Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #344
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: April 15, 1988
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Producers: Al Eicher, Andre Blay, Edgar Levins
Screenplay: Frank Henenlotter
Special Effects: Gabriel Bartalos
Visual Effects: Al Magliochetti
Cinematography: Bruce Torbet
Score: Gus Russo, Matthias Donnelly, Clutch Reiser
Editing: Frank Henenlotter, James Y. Kwei
Studio: Palisades Partners
Distributors: Palisades Entertainment, Ventura Distribution
Stars: Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, Vicki Darnell, Joseph Gonzalez, Bradlee Rhodes, Michael Bishop, Beverly Bonner, Ari M. Roussimoff, Kevin Van Hentenryck, Michael Rubenstein, Angel Figueroa
Suggested Audio Candy
Gus Russo “Brain Damage”
I often ponder how my life would have turned out had it not been for mind-altering narcotics. Perhaps, as opposed to sitting here scribing this, I would be perched behind a desk, with my eyes glazed over, counting the minutes until my lunch break and feeling my last remaining brain cells slowly ebb away. I lost many of them due to addiction but, the way I see it, at least they went out with a bang. This is all terribly irresponsible of me; if you didn’t know me better then you’d think I was hoodwinking you into jacking up post-haste. I’m not of course; you can blame Aylmer for any convoluted messages.
Aylmer holds a special place in Keeper’s heart. Strangely phallic in appearance, he is the bi-product of the great Frank Hennenlotter and his love of exploitation. You may remember Belial from 1982 cult classic Basket Case and, if you don’t, then shame on you. Hennenlotter’s first movie was decidedly off its rocker, so much in fact, that it amassed a huge following. It spawned two sequels, both as mad as a crate of chinchillas on acid, but in 1988 he decided it was time to branch out a little and reached into his quill of filmic arrows once more. In fact he didn’t stray too far from the formula, but he did manage to reinforce the opinion that he knows exactly how to make a good exploitation flick.
Whereas Belial’s child-bearing hips left him with only one option, that being the basket, Aylmer’s streamlined mass allows him to tuck neatly beneath his cross-bearing owner’s collar. While possessing a face for radio could be deemed as a fairly astute reason not to trust him a lick, his playful wiggle and amiable voice (provided by John Zacherley) makes it fruitless trying to dismiss him. Truth be known, Aylmer actually resembles a cross-breed between a turd and a Johnson; but what’s all important is what he is peddling.
A potent hallucinogen, which he transmits by way of injection into the back of his host’s neck, is all he needs to make you come around to his way of thinking. Hapless Bryan (Rick Hearst) is his chosen lab rat and, by-all-accounts, is little more than your average Joe. That is until he awakens to a feeling of euphoria and vivid hallucinations. Now he’s just another Duane Bradley but, whereas, if Duane was growing tired of his other half, he could simply lock him away in his basket, Bryan is left powerless to resist his demands every time that blue fluid courses his veins.
That’s right Grueheads, drugs have their down side. Just as nobody is feeling particularly chipper on a Sunday morning at Woodstock, Aylmer has his own demands which can leave one feeling just as destitute. In exchange for the neon-tinged buzz juice he is supplying on tap, he needs himself some brains in order to continue his harvest. Seems like a fair deal to me. Bryan’s not so keen however and soon even back alley fellatio is becoming an event out of his hands. You feel for him, just as you did Duane, and this is aided by a level of performance which is in keeping with the six-year gap period between the two movies.
Where Brain Damage gets its nose in front is its visual representation. Hennenlotter has a markedly larger budget at his disposal and uses it like only a true vintage B-movie film-maker can do. There’s a blue hue to proceedings which adds a certain trippy aura and it really lends a sense of being inside Bryan’s personal head space. Meanwhile, Aylmer is as charming as a small square of blotting paper doused in LSD and relays just as convincing an argument. You can see his dilemma and there’s more than a vague hint of pathos to this translucent cautionary tale on the perils of addiction.
While unquestionably more upmarket than Basket Case, it’s great to see that Hennenlotter still holds old values dear. It’s just as much fun as you would expect from any Hennenlotter feature but, for the most part, has aged more gracefully than any other film he’s made. Sure, there’s a message, but it’s secondary to schlock value and good old-fashioned tomfoolery. The late eighties weren’t ever quite as proficient an era as the first five but Brain Damage is one standout which comes to mind. Maybe it’s Aylmer; I am desperate to award this film a solid seven but he just keeps jabbing me with that thing. “An eight Keeper, give it an eight”
Fuck you Aylmer, consider me rehabilitated!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: I tickles me right on the Don Rickles to think that Hennenlotter’s crew abandoned him a second time during the infamous blow-job scene. Surely they could see it coming from a country mile off? It’s enough to make ladies think twice about returning the favor. Brain Damage has more than enough backed up in its portable syringe to sate all but the most demanding guzzler’s craving for carnage.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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