“When it comes to blood in my underwear, I want to know how it got there.”
Brain Damage is a film that opens on an older couple thoughtfully preparing a plate of brains for their unseen roommate. Yet it isn’t until the 26:45 mark when someone admits: “Things are getting weird around here.”
Blessedly, the whole darn thing is weird, unhinged and gross. I am a giddy, disturbed kid looking over my shoulder while sharing Basket Case filmmaker Frank Henenlotter’s similarly damaged brain for an hour and a half.
We discover that the unseen roommate of Barbara and Morris Ackerman is a phallic parasitic creature named Aylmer (“You named him fucking Elmer?”) who has found a yummy new brain to damage. Meet the aptly named Brian (Rick Hearst) as he goes through some changes AKA he gets addicted to the blue brain juice that Aylmer produces from one of the many protuberances that spring out of his pointy blue mouth. Aylmer’s Juice proceeds to show Brian (and us) the light, to see the colors. When not on Aylmer’s Grade-A formula, Brian’s surroundings are sad-blue, dirty and dark, Basket Case’s very same New York. After getting Aylmer’s glue in his system, however, the world looks like David Lynch got his hands on the lighting. And hey, this glistening dick monster in the voice of famed horror movie host Zacherley is offering to do all of Brian’s thinking for him. Imagine not thinking for a few minutes?
Oh, right, Brian’s tubular high comes with a price: when on the sauce he loses control of his body to Aylmer, who happens to eat people. Gabe Batalos and David Kindlon’s great veiny monster is a physical manifestation of a slippery slope to addiction and misogyny. Their juicy codependent nightmare unravels like a Very Special episode of a sitcom whose laugh tracks have been replaced by a score from Clutch Reiser and Gus Russo that sounded like I had uncovered the original X-File.
I’m a little concerned by how much Henenlotter’s homemade liquid pain brand of body horror speaks to me. Henenlotter is bravely honest about his revulsion of self, of man, of society — his films make me feel unsafe, uncomfortable AND seen.
Given my white privilege, I have the luxury to be most afraid of myself. I’m most afraid of losing control, reviving my very own Aylmer, Drundy, the driver during my blackouts in college and early 20s, being at the mercy of his ugly voice again.
Brain Damage depicts a war where the body and brain is a battleground with addiction and lust on the line — a battle I’m ashamed by how often I stage in my head. In those moments, I truly feel that revulsion of one’s self and of the id that I want to hide. Watching Brain Damage makes me feel more okay. It’s reassuring to see someone so giddily exploring trauma with their friends. That’s a feeling worth chasing and watching unfold, an experience even better than brain juice.
Don’t forget your buckets! Brain Damage is streaming on TubiTV.