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The Mass Media

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The Toolbox Murders

The Toolbox Murders

BY DENEZ McADOOStaff Writer

Brain Damage1988Director – Frank Henenlotter”It’s a headache from hell!”89 min. – rated R

I’m beginning to wonder where some of this stuff comes from. If it wasn’t bad enough to infect the decent god-fearing world of respectable cinema with pus-filled base-level B-movie schlock, some people find the need to go the extra mile, cross that line, and put a boot in the ass of all other low budget films just to make a film as completely asinine and jaw-droppingly enjoyable as 1988’s Brain Damage.

Essentially an anti-drug movie on acid, almost any and all messages of moral integrity are completely lost in the sick sense of humor, based mainly on poor schleps getting their brains sucked out. Yes that’s right, Brain Damage is a comedy-horror film, which should rightly lead you to immediately assume that this film is, much like most other attempts at the horror-comedy genre, utterly unsuccessful at either being a horror film or a comedy. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet, Brain Damage was directed by Frank Henenlotter who also directed several other top-notch entries into the otherwise cringe-worthy genre such as 1982’s Basket Case and 1990’s Frankenhooker-both highly recommended.

Brain Damage centers around the film’s anti-hero Brian, a young urban semi-professional type, who lives with his brother in a small apartment somewhere in New York City. Brian seems to be a pretty with-it hip guy (editor’s note-I spotted three identifiable band posters on his bed room wall: Bauhaus, Suicide, and Slayer’s Reign in Blood!), but one night he suddenly wakes up and begins to see and feel some strange and amazing things. A euphoric feeling fills his body, lights seem brighter and change color, moving objects are followed by delicate trails, shapes and sounds transform into other objects. The technical term for this condition is “tripping one’s balls off.”

OK, so waking up in the middle of the night high on life isn’t even the strange part. Well, it is strange but Brain Damage gets much, much stranger. Brian, though finding the sudden late-night stoned experience very enjoyable, sets out to find the source of his transcendental experience. Now, I’ve seen a lot of weird characters in low budget horror films: turkey-headed junky-blood addicts (1972’s Blood Freak), clay-faced baboon-hearted ape men (1968’s Night of the Bloody Apes), and a mutant demon-baby on a killing rampage (1974’s It’s Alive!), but Brain Damage’s college-level-articulate penis-shaped turd-monster just about takes the cake.

Fortunately, even though the film was produced on the tightest of budgets, the not-quite-so-special effects are actually pretty impressive. A combination of puppetry and stop-motion animation really bring the googely-eyed, razor-toothed poop monster named Aylmer (but he settles for Elmer) to life. Brian and Elmer live a seemingly sustainable life-Brian keeps Elmer hidden in the bath tub or down his pants, while Elmer keeps Brian high as a kite by injecting him with what appears to be liquid 2000 flushes directly into his brain. Sure, Elmer is disturbingly phallic shaped and the needley thing that comes out of his throat so that he can inject the blue juice into an open sore abscess in the back of Brian’s skull is kind of gross, but other than that everything seems to be all right. Right?

Unbeknownst to Brian, he quickly develops a highly addictive personality and he begins to ignore his job, his girlfriend, and proper grooming habits. Elmer’s extra strength dose of cheap highs does not come without a price. Brian is also unaware that during several of his psychedelic stupors, Elmer has been satisfying his own lustful weaknesses-for human brains!

Brain Damage manages to do so many things right, you just have to ignore the few things it does wrong. One scene in a punk club, a bunch of blockheads in Mohawks and leather jackets slam-dance to the sounds of obnoxious goth-rock. The lead singer has a mullet, for Jah’s sake! The movie also places a heavier emphasis on the tripping and the humor than it does on the gratuitous scenes of gore, but unless you’re a totally sadistic splatter hound, this might make Brain Damage a bit more watchable for the other 98 percent of the population who didn’t think the scene in which Bambi’s mom got shot was the best part of that whole movie.