led "Behind the Wicker." Packed with camcorder footage of the creation of Belial and the other freaks, it's a fun, low-tech short with Bartalos (who has to be subtitled on occasion due to the loud industrial setting) showing off the shooting locations, sharing a chatty walk with Henenlotter while talking about the shooting, and turning the camera over for a reminisence with Henenlotter and Jim Glickenhaus. Dawn of the Dead's David Emge pops up for the second featurette, a five-minute quickie called "The Man in the Moon Mask," in which he talks about how he landed up appearing in his memorable and completely unrecognizable role as "Half-Moon."

Color, 1988, 86 mins.

Directed by Frank Henenlotter / Starring Rick Herbst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, Vicki Darnell / Synapse (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)


How do you follow up a smash hit cult movie? Well, if that movie is 1982's Basket Case, you just take what worked in that film and try to make it even better. The result, of course, is Brain Damage, an outrageous little gem that ran into trouble when its distributor decided to release it with an R rating in the U.S. As a result, the film lost two of its most over the top sequences (one involving a club girl getting her brains literally boffed out, and the other featuring a nasty string of brain matter being pulled out of an ear). The watered down version still managed to find an accepting cult audience, especially after its release on video from Paramount, while horror fans managed to track down uncut copies from the U.K. and Denmark. Well, the wait is finally over; Americans can finally Brain Damage in all its uncut glory, in pristine quality, thanks to the latest labor of love from Synapse (could there be a more appropriate company for this one?).

An elderly woman looks at her bathtub filled up with water and lets out a shriek. Her husband joins her as they frantically ransack their apartment, screaming "He's gone! He's gone!" Cut to their neighbor, Brian (Rick Herbst, later Rick Herst on The Guiding Light), who shares an apartment with his brother, Mike (Gordon MacDonald). Brian wakes up with a strange headache and discovers a crusty, eel-shaped creature lurking in his room. Even weirder, the creature talks and occasionally slips a needle-like appendage from its mouth into Brian's neck, whereby it injects the young man with a psychedelic chemical causing euphoric hallucinations. Brian goes out on a surreal nighttime walk climaxing at a junkyard, where a run-in with a security guard results in the creature scarfing down the guard's brains. Unaware of his new friend's murderous tendencies, Brian blithefully ignores both his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry) and his brother in favor of spending hours in the bathtub splashing around with his fix-providing pal. After a few more grisly murders, Brian's neighbors eventually catch on and inform him about the history of this creature, called the Aylmer ("You named him Elmer?!"), which has been bought and traded over the centuries. Determined to hold on to his codependent prize, Brian refuses to hand over the Aylmer, resulting in tragic and highly surreal consequences.

Surprsingly stylish for such a low budget ($600,000, according to the commentary), Brain Damage knowingly winks at other genre titles like Altered States and even includes a very funny in-joke for Basket Case fans (look closely on the subway). While the basic narrative thread of the film will be familiar for anyone well-versed in other "horror as drug parable" titles like The Hunger, the real joy lies in Henenlotter's curious little detours along the way. The aforementioned nightclub scene remains a jaw-dropping bit of sick cinema guaranteed to bring your next movie party to a dead halt, and the finale takes some unexpected turns away from the expected Basket Case-style wrapup. The performers generally do a nice job, with Herbst managed a nice balance between comical hysteria and genuine pathos. Though uncredited, Zacherley makes a definite impression as Elmer, droning out wisecracks and tormenting Brian with a Tommy Dorsey tune for good measure. Street Trash auteur Jim Muro handles Steadicam duties with his usual skill, and Elmer himself, giving Belial a run for his money, makes for a strangely endearing little critter. Synapse's DVD is everything a horror fan could ask for, featuring the U.S. trailer (and the Basket Case one tucked into Henenlotter's filmography for good measure), a beautiful letterboxed transfer (matting off unnecessary information from the full frame 35mm original), and even an isolated score track! The real treat, though, is the commentary by Henenlotter himself, joined by Bob Martin (who wrote the novelization) and Shatter Dead director Scooter McCrae. The three casually chat about the making of the film, swapping observations and anecdotes, and basically just make the viewer wish Henenlotter would go make another movie, as it's been way too long since the last Basket Case. In the meantime, along with the director's valiant efforts to corrupt audiences around the world through his series with Something Weird Video, this nifty DVD treat will do just fine.


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