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Movie Reviews : 'Brain Damage' a Bizarre Crazy Quilt of Ideas

May 24, 1988|LEONARD KLADY

One hesitates to say it, but it would take some type of demented genius to surpass "Brain Damage" (citywide) as the cinematic stomach-turner of 1988. Before anyone accepts this as a challenge, he or she should understand that this tale is conceived as both a horror film about death and as the darkest of black comedies.

The film makers juggle so many balls in the air that it's a wonder any remain aloft. The story is about addiction, promiscuity, power and commerce. It's a veritable crazy quilt of ideas that manages to engage our attention while our heads continue to dart away from the shocking images on screen.

The story begins when Brian (Rick Herbst), the young hero, cancels a date with his girlfriend because he's suddenly become quite ill. After taking a rest, he awakes to find his hand drenched in blood, apparently from a wound in the back of his neck. However, before he can make sense of this, he slides into a series of euphoric hallucinations.

When he regains his senses, he discovers the cause of this strange series of events is a talking, blue, foot-long, eel-shaped fiend. It promises him freedom from care and a good time. As proof, it climbs aboard Brian's back, injects its needle-like tongue into his brain and secretes a blue juice and an electrical charge that sends him to nirvana.

This Faustian saga quickly reveals the tragic consequences of dealing with the devil. While the hedonistic pleasure fogs Brian's mind, the fiend is savagely killing people and eating their brains.

Film maker Frank Henenlotter is an utterly bizarre talent. His 1982 "Basket Case"--the tale of literally a vengeful head--is a bona-fide midnight video classic. "Brain Damage" (MPAA-rated: R, for nudity, language and horrifying violence) represents a step forward in his ability to organically incorporate what is visually shocking with the psychological terror that informs his work. What distinguishes him in the horror genre is his indifference to Gothic trappings in favor of the most caustic social satire.

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