I distinctly remember renting Brain Damage on vhs when I was in junior high. I saw it at the video store and honestly thought the movie was going to star Jeff Goldblum because of the box art. I also knew it was going to have a monster in it and I’ve always loved creature features so I gave it a view. I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was a grab bag of weird. It stuck with me for many years though I never gave it another watch. Until now.
Brain Damage is about nice guy Brian. He lives in an apartment with his brother and he’s got a cute girlfriend. Everything seems to be going fine for Brian. That is until his neighbors lose an ancient worm creature and it ends up in Brian’s bedroom. Alymer is it’s name and it’s an ancient creature that has been passed down through many centuries by powerful rulers from around the globe. Now, it’s Brian’s turn. The creature looks like a phallic worm with an exposed brain with suction cups scattered about it’s body. It has a large mouth and from within that mouth extends a special needle-like appendage that injects a mind altering substance into Brian’s brain. High as a kite, he takes Alymer outside where he feasts on the brains of a human victim. Now Brian is hooked on the drug and has to help Alymer get victims, otherwise the pusher-worm will cut him off. Conflicted, Brian doesn’t know what to do.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker), Basket Case is possibly his most polished and least strange film, if you can believe that. Watching it now many years later, I’m struck by how the film is able to make dramatic tonal shifts effortlessly. We go from the movie being just a silly monster movie, to a film discussing the ravages of drug addiction, to a suspenseful film filled with moral conflict. These major shifts feel totally natural and although they kill the party movie vibe of the movie, it’s not a let down. It’s almost as if the film lures the viewer in by promising a gory good time (which is delivers), but takes a moment to get serious as well. Speaking of the effects, they are indeed graphic but no disgustingly so. Aylmer looks pretty goofy and I have to say i’ve never seen a monster design quite like him before or since. Most of the time he’s an animatronic puppet, but the film manages to sneak in some stop-motion work here and there too. One particular scene involving a woman in a punk club is particularly gross and could potentially turn off sensitive viewers, but for hardened horror fans, it’s a memorable and goofy scene. If you’ve seen any of Henenlotter’s films, you know what to expect. It’s crass at times, but it never revels in depravity. I really enjoyed this re-watch and I’m looking forward to showing it to some of my friends. It’s a film that has a solid cult status but has been difficult to see until this Arrow Blu.
Speaking of the Blu it looks fantastic. The film is completely cleaned up with a spotless presentation. It’s a film that really shines on Blu and for fans it’s the presentation we’ve all been waiting for. From what I can tell, the film’s more infamous scenes are intact as well. I’m not sure if the film is considered an Uncut version but it delivers on scenes I certainly don’t remember from watching it on VHS. As always, the blu comes with great special features but this release in particular is thick with content. We get a brand new documentary about the making of the film that runs nearly an hour (!), commentary by Henenlotter, a Q&A with Henenlotter, an interview with a superfan of the film, and more. This thing has a ton of goodies to dig into for fans of the movie.
Again, Arrow has released a flawless Blu ray. The presentation is fantastic, the film is great, and the special features are extensive. If you dig 80’s horror, this one is well worth picking up. If you’re a fan of Henenlotter, then it’s essential.