Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange – “Brain Damage” (1987)

When upstanding young Brian (Rick Herbst/Hearst) meets Aylmer, a garrulous, brain-eating parasite, their resulting relationship – based entirely on the creature’s ability to inject a overpowering narcotic-like “juice” into his brain – leads to delusion, alienation, and eventually, a lot of messy deaths. Viciously funny and grisly addiction parable from Frank Henenlotter (“Basket Case”), who fashions a hilarious and harrowing story from a premise that, on paper, should play as either absurd or offensive (or both). Much of the credit goes to Hearst – now an Emmy-winning soap star – who ably portrays the surreal highs and bone-rattling lows inherent to the addiction cycle, and to the monster itself, a marvel of latex sculpture, puppets and stop-motion engineered by a talented special effects team (including makeup effects artist Gabriel Bartalos and VFX creator Al Magliochetti) on a spare change budget. Their efforts allow Aylmer – a sort of hybrid slug/brain/turd creature seemingly sprung from the combined ids of H.R. Giger and the creators of the Weird-Ohs model kits – to not only interact believably with Herbst but also launch itself at victims and in one show-stopping moment, croon a Tin Pan Alley tune; the vocal performance by beloved TV horror host John Zacherle slithers gracefully from jolly to seductive and threatening in a perfect embodiment of addiction’s inescapable siren call. Arrow Video’s limited edition Blu-ray/DVD set is uncut, offering more jaw-dropping gore effects than previous editions or even Paramount’s brief theatrical run; among the wealth of extras are commentary by and interviews with Henenlotter, who discusses his inspirations (including the story of Faust) and the challenges of moving from 16mm to 35mm on a sub-indie budget; Hearst and members of the effects and production team detail the film’s scuzzy NYC shooting conditions and locations (which Henenlotter also revisits with Michael Gingold), while the late Zacherle, who died in 2016 at the age of 98, is paid affectionate tribute in Harry Chaskin’s wonderful stop-motion short, “Bygone Behemoth.”

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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