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Brain Damage (Blu-ray/DVD)

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Brain DamageStarring Rick Hearst (as Rick Herbst), Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, the voice of John Zacherle

Directed by Frank Henenlotter

Distributed by Arrow Video


When it comes to bizarrely perverted and viscerally stomach-churning horror, few have done it better than cult auteur Frank Henenlotter. His early filmography, scant as it may be, is filled with fiercely original tales of sexuality and grotesqueries that, while unabashedly extreme, work organically to the story being told and are not done for the sake of being gratuitous… ok, maybe a little. As a writer and director with a steadfast vision, he is able to make movies that feel like they exist in his own alternate universe filled with flashy colors, sketchy characters, grimy cities, Freudian subtext, and unremitting fun. Much as I love the Basket Case (1982-1991) series and Frankenhooker (1990), my absolute favorite is unquestionably Brain Damage (1988). Similar to the first time I watched comedic horror luminaries such as Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) and Re-Animator (1985), the experience of seeing an ancient phallic worm inject an LSD-like substance into a host for the purpose of being taken out to feed on human brains blew my own mind. The deceptively simple story is bolstered by a roster of strong performances, a perfect score, and skin-crawling special effects work anchored by the cause of the titular ailment: a little black worm-thing named Elmer the Aylmer.

An elderly couple, Morris (Theo Barnes) and Martha (Lucille Saint Peter), return home to their tiny apartment gleefully touting a package of fresh animal brains for… something, but their joy quickly turns to despondence when their “pet” appears to be missing. The two scour the building as best they can but come up with nothing, and eventually they wind up on the floor, writhing in agony from some sort of withdrawal. Not long after, one of their neighbors, Brian (Rick Hearst), wakes from a wildly psychedelic dream and comes across their lost little guy in his bathroom – a foot-long black phallic creature named Elmer (voiced by John Zacherle). As Elmer explains, Brian needs only to “listen to the light” and agree to take Elmer on a walk whenever he gets hungry. In return, Brian gets a dose of Elmer’s secret juice – a blue liquid injected into his brain via a thin probe contained within Elmer’s mouth. Once in a hallucinogenic state Brian is blissfully unaware of Elmer’s actions, which consist of only one thing: eating human brains.

Brian’s reliance on Elmer’s mind-melting magical fluid has overtaken his life, causing him to ignore his roommate brother, Mike (Gordon MacDonald), and his girlfriend, Barbara (Jennifer Lowry), who is awfully patient with Brian’s sudden change in personality. Elmer’s penchant for human gray matter leads Brian into numerous gory scenarios, and eventually he realizes what Elmer has been doing to the local nightlife. He firmly refuses to take Elmer out for any more “food”, but in return is denied access to Elmer’s cerebral party juice. And the withdrawals eventually leave him pleading for more. Hooked and powerless against his addiction, Brian continues to satisfy Elmer’s cravings while remaining torn on how to handle this Faustian bargain gone awry.

Elmer the Aylmer is easily one of horror’s most overlooked creatures. Henenlotter created something distinctive and curious; a weird “black dildo” (Henenlotter’s words) that speaks and sings, delivering unparalleled joy to its host and asking only to be taken out for regular feedings. As Morris explains during the film’s climax, Elmer is an “Aylmer”, an old creature with a rich history that has traversed the globe and eventually, somehow, wound up in a bathtub in New York City. Elmer’s true origins remain a mystery and Henenlotter does a wonderful job of giving this unexplainable organism a rich and colorful personality. Hell, Elmer is more interesting than anyone else in the cast. I know the possibility of recapturing the magic of Brain Damage would be extremely difficult for a sequel, even if it had been made the following year, but I just want more… which is fine. Always leave them wanting more, as the old showbiz adage goes.

Gabe Bartalos and his FX crew not only bring Elmer to stirring life, making this personably phallus seem like a genuine flesh-and-blood creature, but the gore gags both real and imagined are cringingly nasty. Brian’s dreamy brain-pull still makes my ears hurt. Each of Elmer’s feedings is filled with grimy bits of grue and gore, with blood and flesh and brain matter being flung about as he wriggles his way deep into his meal’s head cavity. And then there’s the infamous “blow job”. Bless Vicki Darnell’s heart because that woman not only signed up to fellate a veiny appendage but she also allowed the FX team to pack her mouth with brains for the big reveal. In a film filled with wildly graphic violence, this scene still causes jaws to drop whenever I show it to friends. The gross-out sights gain additional impact by standing out from the black humor and kaleidoscope of colors presented when Brian is under Elmer’s juicy spell.

Henenlotter manages to keep his narrative clean, avoiding messy subplots and exhaustive exposition in favor of something more straightforward. Brian’s dealings with Elmer are overtly sexual, a theme that runs throughout the entire film. It is a relationship both Faustian and Freudian, rife with subtext that isn’t exactly subtle. Brain Damage is a triumph of ‘80s ingenuity and atypical storytelling. Sure, some of the acting is amateurish and the effects work isn’t always entirely “seamless” on screen, but there is so much charm contained within Henenlotter’s quizzical little creation that it’s a title I find myself coming back to over and over, like an addiction.

