PLOT: Elmer, a sentient parasite, attaches itself to a young man and gives him a euphoric high in exchange for human brains. 

Part Little Shop of Horrors, part Venom, and part allegory for heroin addiction, Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage is the perfect example of cheap 1980s New York horror. Street scenes are shot guerrilla-style from moving cars, cramped apartments and alleys make up a majority of the set pieces, and the inspired puppetry of a parasite/maybe alien penis that could only come out of a shoestring budget. 

I kind of love Frank Henenlotter’s stuff; it’s definitely not for everyone, and why I am onboard with things like Brain Damage and Basket Case and not movies like Street Trash or Body Melt I may never fully understand. One thing is for sure, though: I kind of loved this movie. 

The film starts immediately, with an older couple tearing apart their apartment looking for… something that they’ve been keeping in their bathtub and feeding it brains. What it is is unclear at first, but it happens to find Brian, a hapless neighbor living in a cramped one bedroom apartment with his brother and a sort-of live-in girlfriend. Brian awakens from his sleep to find a talking parasite has lodged itself into his brain, exchanging sustenance for an overwhelmingly euphoric high. The parasite offers more of this euphoria if Brian helps him, however unwittingly this help may be, track down his next meal. Brian spirals out, chasing his next fix, while the parasite runs amuck, hitching a ride on Brian’s brain stem. 

This movie is a fucking blast and also a surprisingly poignant, at times, look at the destruction drug addiction can cause in someone’s life in a short amount of time. Brian becomes a shell of his former self from the first taste of the rush Elmer can give him, and in no time, he loses just about everything in his life. It’s wild how real this movie gets, even when it never lets you forget that this movie has a talking parasite in it. 


Brain Damage is wonderfully weird and the right kind of horror comedy. It doesn’t spend much time winking at the camera; it’s just naturally funny. And while it may not be “scary”, the puppetry works in the same way Basket Case does. Frank Henenlotter seems to have my number on the types of weird horror comedy that I approve of and I absolutely loved the crossover moment in the subway. 

Overall Rating: 7.5 out of 10