BRAIN DAMAGE (1987) Reviews and overview



‘It’s a headache from Hell!’

Brain Damage is a 1987 [released 1988] American comedy horror film written and directed by Frank Henenlotter (Bad BiologyFrankenhooker; Basket Case and sequels). The movie stars Rick Hearst (The Vampire Diaries; Warlock III), Gordon MacDonald and Jennifer Lowry. TV horror host John Zacherley provided the voice of creature “Elmer/Aylmer”.


Street Trash (1987) director Jim Muro handled the camera and the synth score was provided by Clutch Reiser and Gus Russo. Gabe Bartalos (Leprechaun; Skinned Deep; Spookies) provided the special makeup effects.


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On 8 May (UK) and 9 May (US) 2017, Arrow Video released the film on Blu-ray + DVD with the following features:

  • Digital transfer from original film elements
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by writer-director Frank Henenlotter
  • Brand new interviews with cast and crew
  • Q&A with Henenlotter recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • Limited edition O-card with exclusive artwork
  • Collector’s Booklet with new writing on the film
  • Plus more to be announced!!!


A young man, Brian, begins an unwilling symbiotic relationship with a malevolent leech-like brain-eating parasite named “Elmer/Aylmer” that secretes a highly addictive, hallucinogenic blue fluid into Brian’s brain.


In return for a steady supply of the fluid, Brian must seek out human victims for Elmer/Aylmer, so that he can devour their brains.

All the while, though, as Brian adopts a heavily secluded life in his indulgence of Elmer/Aylmer’s fluids, it begins to draw a rift in his relationship with his girlfriend Barbara and his brother…


” …Brain Damage is a disgusting, yet wonderfully deranged affair that will have you laughing and gagging at the same time. Blessed with a haunting synthesizer score by Clutch Reiser and Gus Russo, […] and fantastic special effects (I loved the throbbing meatballs that looked like brains), the film beautifully mixes moments of playful absurdity with ones of absolute revulsion.” House of Self Indulgence


” …this isn’t some classy horror film. It’s still very much like his others: unknown actors, grimy New York locales, disgusting and phallic FX, kitchen-sink storytelling, etc. But it actually tells a real story (one that’s paced nicely to boot), instead of feeling like a loosely connected series of gags.” Horror Movie a Day


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“…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.” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital


“The parasite often looks and acts like a penis and even gets confusingly pulled into sexual activity. Brian appears to enjoy his drug like an orgasm, while his neck is being penetrated from behind (ahem). There’s more male nudity than female (usually Hennenlotter balances the two) and while there are no explicitly gay characters, there are several possibles and even a fantasy threesome.” Black Hole


“Some of the set-pieces that Frank Henenlotter manages are sensational, none more so than the sequence (censored from US prints) where Vicki Darnell kneels down to perform fellatio on Rick Herbst in an alleyway, only to have Aylmer burst out of his fly and pierce her throat to devour her brains – and then disappearing back into Herbst’s fly leaving chunks of meat all over his zipper.” Moria

“The filmmakers juggle so many balls in the air that it’s a wonder any remain aloft. The story is about addiction, promiscuity, power and commerce. It’s a veritable crazy quilt of ideas that manages to engage our attention while our heads continue to dart away from the shocking images on screen.” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1988


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“Like Basket Case (1981), to which there is a neat reference, this gives its monster a distinct personality but doesn’t come up with enough connective tissue to go around gory set-pieces.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“…the most disgusting scene will deter impressionable young women from performing the act of fellatio for life. There are some nice comic moments though; in fact, relying as heavily on its disquieting black humour as on images of physical disgust, the whole thing works far better as comedy than horror.” Time Out (London)




Cast and characters:

Rick Hearst … Brian
John Zacherle … voice of Aylmer
Jennifer Lowry … Barbara
Theo Barnes … Morris
Lucille Saint Peter … Martha

Filming locations:

New York City, New York