Previously issued on DVD by Synapse, with an expectedly slick image, Arrow Video delivers the goods with a Blu-ray release featuring a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture. While no restoration information has been provided, as someone who has watched the film on DVD many times I can safely say this HD image is a clear improvement in every way. This is never going to be a pristine picture but the upgrade in color saturation, fine detail, black levels, and refinement of film grain is more than enough to merit a purchase. Dirt & debris have been nearly eradicated. Grain is occasionally clumpy, especially when cutting to effects shots, which is to be expected. I was extremely pleased with this image and while it may not be perfect, it is perfectly fitting for this picture.

There are two audio tracks included – English LPCM 1.0 mono or a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. The mono track sounded a bit thin and constrained to my ears, while the multi-channel track allowed for some breathing room. Dialogue is always clear and never lost within the mix. Gus Russo & Clutch Reiser’s score is a hypnotic gem and I wish someone would give it the deluxe treatment on vinyl. An isolated score is also available via a 2.0 track. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

Director Frank Henenlotter makes his one bonus feature appearance on an audio commentary track that is brand new, not carried over from the previous DVD release. If you’re a commentary nerd, hang on to your old disc.

“Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage” is a wonderfully exhaustive retrospective documentary on the film’s production, featuring interviews with Rick Hearst, Gabe Bartalos, and many more. Every bit of the film’s history is covered here and although Henenlotter doesn’t make an appearance the participants do a fantastic job covering all the necessary bases.

“The Effects of Brain Damage” is an interview with Gabe Bartalos, who discusses how he handled all of the effects work with his team.

“Animating Elmer” features Al Magliochetti, who did the stop-motion work on Elmer.

“Karen Ogle: A Look Back” is an interview with the woman who was the set script supervisor, still photographer, and assistant editor.

“Elmer’s Turf – The NYC Locations of Brain Damage” is hosted by former Fangoria contributor Michael Gingold, who tours the old filming locations seen in the movie.

“Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession” is an interview with a “super fan” of the film, Adam Skinner.

“Frank Henenlotter Q&A” is taken from a March 2016 screening in Brussels.

Three image galleries are included, featuring “Stills”, “Behind-the-Scenes”, and “Ephemera”.

The film’s original theatrical trailer is included.

Finally, there is a cool short film animated by Harry Chaskin called “Bygone Behemoth”, featuring the final vocal appearance of John Zacherle.

As usual, Arrow has also included a thick booklet filled with an essay, color photos, and promotional materials.

Special Features:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Mono and 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround Audio Options
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Isolated Score
  • Brand new audio commentary by writer-director Frank Henenlotter
  • Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage – brand new documentary featuring interviews with actor Rick Herbst, producer Edgar Ievins, editor James Kwei, first assistant director Gregory Lamberson, visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti and makeup artist Dan Frye
  • The Effects of Brain Damage – FX artist and creator of “Elmer” Gabe Bartalos looks back at his iconic effects work on the film
  • Animating Elmer – featurette looking at the contributions of visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti
  • Karen Ogle: A Look Back – stills photographer, script supervisor and assistant editor Karen Ogle recalls her fond memories of working on Brain Damage
  • Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of Brain Damage – featurette revisiting the film’s original shooting locations
  • Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession – an interview with superfan Adam Skinner
  • Brain Damage Q&A with Frank Henenlotter recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival
  • Image Galleries
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Bygone Behemoth – animated short by Harry Chaskin, featuring a brief appearance by John Zacherle in his final onscreen credit
  • 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 by Michael Gingold, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

BUY IT NOW!

  • Brain Damage
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.25 (8 votes)

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Atlantic Rim: Resurrection Review – The #MechToo Movement Has Little Regard for the Ladies

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Starring Steve Richard Harris, Xavi Israel, Jenna Enns, Lindsay Elston, Samm Wiechec, Paul Logan

Directed by Jared Cohn


WARNING: This review does contains spoilers! It’s also a review of an Asylum mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising so I’m not really sure it matters. You pretty much know what you’re getting. People inside giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Sometimes shooting at them. Duh!

It truly is a bold creative decision in this era of #metoo to have the third act of your movie begin with two male characters, neither of whom has been shown piloting a giant robot previously, grounding the two female robot pilots by locking them in a room in order to go do their job for them and kill the giant monsters that have previously defeated the ladies. Oh, sure, there’s some “mechsplaining” as to how these two guys are sidelining the gals for their own well-being, but even then there’s something unintentionally hilarious about these fellas seemingly deciding to not even trust the women to succeed in what is tantamount to a suicide mission.

Not to mention that one of these young ladies has been infected, potentially fatally, by monster venom and hardly anyone seems terribly concerned about this.

But then I am talking about an Asylum production entitled Atlantic Rim: Resurrection about military officers and scientists piloting giant battle bots (that kind of look like 1980’s Tonka robot toys) to fight giant mutant crawdad-like creatures (that look like perfectly acceptable Ultraman foes) along the East Coast of the United States, even though the city being attacked looks suspiciously Californian. In fact, The Asylum website’s own plot synopsis seemingly forgot it was supposed to be set on the Atlantic seaboard and outright states the monsters are destroying Los Angeles. Their website also wrongly lists the film’s release date as February 15, 2017.

