Brain Damage

Brain Damage ★★★★★

Somehow not the only horror film from 1988 to have a meatball gag.

I could write way too much about this, but just two quick things: it’s maybe Henenlotter's best – striking that perfect balance between 42nd St gorehound sleaze and pervy schoolboy glee that colors all of his work in one way or another. Of all of the great 70s/80s New York exploitation directors – thinking Cohen, Ferrara, and Lustig – Henenlotter’s channeling and interpretation of the city’s grime might be my favorite. Unlike some of those directors, you can tell that he’s got a clear love for the city and its inhabitants – he’s not using the punk clubs, streetwalkers, and, uh showering bodybuilders as some cheap way to pass judgment or to make a movie feel dangerous, but because he identifies with and loves these people and places. Most movies where people wander around Times Square to show how they're troubled depict the city as a society in erosion, but here, Henenlotter almost fetishizes it, bathing it in those gorgeous blues and purples like he’s giving us a wicked Aylmer high and making us see the beauty that he sees.

It’s to Henenlotter’s credit that Brain Damage works as well as it does on a couple of different levels – as an effects-heavy horror film, as a black comedy, and as a surprisingly effective addiction parable. We all know just how tricky it is to make a horror film that works as a comedy, but to graft that onto the framework of an addiction story and not have it be unfunny, annoying, or overly didactic is a testament to just how perfect the film’s tonal control is. A lot of that can be attributed to the cast and the effects team – Aylmer may be one great 80s monsters – but, as the screenplay excerpts in the booklet of Arrow’s new edition show, Henenlotter both knew exactly what he wanted and could write it in a way that’s exciting and giddy just to read. I can't think of Brain Damage without also thinking of Slime City – also shot in New York, released in 1988, and featuring a goopier take on the same basic plot – but that film has none of the charm or style. Maybe it’s a bit mean to put the two together because of the budget differences ($50,000 vs $900,000), but, still.

(Also, being a true Basket Bro, I gotta give a quick shout out to the sick mullet that Duane has in this )

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