Friday, April 29, 2011

Brain Damage Review

Brain Damage is a film about a young man living in New York City who throws all of his ambitions and aptitude into the local gutter by becoming horribly addicted to drugs…and when I say drugs, I mean a hallucinogenic secretion pumped into his Medulla Oblongata by a brain-sucking parasite, who uses our hero to feed his monstrous appetite. This film is particularly rare, as its topic of choice and the delivery of the message is fairly mature, but the execution of the film as a whole and the subject matter is pretty silly and over the top (in a sadistic sort of way). Though to be fair, despite this silliness, Brain Damage does a very good job keeping a straight face with its dark tone and consistent reminder that our main character suffers from a very common and down to earth disease; addiction. In all my years, I can’t imagine anyone not comprehending the feeling of addiction; you want something so much that it becomes the only thought on your mind.

Time literally stops, because nothing can distract you from your craving to indulge in that one particular thing. But this film allows you to take a back seat to your addictions and see how ridiculous the compulsion truly is. We see the truth that what most of us are addicted to is not only unimpressively unimportant, but also incredibly harmful to us in every possible way (whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, cupcakes or brain sucking leech juice).

Our protagonist’s name is Brian. He is a young man with a loving girlfriend, a supportive (and jealous) brother and a particularly addictive personality. Brian meets up with a creature who looks like a googly eyed leech, yet encompasses the suave mannerisms of the Devil himself. Its weapon rational and seductive persuasion. It doesn’t need to intimidate or frighten Brian because he has his drug, which he knows Brian cannot live without. For the rest of the film, Brian struggles to cope with his inability to quit this drug despite the futile helpful hands of his girlfriend and brother. However, the plot thickens as Brian sinks deeper into his addiction and his brother begins to make moves on his girlfriend.

I’d be comfortable with saying that 90% of the time, a good film of this genre is measured by its antagonist (yes, I know this is a subjective statement). It just so happens that the antagonist in this film is one of the most charming and likeable of demonic abominations I’ve seen in a very long time. I mean, look at him with his smug face and silly unblinking soulless eyes. It takes a very charming personality to get you to look beyond this creature’s hideousness and trust the things he says. Without the smooth talking and hauntingly imposing voice acting of Horror Host John Zacherle (the Cool Ghoul is in this film!) this monster would have absolutely no power over anyone.

I love this movie because it manages to avoid talking down to me despite the fact that it doesn’t try to hide its obvious message. I give you permission to call me a sucker, because the beauty of this film comes from its simplicity; the protagonist is addicted to drugs and the drug is blatantly unhealthy (I mean, come on! Have you really looked at the turd-leech with the fangs parking itself on the back of your neck!?). But if one were to truly take themselves out of one’s body and look at the world from a wider perspective, it becomes very clear that all recreational drugs are blatantly unhealthy in a very similar way. The basic fact is that no matter how good a drug can make you feel, consistent use of any substance will over time deteriorate your body and your mind. I don’t mean to sound judgmental because I am the most non-judgmental person on the planet, especially when it comes to what one does to get one’s kicks. However, whether taken with a grain of salt or not, Brain Damage paints a very common picture we see all the time in the real world. A fairly likeable human being becomes dependent on a substance not indigenous to his body and goes through a metamorphosis for the worst, which affects everyone around him in a very negative way. The flip side of course is we all know drugs are bad, but most people would probably be lying if they haven’t at least been intrigued by the idea of indulging in the bad habits their ID desires to explore.

Some have told me that they cannot take this film seriously because they refuse to believe that anyone would trust a talking leech, no matter how persuasive he sounds. But I really must beg to differ. As I stated before, this sort of thing happens all the time (and I don’t mean talking leeches). I know most drug dealers aren’t necessarily the snake eyed monsters many of the 80’s and 90’s PSA’s would have us believe. But seriously, unless you were buying heroin from your grandma, why would you ever trust a stranger on the street to keep your best intentions in mind? The truth is that Brian needed no persuasion to take drugs. We see clearly how his downward spiral begins not from the persuasion of a monster, but from within himself. And that is where the true horror lies. Though I must admit, this film is a lot sillier than I am giving it credit for. Not since Return of the Living Dead have I seen such brain consumption. There’s monster fallacio, spaghetti and pulsating brains, blue leech juice and a never-ending fountain of blood, and oh so much more. This film does suffer from a fairly miniscule budget and does indulge in the occasional illogical, yet visually amusing gimmick or two (how does a leech the size of your forearm hide inside of one’s throat without impairing one’s ability to speak or breath?). Still, if you happen upon this film and enjoy a good horror/exploitation romp like I do, I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.

Notable Tidbits

-Kevin Van Hentenryck from the movie Basket Case makes a cameo as Duane Bradley from that same film. Frank Henenlotter is the director of both films, which both take place in New York City and both involve young and healthy men whose lives are bogged down with the unfortunate burden of a needy monster.

-There are inconsistencies with the spelling of the monster’s name in the credits. They specifically introduce him half way through the movie as Aylmer (pronounced like an ailment) however; they spell his name E-L-M-E-R in the credits. There is actually a scene in the movie, which goes into minute detail of his name and the meaning behind it.

***I do understand the irony of this blog; the praise I give for its dark tone and serious topic juxtaposed to the goofy photographs.

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