Between Basket Case, Frankenhooker and Brain Damage, there are very few voices more distinctive in '80s horror than Frank Henenlotter, the New York-born exploitation filmmaker whose work is consistently gross, funny and completely outrageous. His movies feel like no others of the period, and though he's rarely named among the major genre auteurs of the decade (Carpenter, Craven, my boy T. Hoops), he has as clear and unique a voice as the masters. Henenlotter's body of work may not be as classically well made, but there's no denying that his films are real originals.
There are obvious connections to be drawn between Brain Damage and Henenlotter's breakout movie Basket Case, namely in the relationship between a tall, dark-haired caucasian man and a little mutant blob of latex upon which he begins to depend. Brain Damage lacks the sleazy 42nd Street griminess of Basket Case, though, having more in common with the sequels: it's more polished, brighter, more colorful. Henenlotter still gleefully trashes the lines of taste, particularly in a shocking and graphic sequence in which a prostitute comes face-to-mouth with Aylmer, but there's something that feels more broadly commercial about the way the movie is constructed, even though there is absolutely nothing broad or commercial about it.
Though the VHS cover box has stuck in my head for all these years, it wasn't until Arrow Video's new Blu-ray of Brain Damage that I was finally able to see the movie. They do their usual impressive job restoring the movie for 1080p HD, but where the disc really shines is in the bonus features. Henenlotter is a fun listen on any commentary track because he has so much energy and personality and he does not disappoint here. Perhaps even better is the nearly hour-long documentary about the making of the movie, featuring interviews with many of the participants. I love watching these kinds of retrospective docs almost as much as I love watching the movies on which they're reflecting, and at a time in my life when it has become increasingly difficult (almost impossible) to work my way through extra features on most discs, I always make time for pieces like this.
Blu-ray release date: May 9, 2017
LCPM Mono (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Frank Henenlotter Commentary
"Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage" Documentary
"The Effects of Brain Damage" Featurette
"Karen Ogle: A Look Back" Featurette
"Elmer's Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage" Featurette
"Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession" Featurette
"Bygone Behemoth" Animated Short
Frank Henenlotter Q&A