Director Frank Henelotter is best known for his classic cult films Basket Case and Frankenhooker, but a lesser-known film he made between those two is his masterpiece.
That film, 1988’s Brain Damage, is truly one of the most original horror films of that decade. The psychedelic horror film centers around Brian, a young man who comes into contact with a centuries-old, penis-shaped creature named Aylmer that injects him with brain-altering chemicals (seemingly sort of a highly-addictive cross between a hallucinogen and Ecstacy) in order to use him as a host to procure victims to feed his ravenous appetite for human brains.
Aylmer, the parasite, speaks with his host, Brian.
While Brian is high on the drugs injected into the base of his skull by Aylmer, the parasite is able to use him to obtain new prey. The entire affair is absurd, bordering on campy, but never falling into the Troma-trap of being overly self-aware and intentionally “bad on purpose for yuks.”
Aylmer preparing to make an injection of go-juice.
The horror genre thrived in the 1980s, but one could divide that decade in half and see two very distinct arcs in the genre. The first half of the decade was utterly dominated by the slasher films that came in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th‘s success. Public interest waned a bit in these types of films by the mid-point of the ‘80s, and you began to see more comedic elements entering the horror genre for the last half of the decade.
The second half of the ‘80s gave us the humor-tinged horrors of Evil Dead 2, Re-Animator, Street Trash, and House. Freddy Krueger, one of the most horrific screen villains of all time in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street became a cornball one-liner machine in the subsequent Elm Street sequels. I’m not personally a huge fan of comedic horror, but some of them really get the formula right, and Brain Damage is one of those transcendent titles.
In fact, I’d personally rank Brain Damage right up there with Re-Animator and Street Trash as the three best, most “must-see” horror/comedy films of the 1980s.
Brian learns the trials and tribulations of being controlled by a centuries-old dick-shaped drug-administering brain-eater.
Brain Damage is a clever, witty, gory film with one of the most entertaining horror villains of all time: the wise-cracking, phallic, parasitic, singing brain-eater known as Aylmer (or also “Elmer,” as he is referred to in the film). The creature, incidentally, is voiced by beloved TV horror host, John Zacherle.
“Shock Theater” host, John Zacherle, voices the evil Aylmer.
The film is also a not-so-subtle allegory about the horrors of drug addiction with Aylmer continuously taunting Brian as he struggles to “get clean.”
The film has recently been reissued in a deluxe two-disc BD/DVD set by Arrow Video. The new set, as is the case with most Arrow releases, is chock-full of bonus materials, interviews, and commentaries.
Here’s a clip of Aylmer doing his thing:
And here’s the original theatrical trailer of this must-see cult classic:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The Criterion of shit movies’: Arrow Video’s lionization of lowbrow