Keeping with those high Asylum standards of continuity, Atlantic Rim: Resurrection is The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel of the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, even though the original Atlantic Rim, released in 2013 to coincide with the original Pacific Rim, was actually distributed in North America under the alternate title Attack from Beneath for reasons I presume were to avoid matters of a litigious nature. Nonetheless, here’s a sequel with a very sequel-y sounding title despite most American viewers probably not knowing the previous film by that title.

And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters.

What matters is that this mockbuster follow-up finally answers one of the great scientific questions of our times: Robonet or Python – which neural operating system is the best for psychically synching Go! Go! Gobots! with their human operators? Or, as I found myself thinking after nearly 20+ minutes of technobabble that is truly more babble than techno, “Are they ever gonna shut up and punch a giant monster? I’m here to see big ugly monsters get face punched by big ugly robots, dammit!”

In the time it takes this sequel to finally get around to its first full-on robot vs. monster battle, the first Atlantic Rim had already seen more monster destruction and chaos, more molten hot robot on monster action, and far more entertaining scenes of a trio of monster-mashing robot pilots hanging out in bars getting plastered. The first had more of everything you would want from an Asylum knock-off of Pacific Rim about insubordinate alcoholics operating giant robots to save the East Coast from gargantuan sea dragons. Despite the main scientist brought in to get the robots and pilots fully synched up looking perpetually hung over, this sequel lacks the “Mighty Drunken Broski Ranger” attitude, the cartoonish delirium, and ham-fisted acting of the original that led me to pen a three-star review.

Not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here; just nothing that entertains quite like watching David Chokachi swaggering through a film like a drunk broski in dire need of an intervention as he and his fellow hard-drinkin’ robot pilots beat a seemingly lost and confused giant monster over the head with huge metal hammers while an unhinged, one-eyed military officer holds his commanding officers at gunpoint demanding they allow him to nuke something, anything. None of the stars of the go-for-broke original returns for this mostly by-the-numbers sequel I almost want to say makes the mistake of being too grounded in reality than its wacko predecessor except it’s hardly realistic.

For a film that devotes so much time to over-explaining the concept, I found myself baffled as to why the pilots still had to manually work gear shifts and push all manner of dashboard buttons to operate robots supposedly powered by their minds. Did my mind sink into the Drift during this endless mind-melding chatter and I missed something clarifying this sticking point?

Anyhow, let’s meet our heroic robot pilots:

  • “Hammer” – The black guy. That means he dies first. There’s also another African-American who’ll climb into a robot cockpit for the final battle. He’ll also die. The main Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim: Uprising is black. Willing to bet he lives. Not woke, Asylum. So not woke.
  • “Badger” – Speaking of not woke, the men of the #MechToo movement will come to decide they don’t need no stinkin’ Badger.
  • “Bugs” – She’s got a lot of attitude. Claims her nickname is because she “stings like a bee.” She gets stung, alright.

The always dependable Paul Logan makes a brief appearance as a soldier because – why not? Paul Logan always plays a soldier. He isn’t given much of anything to do here, and that’s a shame. Logan already looks like the lovechild of G.I. Joe and He-Man. Why not go for the Transformers trifecta by strapping him into a mech and let him get his Rock’em Sock’em Robot on?

Logan’s primary function is to show only a passing regard for the well-being of his wife and daughter, a tacked on subplot that sees the two women fleeing on foot as kaiju of various sizes rampage in the vicinity. Of course there has to be a family separated, desperately trying to survive and reunite amid the calamity because, of course there is – it’s an Asylum movie!

The resolution to this subpar subplot could not have been any more anticlimactic if dad had just sent an Uber to pick them up from the danger zone, which, honestly, isn’t that far off from what actually happens.

One nifty twist is that a colossal crawdad from aquatic hell spews forth hundreds of little buggers into the streets of East Coast L.A. The characters will refer to these lesser chitinous kaiju as “insects,” “spiders,” and “arachnids” but never “bugs,” presumably to not cause audience confusion with the character who already sports that call sign. They mostly call them “spiders” in spite of the fact that they really don’t look like spiders. More like oversized earwigs. I’m not even sure they had eight legs.

Don’t even ask me to explain what the “Resurrection” in Atlantic Rim: Resurrection means, either. Since this is a mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising, they should have gone with Atlantic Rim: Rising Up since the film begins with giant monsters literally rising up from the sea. Would have made more sense.

On the plus side, any movie where humans using state-of-the-art mind-controlled giant battle bots armed with super science weapons to fight otherworldly giant monsters from the ocean depths yet still has a moment where an injured pilot cracks open a control panel inside his futuristic robot and takes out a plastic blue case labeled “First Aid Kit” that is overstuffed with almost nothing but Band-Aids still earns a merit badge in audacity from me.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Not nearly the Rimjob I was hoping for.

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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User Rating 2.5 (2 votes)

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