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Brain Damage (Blu-ray/DVD)



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:


  • 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


  • Brain Damage
  • Special Features
User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review



Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith

I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5


Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

User Rating 3.59 (22 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters



Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)


The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

User Rating 4.13 (23 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror




Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods

The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.


  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom


In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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