BRAIN DAMAGE (1988) Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Arrow Video USA

Frank Henenlotter comes out of the basket case with the parasitic drug addiction allegory BRAIN DAMAGE, on special edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video USA.

Mild-mannered Brian's (GENERAL HOSPITAL's Rick Hearst) life takes a strange turn when he wakes up with a hole in the nape of his neck and a phallic parasite named Aylmer (voiced by horror host John Zacherle) promising him euphoria in exchange for "taking him for a walk" on the town. During these periods when Aylmer injects a fluid directly into his brain, Brian is too spaced out to realize that he is feeding his habit by allowing Aylmer to suck out the brains of innocent victims among the denizens of 42nd Street. His behavior alienates both his roommate brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald, THE THIN RED LINE) and girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry) and pushes them into each other's arms. As Brian fights to control Aylmer while maintaining his fix, Aylmer lets him know who is really in charge by subjecting him to painful withdrawals and gory hallucinations. Brian soon discovers that before him, Aylmer was in the possession of neighbors Morris (Theo Barnes) and Martha (Lucille Saint-Peter) who are murderously bent on getting him back as their withdrawal is driving them mad and causing them to physically deteriorate at a rapid rate.

A body horror variation on the Faust legend – as cited by the well-read Henenlotter – BRAIN DAMAGE is a successful horror comedy with a surreal verve, splashy make-up effects by Gabe Bartalos (LEPRECHAUN), and the balls to flout its bad taste while looking slicker than its grindhouse ilk. Given scant theatrical release by Palisades (JACK'S BACK) in a butchered R-rated version followed by a Paramount tape release, BRAIN DAMAGE was announced as a special edition laserdisc by Synapse in the waning years of the format. That edition was cancelled but Synapse made it one of their early DVD releases in an uncut non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer featuring an audio commentary by Henenlotter, novelization writer Bob Martin, and independent filmmaker Scooter McCrae, the isolated score, and the film's trailer. This edition was followed up four years later with a limited edition anamorphic remaster from a new HD master along with a 5.1 remix followed by a barebones edition from Mackinac Media utilizing the same master. Unable to source the original negatives, Arrow is working from the HD master struck by Synapse Films for their 2006 DVD release, BRAIN DAMAGE's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode boasts rich colors and good detail for a film that was shot on fast stock with the lenses opened up to their maximum aperture for the night scenes. A new master would have been nice but it is surprising just how well the older D5 one holds up on Blu-ray. Audio options include the 5.1 track in DTS-HD Master Audio, a lossless original mono track in LPCM, and LPCM 2.0 rendering of the isolated score.

Arrow's extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Frank Hennenlotter and Mike Hunchback who discuss the film's travails with the MPAA (and why he has decided never to submit a film to them again) as well as his views on the organization, shooting without permits in New York (with the exception of the subway scene), the make-up effects of Bartalos and animation of Al Magliochetti (who would work with Peter Kuran's VCE company in the late eighties and early nineties before moving on to Full Moon in its nineties heyday), the film's drug allegory, Aylmer's backstory, as well as anecdotes about some of the film's setpieces (including the infamous blowjob). He also discusses the differences between these earlier non-union productions and the SAG productions for Shapiro-Glickenhaus like the BASKET CASE sequels. "Listen to the Light" (54:13) is a fairly comprehensive making-of with producer Edgar Ievins (FRANKENHOOKER) discussing how Henenlotter developed the story and script, Bartalos who worked on the troubled production SPOOKIES under Arnold Gargiulo (THE DEADLY SPAWN) who recommended him for Henenlotter, assistant director Gregory Lamberson who brought over some of his crew from SLIME CITY including camera operator Peter Clark (PLUTONIUM BABY) and STREET TRASH's Jim Muro as Steadicam operator, Magliochetti on the animation, and Hearst trying to identify with his character. There is a chuck of discussion about the design of Aylmer which was conceived as something between a "black dildo" and a brain.

"Gabe Bartalos talks about...the Effects of BRAIN DAMAGE" (10:00) finds the effects artist going into more detail about the design of Aylmer, Zacherle's voice work, the withdrawal make-up effects, and Brian's head-blowing fate while "Animating Elmer" (6:40) finds Magliochetti discussing his stop motion and animation cel work (composited in Los Angeles on Kuran's equipment). In "Karen Ogle: Set Photographer, Script Supervisor and Assistant Editor" (4:29), Ogle discusses her various positions in the film, including script supervisor keeping track of scenes without scene numbers (made easier since Henenlotter had already edited the movie in his head). "Elmer's Turf: The NYC Locations of BRAIN DAMAGE" (8:48) finds Henenlotter and Michael Gingold revisiting the studio and some of the drastically-changed locations from the film. In "Tasty Memories: A BRAIN DAMAGE Obsession" (10:00), superfan Adam Skinner discusses his friendship with Henenlotter and displays his massive collection of memorabilia from the film, including novelizations, scripts, videotapes, DVDs, posters, lobby cards, models, T-shirts, and the like. Letting the featurette play to the end takes the viewer to an Easter Egg menu including music videos for "The Band from Planet X: 'The Man with the Basket / Blowjob'" (2:58), "Bull Milk: 'A Club Called Hell'" (3:30), "Daiquiri: 'Movies I Like'" (3:20), and "Ultron Atreides: 'Terrible Purpose'" (3:04). Another more recent Henenlotter appearance is also included here with a Q&A session from the Belgian Offscreen Film Festival from March 13, 2016 (20:35).

The disc also includes three image galleries of over two-hundred stills and ninety-odd behind the scenes shots from Ogle, as well as various ephemera, the film's Cinema Group theatrical trailer (1:15), and "Bygone Behemoth" (5:08), a 2010 animated short film by Harry Chaskin that marked Zacherle's final voice work. Not included for review are the slipcase and a 32-page booklet with liner notes by Michael Gingold that come with the first pressing only (which is limited to 1,500 copies and comes with an exclusive badge). (Eric Cotenas)