LIST CANDIDATE: BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Rick Hearst, John Zacherle, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry

PLOT: One morning a young man wakes to find a small, disgusting creature has attached itself to the base of his brain stem. The creature gives him a euphoric state of happiness but in return demands human victims.

Still from Brain Damage (1988)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The above plot description, which is lifted verbatim from the IMDB, describes the “creature” in question as “disgusting.” Not only is this an offensive description, but it outright ignores the fact that the thing has a name: Aymler, or “the Aymler,” more specifically. The unique little guy is far more than just a “creature”; he’s without doubt one of the most charming and well spoken horror presences to ever grace the silver screen. Or, at the very least, he’s the star of Frank Henelotter’s best film.

COMMENTS: Frank Henelotter’s brief heyday in the nineteen eighties is most well remembered through Basket Case, and the lead and his deformed brother of that mondo horror fest have a cameo here. But it’s Brain Damage that is Henelotter’s best film (to date ?). After befriending the Aymler, a seductively smooth talking parasite voiced to perfection by late night horror host John Zacherle (i.e. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul), our anti-hero struggles with his own doubts, desire and addictions as he is seduced to corruption by the charming but evil creature. Henenlotter’s trademark gore-filled whimsy is on full display here, benefited by his highest budget to date. The film works as a pretty clear cut metaphor for drug addiction on the surface level. The out-there hallucination scenes, which could be compared to certain points in ‘s Altered States, are where the weird tag comes in. The movie also makes use, though admittedly sparingly, of some well-produced stop motion animation sequences, which are a joy to behold those that love this now largely forgotten art. It’s arguable that the List doesn’t need to be populated with a plethora of oddball cult horrors that may be best left on the dusty VHS rack where we found them, but if one Henenlotter film should go on, this is the one. It combines peculiarity with some actual filmic worth. A must see for weird horror aficionados; if you fall into that category and you somehow haven’t already seen this yet—what have you been doing all this time?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While it would win few prizes for narrative sophistication and visual imagination – the euphoric hallucinations seem to have strayed from a ’60s LSD movie – Brain Damage does display a commendable social conscience in deploring the perils of mindbending substances.”–NF, Time Out London

One thought on “LIST CANDIDATE: BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)”

  1. This is by far one of my favorite 80s horror movies, with all components jelling fantastically, whether by accident, by intention, or from the budget constraints. I always found its mixture of old-skool digital effects, animation and puppetry to be quite singular. I also admire its deft mix of hard gore and black humor without ever really aspiring to be a “horror comedy” like Return of The Living Dead. The theatrical delivery of the supporting players fits the material, while Rick Hearst does a good job and Zacherle – seriously – I would have nominated him for a best supporting actor oscar! When Hearst has his first psychedelic trip in bed, (accompanied by an ominous, high pitched, droning synth tone) we witness the transformation of a ceiling light fixture into a soppy, staring eye with veins. It’s real super. The movie is filled with tiny surreal moments and outright grotesqueries!

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