Brain Damage Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

It’s a headache from hell!  From Frank Henenlotter, the man behind such cult horror favorites as Basket Case and Frankenhooker, comes Brain Damage – the ultimate head-trip, now finally on Blu-ray from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group!  Meet Elmer.  He’s your local, friendly parasite with the ability to induce euphoric hallucinations in his hosts.  But these LSD-like trips come with a hefty price tag.  When young Brian comes under Elmer’s addictive spell, it’s not long before he finds himself scouring the city streets in search of his parasite’s preferred food source – brains! Featuring late TV horror host John Zacherley as the voice of Elmer, Brain Damage boasts some of the most astonishing bad taste gore-gags ever realized, including the notorious “brain-pulling sequence” and a blow-job that ends with a distinctly unconventional climax.  Extras on this Brain Damage Limited Edition Blu-ray include an all-new full length Commentary by Frank Henenlotter, a gaggle of featurettes, Image Galleries, an Isolated Score track and much more!  Thinking of not getting it?  Tacky Brian, tacky!


Brian is an average ordinary everyday guy with not much that makes him special.  But one day after waking from a terrible sleep and in a pool of blood, he finds himself chosen to be host to a cute, clever and highly manipulative odd little mutant parasite creature he later learns is named Elmer.  A bond and deal forms between the unlikely two – Brian gets a shot of Elmer’s blue liquid drug right to the brain through a convenient hole in Brian’s neck and in turn Elmer goes for evening strolls with his human counterpart in search of his next meal – human brains.  At first Brian is unaware of his new friends’ insatiable appetite desires, distracted by the effects of Elmer’s trippy liquid, but by the time he realizes what’s going on it’s too late.  Is Brian a slave to Elmer?  Elmer a slave to Brian?  And either way how long can the two co-exist?

It sounds like there are a lot of relevant deep and dramatic co-dependency issues going on from the above description, but as a film Brain Damage is frankly just a hoot.  Wholly original, funny, shocking and horrific all at the same time, this is Director Frank Henenlotter at the peak of his perverse prowess.  And while his human cast ranges from decent (the weary Brian is played wonderfully by everyman Rick Hearst – though I remember the poster name being Rick Herbst!) to shameful (Bradlee Rhodes has the right amount of B-movie cheddar as the Night watchmen who meets a hungry Elmer face-to-face!) to even surprising (who’s that guy carrying the wicker basket on the subway train?!), this flick is all about the Elmer.  His wry voice and comical delivery (as provided by late-night TV horror icon John Zacherle!), his leech like body and mouth full of wiggling gizzards (courtesy of make-up man extraordinaire Gabe Bartalos!) and even his fateful name (“NOT Elmer, Aylmer meaning the all inspiring famous one which he is indeed!”) gave birth to a mutant monster unlike anything seen before or since.  How the hell Henenlotter came up with such a crazed, creepy and insanely inspired creature is a mystery for sure, but it’s impact on the film turns what could have been simple Grade B material into five-star film gold.  Plus the visual trips taken by a doped up Brian give the filmmaker license to create some very memorable hallucinogenic set pieces – light fixture that turns into eyes, being engulfed in shiny blue water, cars that sport bright colors – that remain effective and trippy even in this day of shameful CGI.

Brain Damage is not going to be to everyone’s taste, but for those who even mildly enjoy the horror/comedy genre it’s very easily to get into.  The levity and humor of Elmer himself definitely makes his dirty deeds a tad easier to take – a spoonful of personality in a parasite makes the mutant medicine go down.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Henenlotter shot this sucker on 35mm and it shows here in full detail be it light or dark scenes.

Depth: Surprisingly good spacing considering the small spaces this one was shot in.

Black Levels: A good part of the film takes place during nighttime and it shines just as bright as if it were day.

Color Reproduction: Love seeing Elmer’s blue colors shine!

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are a tad muted but on purpose as everyone here is either in dark shadow or on drugs!

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Formats(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM Mono, Music LPCM 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Gone are the VHS hiss sounds of old – though you do notice some ambiance changes when lines are looped.

Low Frequency Extension: Great lows – especially during drug trips!

Surround Sound Presentation: A decent use of score in the surround, but otherwise not really needed.

Dialogue Reproduction: Great stuff – especially the lines ala Zacherle!


The Brain Damage Limited Edition Blu-ray contains both a High Definition Blu-ray and a Standard Edition DVD with both the Original Mono and 5.1 Surround options and an optional Isolated Score audio track.  Also included a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck, a Limited Edition O-card with exclusive artwork and Collector’s Booklet with new writing on the film by Michael Gingold, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

Audio Commentary

  • With Writer/Director Frank Henenlotter (A good listen that has a “not that annoying” narrator that keeps the fast minded moving filmmaker on track!)

Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage (HD, 54:13) – A great doc that chronicles the flick and it’s unusual conception (they rented out space above a camera supply shop!) from everyone from producer Edgar Ievins to makeup man Gabe Bartalos. But the best stuff is the chats with star Rick Hearst who chats up how his kids friends go crazy that he played the lead in the film. (Classic!)

The Effects of Brain Damage (HD, 10:00) – FX artist and creator of ‘Elmer’ Gabe Bartalos goes into more specifics in this doc – from the various molds to the grotesque gags. (Plus he pulls out effects artifacts from the shoot – gimme!)

Animating Elmer (HD, 6:40) – Visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti takes fans on a tour of the various bad but awesome Brain Damage eye candy. (Love that he put letters in the electric brain bits spelling out words!)

Karen Ogle: A Look Back (HD, 4:29) – Stills photographer, script supervisor and assistant editor Karen Ogle gives a very quick interview on working on the film.

Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage (HD, 8:48) – It’s funny seeing this featurette on revisiting the film’s original shooting locations since most were inside a single building now seemingly in ruins!

Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession (HD, 10:00) – An interview with superfan Adam Skinner who has some cool Brain Damage items (I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with him on the collectables front!) and also made music inspired by the film – which has then four tracks for listening accessible after watching this featurette!

Brain Damage Q&A with Frank Henenlotter recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival (HD, 20:36) – A Q&A with mostly the same – though the moderator seems to be rushing the filmmaker through the stories. (WHY?!?!)

Bygone Behemoth (HD, 5:08) – A cute animated short by Harry Chaskin about a movie monster past his prime in Hollywood with a brief appearance by John Zacherle in his final onscreen credit.

Image Galleries including Stills (HD, 4:18), Behind the Scenes (1:55) and Ephemera (HD, 0:52) and Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:15)


Arrow and MVD do it once again.  You got Frank Henenlotter’s five-star opus, which looks and sounds the best it ever will, with extras that explain every facet of the flick and packaging that screams collectable shelf.  (And for Arrow UK purists just get the missing Elmer pin on eBay!)  Say ‘I own you now, you’re mine’ – and pick it up for purchase!


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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