Peter & Theo Barnes). The creepy couple had named their talking pet monster Aylmer. He escaped because they feed him animal brains instead of his preferred diet of human brains. Aylmer, preferring to be called Elmer turns up in the apartment of the Brian and gets in his head. When Elmer grasps Brian’s neck and injects him with a blue psychedelic juice that reaches his brains, everything seem beautiful and Brian is hooked. The addictive drug causes great mood swings and Brian’s life goes upside down. He moves to a cheap hotel and like a junkie tries going cold turkey to kick his habit while a mocking Elmer sits on the sink crooning and laughing at his futile efforts. Brian tries in vain to dump his clinging girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), as he hopes to learn how to handle his addiction without harming himself or others. However, Brian soon realizes that the monster controls him and uses him to murder innocent victims so he can exist by sucking out their brains, Brian wants out of this Faustian deal. Brian has sunny hallucinations, followed by coming down without remembering what happened. There are a number of ghastly incidents while Brian hallucinates that result in such deadly things as murder: a night watchman (Bradlee Rhodes) in a car junkyard has his brains consumed after he arrests Brian for breaking in and dancing around in the yard, a hot girl (Vicki Darnell) in an East Village rock club has an awful bloody experience as she tries to orally service Brian, and a guy (Michael Bishop) gets zapped by Elmer as he…. (you had better watch this yourself.
The addiction becomes too strong for the kid to handle and his life unravels with no one to help him.
Brian’s neighbors eventually catch on and inform him about the history of this creature, called the Aylmer which has been bought and traded over the centuries. Determined to hold on to his codependent prize, Brian refuses to hand Elmer over and the result is tragic and surreal.
The real fun of the film is in Henenlotter’s curious little detours along the way. The aforementioned nightclub scene remains a jaw-dropping bit of sick cinema and the finale takes some unexpected turns. The performers generally do a nice job. Herbst maintains a nice balance between comical hysteria and genuine pathos.
Special Features include:
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
– Original Mono and 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround Audio Options
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Isolated Score
– Brand new audio commentary by writer-director Frank Henenlotter
– Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage – brand new documentary featuring interviews with actor Rick Herbst, producer Edgar Ievins, editor James Kwei, first assistant director Gregory Lamberson, visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti and makeup artist Dan Frye
– The Effects of Brain Damage – FX artist and creator of “Elmer” Gabe Bartalos looks back at his iconic effects work on the film
– Animating Elmer – featurette looking at the contributions of visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti
– Karen Ogle: A Look Back – stills photographer, script supervisor and assistant editor Karen Ogle recalls her fond memories of working on Brain Damage
– Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage – featurette revisiting the film’s original shooting locations
– Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession – an interview with superfan Adam Skinner
– Brain Damage Q&A with Frank Henenlotter recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival
– Image Galleries
– Original Theatrical Trailer
– Bygone Behemoth – animated short by Harry Chaskin, featuring a brief appearance by John Zacherle in his final onscreen credit
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
– Limited Edition O-card with exclusive artwork
– Collector’s Booklet with new writing on the film by Michael Gingold, illustrated with original archive stills and posters