Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brain Damage

(Frank Henenlotter, 1988)
This being Henenlotter, I knew that it was going to be lurid, vivid, and nasty; and while "Basket Case" might have prepared me for heartfelt, it didn't hint at the visionary poetics on display here. Aylmer, the phallic brain-eating slug, is not only a brilliantly disgusting piece of puppetry; he is voiced with such a delicate mocking lilt (by John Zacherle!!) that it transforms the whole experience of the film. This is your brain on drugs, quietly seductive until it's feeding time. Aylmer's hapless victim/host - cut off from real life, unable to kick the hallucinatory blue gunk, doomed - is only one example of a consuming pathos. As riotous and disgusting as the brain-eating scenes are, they are also overwhelmingly sad; nobody deserves their fate, and Henenlotter takes pleasure only in his craft. Which is pervasive. The hallucination scenes hit the nail on the head, the performances are just hyperbolic enough to keep things from getting oppressive, and the final image is startlingly beautiful. And beneath all this is a virtual tour of the most absolutely desolate corners of skid-row NYC in full bloom. A work of art.

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