Screams From The Crypt: Killer Brains
Welcome back to Screams from the Crypt, the Talk Film Society’s home for horror! This week we're going to be taking a peek at one of the coolest horror subgenres - The Killer Brain!
Since the 1950’s sci-fi and horror movies have been filled with tales of disembodied brains attempting to dispatch anyone that gets in their way and the pictures I'll be highlighting this week are no exception. The first one on our list is Brain Damage from 1988, which was recently given a lovely Blu-ray by the fine folks over at Arrow Video.
Brain Damage (1988) d. Frank Henenlotter
The name Frank Henenlotter carries a lot of weight with genre fans. The mastermind behind the Basket Case films and Frankenhooker, he has a distinct style that borders on camp but brings the gore by the bucket full. Brain Damage is no exception to that rule, as this is one of the goofiest horror films I've seen in a long while. That said, it's also one of the most shocking and gross. Working from his own script, Henenlotter doesn't pull any punches in this story about a 20-something who teams up with a brain parasite named Aylmer (pronounced Elmer) to both get high out of his mind, and find the precious human brains that give Aylmer his power.
The inventive camerawork and effects are the highlights of Brain Damage, as Henenlotter clearly has a great eye for both. The drug trip sequences are something out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as Brian (Rick Hearst) receives a hallucinogen that Aylmer injects into his brain using a needle-like tongue. All of this is done using practical effects; including stop motion, puppetry, and good old fashioned fake blood. Aylmer really is the main character here and the main reason I was so engaged with this bonkers film. Voiced by midnight movie legend Zacherley, he's both funny and menacing, and thanks to the effects, is able to instill a sense of dread, as you never really have a grasp on who he'll kill next.
The lore is deep with Brain Damage, as it's revealed that Aylmer has had a long and checkered past throughout history. It's this attention to detail that really sells the entire experience, even if it's all gobbledygook, it makes sense in the moment and adds to the menace of the little parasite. The drug it administers is highly addictive, giving the movie a bit of "This is your brain on drugs" undercurrent that's much appreciated. Perhaps if this film was shown in schools instead of those dull anti-drug PSAs, kids might take addiction seriously, because holy moly does Brian get addicted to the blue juice hard and fast.
This addiction leads to some extremely inventive kills that were originally edited out of the initial theatrical release due to their graphic nature. One in particular stands out above all else - the infamous "fellatio" kill! Censors originally balked at this insane sequence but it's one of the best parts of the entire film. Brian and Aylmer hit up a local club and meet up with a girl who just wants to have a good time. Brian, high out of his goddamned mind, takes her out behind the club to get frisky, but upon unzipping his pants out pops Aylmer and well, he gives new meaning to the phrase "getting head."
The new release from Arrow Video is packed with some great bonus features along with a gorgeous transfer that retains the low-budget feel of the picture. Although all of the supplements are worth checking out, the best of the bunch is the nearly hour long Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage. This in depth look at the production is chock full of trivia and features some great behind the scenes footage as well. Brain Damage might not be a masterpiece but it's filled with enough arresting images to make it well worth your time, and a fine addition to any horror fan's collection.
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) d. Nathan Juran
One of the classic 50s cheesefests, The Brain from Planet Arous tells the story of a sentient brain from another planet who controls the body of a scientist, because of course. This obviously isn't the best movie ever made, but if you're in the right mood, it can really hit the spot. It's a film I used to watch quite a bit when I was younger and hungry for any horror movie I could get my hands on. I've revisited it a few times over the years, and I'm always instantly brought back to my youth, watching movies on late night television.
The completely ridiculous concept is made even better by the now hokey special effects. The brain, named Gor, is essentially a giant puppet. When he's not a puppet, he floats around the screen like some sort of possessed balloon, attacking anyone that gets in his way. All while this is happening, a second alien has been dispatched to earth in order to bring Gor home for trial. It's your standard 50s low budget science fiction but for the most part it works. Planet Arous is able to keep your attention thanks the effects, and it makes for a good time with friends who just want to kill some time.
The DVD is currently out of print, which is a shame, but it is available to rent on Amazon Video.