BLU-RAY REVIEW: BRAIN DAMAGE

By Nick Durham

Frank Henenlotter has been one of my favorite directors seemingly forever now, and as much as I love his schlock classics Basket Case and FrankenhookerBrain Damage has always had a very special place in my heart. A gory allegory of drug addiction that was notoriously edited upon its original 1988 release, the film managed to gain a small following throughout the years, eventually leading to a fully uncut release and finding a new generation of fans. Arrow Video has given the film the long awaited Blu-ray treatment, and it’s certainly a sight to behold to say the least.

The story of Brain Damage revolves around Brian (Rick Herbst) who becomes the newest host for a brain eating parasite named Elmer (or Aylmer, voiced by the recently departed TV horror host John Zacherle). Elmer injects Brian with an LSD-esque fluid that brings him massive amounts of euphoria, while in return Brian supplies Elmer with a steady stream of victims. This causes Brian to become withdrawn from his girlfriend and brother in the process, and eventually leads to some horrific and disastrous results for everyone involved. 

While Brain Damage‘s allegorical themes are easy to point out, the film offers its fair share of over the top comedic moments as well. Combined with some wonderful practical effects work and some really, really gnarly gore scenes, Brain Damage is an absolute blast. Two of the film’s most infamous scenes: the blowjob surprise and the brain-pulling scene, remain hilariously horrific and startlingly iconic to this day. The acting itself, outside of Rick Herbst as Rick and the wonderful John Zacherle as Elmer, is fairly pedestrian to be honest, but you’re not watching a Frank Henenlotter movie for the acting, so this isn’t too big a deal. That being said, there’s a surprising moment of poignancy in the film, namely when Brian realizes what he’s gotten himself into and attempts to “quit” Elmer cold turkey in a run down motel room as Elmer looks on, awaiting Brian to come crawling back when he can’t take the withdrawal any longer. As someone who has had their own addiction issues, I can say that this scene strikes a chord with me, and I honestly think this may be the most well-acted scene that Frank Henenlotter has ever crafted in his whole career. Were it not for Elmer sitting on a sink taunting Brian, you wouldn’t know this scene took place in a horror splatter film.

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Brain Damage improves on Synapse Films’ out of print DVD release from 2007, featuring a pretty good transfer. There’s a brand new commentary track from Henenlotter, as well as a new documentary on the film featuring a slew of interviews with Rick Herbst and various members of the film’s production. There’s a featurette starring FX artist and Elmer creator Gabe Bartalos, as well as other features detailing the film’s gory visual effects. There’s even more included here, including revisiting the film’s shooting locations, an interview with superfan Adam Skinner, a recorded Q&A session from 2016, and an animated short that includes John Zacharle’s final performance. There’s an assortment of even more features packed into this set as well; all of which makes this an absolute must own.

All in all, Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Brain Damage is a must have. Like many of their best releases, this is of course a limited edition set, so you’d better get your hands on it while you still can. Whether you’re a long time fan of the film or have only heard about it through word of mouth and want to see what the fuss is about, now is your best time to set your sights on this flick.

Rating: 5/5

BLU-RAY REVIEW: BASKET CASE 3

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By Nick Durham

Here we are with Basket Case 3: The Progeny, concluding Frank Henenlotter’s trilogy of malformed mayhem. While the original film was groundbreaking sleaze, and the second film was enjoyable trash, the third film is just well…kind of meh to put it bluntly. There are some great elements to the film to be sure, but alas, the Basket Case series ended on more of a whimper than a high note. Along with Basket Case 2, Synapse Films has released Basket Case 3 on Blu-ray, so it is nice that these films are available for a whole new generation to check out.

 

Basket Case 3 picks up not long after the second film left off, with Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) locked up by Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and Belial is back in his basket. Belial is about to get more than he bargained for though: his lover Eve is giving birth a whole litter of little adorable freaks. Things escalate from there of course, as Duane tries to escape and the authorities come after Belial’s youngin’s and some other whacky shit happens, concluding in a nasty bloodbath for everyone involved.

 

Like I had said in the opening paragraph, Basket Case 3 is enjoyable, but nowhere near the quality of either of the preceding installments. In fact, it takes a while for things to kick into high gear. A lot of time is dedicated to recapping previous events in the beginning of the film, which is all well and good if your memory sucks (like mine does), but it honestly isn’t all that necessary. The effects work is pretty good, and often fluctuates between totally disgusting and an absolute hoot. The cast members are game enough, but there’s too many moments where things just appear like Henenlotter is on autopilot.

 

Special features wise, all we get is the film’s trailer…in standard definition. That’s it. No commentary tracks, no interviews, no featurettes, nothing. Just the film’s trailer. This boggles my mind, because Basket Case 2 at least had some features along with a remastered picture. Basket Case 3 doesn’t look or sound all that hi-definition for being a Blu-ray disc, which is a massive disappointment. I mean it looks better than the old DVD release from way back when, but the fact that there’s no other features included here is supremely disappointing. Synapse Films usually does pretty damn good with the special features on their releases, so not only is this a disappointment, it’s also kind of mind-boggling.

 

All things considered, Basket Case 3 is an enjoyable conclusion to Frank Henenlotter’s series. It’s a mild disappointment compared to the other films, but it’s blissfully ridiculous regardless. If you’re looking for a Blu-ray release packed with features, this definitely isn’t it though, and that makes me a sad panda. A sad, malformed, blood-thirsty panda.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

BLU-RAY REVIEW: BASKET CASE 2

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By Nick Durham

Frank Henenlotter is one of my favorite people. Not just as a director, but as a person in general; I want to talk to him for hours and pick his brain. The original Basket Case was my first exposure to Henenlotter’s work, and I followed him ever since, eventually getting around to the film’s sequels. Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3 have never been held as highly as the original landmark film, but I love them regardless. Synapse Films has decided to release both sequels on Blu-ray, and we’re going to focus on Basket Case 2 here first.

 

Released in 1990, Basket Case 2 finds Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his misshapen brother Belial having survived their fall from the end of the first film. Now their secret is out, as are their identities, and they end up drawing a ton of media attention because of it. Eventually, Duane and Belial are taken in by the mysterious Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), who claims to be Duane’s long lost aunt, and runs a home for wayward freaks and oddities. But of course, things aren’t what they seem, and the fact that a journalist and the cops are hot on their trails doesn’t make things any easier for anyone involved either.

 

I’ll say first and foremost what we all know off the top of our heads: Basket Case 2 is nowhere as good as the first film. That aside, it’s still an absolute blast and manages to be pretty damn enjoyable regardless. Kevin Van Hentenryck manages to mostly play it straight (mostly) and still be a hoot as the hapless Duane. Horror vets Ted Sorel (From Beyond) is here as a cop, and David Emge (Flyboy from Dawn of the Dead) is here as the freakish Half Moon, which took me a long time to realize was even him. The makeup effects for being a low budget flick from this era are pretty damn good and somehow still manage to hold up even today for the most part. Special features-wise, the film has been transferred from the original negative, there’s a featurette with the film’s makeup artist Gabe Bartalos, and there’s an interview with Emge. The film looks pretty good, probably the best I’ve ever seen it look.

 

It goes without saying that Basket Case 2 doesn’t hold up compared to the first film, but it still manages to be an enjoyable affair. Synapse has crafted a pretty good Blu-ray treatment of the film as well, though I wish there would have been material featuring Henenlotter or Van Hentenryck. Despite that though, this is worth picking up, just to say that you own it.  We’ll be back soon with a review of the Basket Case 3 Blu-ray release, so stay tuned.

 

Rating: 3.5/5