November 1, 2015

Screening Report: Brain Damage w/ Frank Henenlotter (Alamo Drafthouse, Yonkers, NY, 10/29/15)

So, this past week I made one of my frequent trips down to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY. It should really go without saying that I attend this theater pretty frequently. You can thank the selection of classic and cult films, with many screened from 35mm prints. There is no other theater remotely like this in my area. Sure, i wish they were a bit closer, but you can’t have everything. On top of the movie being screened, it had the bonus of having the writer/director in attendance. That is another cool thing about this theater, the bonuses like this.

The movie was Brain Damage and the special guest was Frank Henenlotter. The movie had another bonus is being one that I had never seen before. Funny thing is that actually had met met Frank Henenlotter before, just a few days earlier at the Chiller Theatre convention. He was there with the stars of one of his other films, Frankenhooker, Patty Mullen and James Lorinz. I mentioned to him that I was looking forward to the screening. He scoffed saying it was a cut print and he would bring a DVD to show us what we missed. I assumed he was kidding. He wasn’t.

Before the movie began, Frank Henenlotter was introduced and came down to give us a quick introduction. He told us this was his second film and he really didn’t know how to make movies. He told us about how the producer asked him to shoot some extra gory/offensive stuff for an unrated VHS release, a release that never actually happened. He also told of issues he has with the MPAA and that he doesn’t submit his films anymore (look no further than Bad Biology for proof of that).

As for the the movie itself? It was excellent, instantly becoming my second favorite of his movies (it would be hard to unseat the fun that is Frankenhooker). Brain Damage takes a darkly comedic and horrific look at drug addiction. It was made before the cleanup of New York City, giving it this great look, a look that you cannot get in an organic fashion anymore. On top of that, we get a great animatronic critter that serves as drug dealer and the devil on your shoulder.

Our main character is Brian (Rick Herbst), he is visited by Aylmer, a phallic shaped creature thing with some goofy eyes who secretes a fluid that gets the recipient high as a kite. The problem is that Aylmer lives on brains and needs new victims pretty regularly to keep himself going. So, what happens? Brian gets high and takes the critter out for some dinner. What follows is a battle of wills between Brian and Aylmer in one of the more fascinating anti-drug exploitation films I have seen.

As the film ended, Frank Henenlotter returned to the front of the theater and called for them to cue up the DVD. He played two scenes for us that were cut from the theatrical. The first was an extended version of a kill after Brian meets this girl at a club and what they do behind the place. The other scene is an extended take in a hotel room where Aylmer really gets under Brian’s skin as he tries to go cold turkey and not give into Aylmer’s whims.

He went on to tell us of the MPAA issues has had with most of his films, including a call from the MPAA office regarding, I believe, Frankenhooker where they said it got an S-rating. They said “S as in sex?”, “No” came the reply, “S as in shit.” That really soured the relationship. We also learned that Zacherley was the voice of Aylmer. He wasn’t credited as it was not a union production and he was a SAG member. They did inquire with SAG about it (without using his name), and they got mad, literally yelling at them. Another story involves shooting on the NYC subway, which is not an easy thing to do. Sure, they want to attract filmmakers, but only seem to care about Hollywood money. They were able to get their shots, but it is not a path he wants to go down again.

Seriously, a Frank Henenlotter Q and A session is a good one. He has a blast talking about his films, holds nothing back, and is really quite funny. The crowd may not have filled the theater, but those who were there were into it as well. The print was in pretty good shape, and all things considered, this was great screening. Looking forward to more.

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