Brain Damage (1988)
Brain Damage (1988)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.

Release Date: April 15th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Frank Henenlotter Actors: Rick Herbst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, Vicki Darnell, Joe Gonzales, Michael Bishop, John Zacherle




n elderly man, Mr. Ackerman, returns to his wife, bringing fresh brains from a pricey delicatessen, to be prepared as a meal for some unknown pet or creature. But when the woman enters the bathroom, she’s mortified (resorting to outrageous shrieking fits) to discover that the recipient of the literal brain food has vanished from its spot in the bathtub. A frantic search through every cupboard and recess in their house proves futile; some “thing” has vanished.

Meanwhile, Brian (Rick Herbst) is feeling too poorly to go to a concert with his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), forcing her to go instead with his brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald). Perhaps all Brian needs is a little bit more rest. But when he awakens in the middle of the night, he discovers that his sheets are soaked with blood, and that it seems to be stemming from a wound in his neck. As if possessed by some otherworldly entity, he loses control of his vision and some of his muscle functions, resulting in hallucinations and spontaneous twitchy movements.

The big reveal turns out not to be a scary ordeal at all. “Trust me, Brian. Trust me.” The hole in his neck is the entry point for a slimy, slug-like organism to inject a blue chemical straight into Brian’s brain, giving him a jolt of psychotropic euphoria. “All you have to do is look into the light.” The little monster speaks with a comforting, calm voice, and Brian isn’t afraid to follow its instructions. “You don’t need to worry about anything ever again.” It’s difficult at first to determine whether the parasite is symbiotic, or if it’s merely draining nutrients from its host, but it’s definitely a fresh take on a brain-sucking alien. In the world of writer/director Frank Henenlotter (whose previous film “Basket Case” receives a shameless homage here), fantasy and comedy have equal parts to play in the horrors of blood and death.

Thanks to Gabe Bartalos’ special makeup effects, gruesomeness indeed finds its way into this drug-fueled trip, utilizing puppetry, stop-motion animation, and buckets of blood as the wrinkled gastropod feasts on the brains of unsuspecting victims. Other fantastic yucks include a plateful of miniature, throbbing brains; a brain-cam, which zooms into Brian’s gray matter to show the cerulean fluid saturating his mind; and an oral sex sequence with some astonishing – though not entirely unexpected – carnage. The minuscule hellion even has a name: Aylmer (or Elmer, as the production team called him), which sounds suitable for the deep-voiced, cocksure, jaunty, lounge-singing type partner-in-crime.

“When it comes to blood in my underwear, I wanna know how it got there!” Hysterically, the comic components interrupt the slaughters, most notably when Brian splashes about in the bathtub with his newfound friend, or when he goes through withdrawals from Aylmer’s juice (involving wisecracking taunts as the tiny monster manipulates his host). Quirky music similarly offsets the moments of outrageous mutilation, such as nerve tissue being yanked from skulls.

Brian’s actions are ultimately the same as if he were perpetually on potent drugs, down to the effects of trying to regain control over his life after friends and family are sacrificed for the pursuit of another high (if this film was a little smarter, it very well could have served as a cautionary tale about substance abuse). But even for a short, low-budget horror picture, the pacing is off and the story is disappointingly simplistic. The moments of over-the-top gore are too often drawn out beyond their points of effectiveness, and the supplementary relationship drama (including a strangely protracted sex scene) fails to complicate a plot that was designed around just a couple of gross gags.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10