Brainsucker, The (1988)

Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.

Woolworth’s interiors. A hunchback in a courtroom. Someone moaning “braaaaaiiiin suuuuckaaah” through a anger pedal. Five minutes down and I’m already exhausted.

Typically, the gist of any trash-horror lm can be summed up with one sentence. “Bigfoot rips off a guy’s cock, then kills some people in a cabin” or “An abortion doctor visits his patients and kills them in fake slow motion.” The Brainsucker is an exception. This is the second and final film from writer-director Herb Robins, following 1977’s The Worm Eaters. Robins had ties to Ray Dennis Steckler in the 1960s, acting as a jack-of-all- trades on a handful of Steckler’s defining films. But unlike Titus Moody, another fringe filmmaker who worked with Steckler, Robins never made a lasting impact on his own. After making my way through The Brainsucker, it’s not difificult to understand why. This is a SOV collection of random footage of people screaming at each other. It’s presented as an experimental horror-comedy, but feels more like an opportunity for someone, maybe Herb Robins, to work out some Mommy issues.

A hobo named Max is arrested. He literally gets dragged across town by a policeman. Then, he literally gets dragged across town by a hunchback. A mad scientist named Professor Klotz ties Max to a table and vows to make him a “positive super human being!” But the hunchback moves a lever from “GOOD” to “EVIL” and Max becomes a schizophrenic killer. From there, Max moves into a hotel and becomes a psychiatrist. There are voices in his head. They tell him to use a Nerf gun to remove his patients’ brains and eat them. The brains look like mashed potatoes. Two cops are on Max’s trail. One of them exploits an Inspector Clouseau accent. The other is Herb Robins. Why is all of this happening? Well, Max is angry at his mother. He blames her for his problems, and she blames him for hers — namely, losing the only man she ever loved (Max’s father). Max constantly curses his deadbeat father. Max falls in love. Max hangs his mother.

From a technical standpoint, I can get behind what Herb Robins was trying to do. The Brainsucker is full of kinetic energy. Ten jump cuts occur in as many seconds. Stream-of-consciousness visuals (a hallway full of spandex-clad women wearing wings, a disc jockey with an afro wig, middle-aged people partying) dominate the film. Sound effects and electronic noises pop up for no apparent reason, while off-camera direction is sometimes left in. Unfortunately, Brainsucker doesn’t benefit from experimentation in the same way that Twisted Issues does. It’s too cryptic and unfocused. All of the yelling and bad fake accents prevent us from understanding what’s trying to be communicated. And what’s trying to be communicated is a mystery. There’s not really a plot. There’s no gore or nudity. There’s not even a common through line aside from Max’s mother issues.

If you’ve got the resources and drive to create an independent SOV horror film, why make one that’s a mess and impossible to sit through? Perhaps there were amazing drugs involved. Perhaps Herb Robins had no idea what he was doing. Perhaps you will watch this entire movie and only find enjoyment through an opening credit that reads: “starring Gay Nathan.”

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