Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting Brain Damage from Uncle Bob Martin!

Bookworm's Book Club!

Brain Damage: A Trip Through Hell  (Broslin Press/Amazon Kindle, 1990/2011)

by Robert Martin
from the screenplay by Frank Henenlotter

This is one of the reasons to own a Kindle! Here's a book written in the 80's with a limited print run, something that would normally be impossible to find almost a quarter century later. But now you can own this excellent novelization by "Uncle" Bob Martin of the excellent horror film by Frank Henenlotter. The story is the same as the movie - a young man named Brian finds himself in possession of a strange wormlike creature called The Aylmer (or Elmer to his friends). Wait, did I say in possession? I meant in the possession of - because Elmer is really an ancient creature who gives his host the most amazing drug - a blue liquid the Aylmer injects directly into the base of the host's brain, causing intense hyper senses and psychedelic tripping - but as with all such things - there is a cost. Elmer has a taste for brains. And oh sure, at first he'll accept cow brains or pig brains or whatever you can get from the local butcher's. But later, when your need for his juice grows, he'll decide he wants those brains more in the way of still living...and human. Hold out on him, and he'll hold out on you. Who will break first? I know where I'd put my money...

Author Robert "Uncle Bob" Martin

Author Bob Martin, the greatest editor during the classic early run of Fangoria magazine is the perfect person to translate the movie's screenplay into prose form. It's a terrific companion piece to the movie - with all of the movie's energy and plot on display, but carefully woven together with the kind of interior monologues, and descriptions of Brian's juice trips that the written word excels at. If you've enjoyed any of Henenlotter's movies, including Basket Case and its sequels; Frankenhooker; or Bad Biology; or if you ever used to scamper down to your local store's magazine rack to pick up the latest issue of Fangoria - then you need to read this book. You owe it to Frank Henenlotter. You owe it to your Uncle Bob. You owe it to yourself. Get it.

Here is a link to the Amazon Kindle edition! Go get it!

Exclusive Author Interview with Uncle Bob Martin!

I was a reader and subscriber throughout Uncle Bob's tenure with Fangoria - I actually started picking up the magazine at about the time he took over editing it - and after he left I only stayed around long enough to let that current subscription lapse as it just wasn't the same without the Unk.
We've since become online acquaintances in the last couple of years - a huge thrill for this fanboy - and he graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions about the writing of this very cool novel:

Craig Edwards: How did you and Frank Henenlotter meet?

Uncle Bob Martin: I first heard of the film "Basket Case" from Rex Reed on a local Manhattan cable TV show. Reed's newspaper review, appearing much later, ripped the movie apart, but on this cable show he appeared to be drunk, and was telling the hostess that she MUST see it. The title told me that it was a film that might help me to distinguish Fangoria from other film zines, so I decided to learn more about it...
There is a detailed account of my first contact with Frank right here:

(Part Two has yet to be written)

Meanwhile, Frank saw the little blurb I had written about Basket Case in our "Monster Invasion" news section -- on first seeing the title in print, he panicked, thinking that some other movie had stolen his title! He was relieved to find that it was about his own movie.

I finally acquired Frank's phone number. At that point in my career, I still was not accustomed to cold-calling filmmakers and asking them for their time. But once I finally made the call, dealing with Henenlotter was a dream. He knew and enjoyed Fangoria magazine, and welcomed me into his home.

Every visit to Frank's, and they were frequent, resulted in another lesson in exploitation's extremities. I was not always the best of students -- I never really understood what Frank wanted me to apprehend regarding Jesse Franco's films, though many years later I would find Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, and finally be convinced of Franco's genius.
My interest in seeing Fangoria succeed was too strong for me to ever fully adopt Frank's exploitation esthetic; I wasn't about to bump Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D in order to make room for a detailed Ray Dennis Steckler retrospective. But Frank's influence in the pages of Fangoria was an essential component. Soon it became my habit to refer to Fangoria as "the magazine of horror and exploitation film," as a statement of identity (a Google search indicates that I am the only person to refer to Fangoria as such). Without Frank, I'd never have embraced the word "exploitation," a word the majority of mainstream filmmakers still shun. One reason that Fangoria, in those days, was not generally perceived as a complete tool of Hollywood was our obvious regard for outsider/exploitation filmmakers.

Writer/director Frank Henenlotter

CE: Was the book Brain Damage written before or after the movie was shot?

UBM: I began writing before a single frame was shot.

One of my favorite images from the film.

CE: Do you remember Mr. Henenlotter's reaction after he'd read it?

UBM: Frank was so pleased with what I'd written that he had at least one actor start reading it, to illuminate the character. The actor, however, became upset because he perceived it as interference with his own process of developing the character, so that stopped -- but I appreciated that Frank liked it that much.

A poster from the movie.

CE: How many drafts did you go through?

UBM: How do you distinguish drafts when you use a word processor? It's all the original draft, with constant revision.
But the screenplay provided such a solid path to follow, there was generally little revision. Frank's dialog was perfect, of course, and the dialog in the book follows the screenplay to the letter - and there was very little change to the dialog on the screen, either. The hardest part of the job was writing the narrative portions that sewed together the dialog scenes. But, again, I was strictly following the screenplay - except for the one chapter set in Berlin - so once I completed a page, re-read it and was satisfied, I seldom went back and changed it.

CE: Did this collaboration lead directly to you co-writing the Basket Case sequels with Mr. Henenlotter?

UBM: Frank wrote Basket Case 2 on his own, but the reason he called on me to help with Frankenhooker was because the 2 films were to be shot back-to-back, and he just couldn't type two screenplays at once. Frank narrated each and every scene in Frankenhooker to me as I took notes, then I went off and wrote the scenes he had described, usually in complete detail. I contributed dumb gags - like Jeffrey shouting "bunions!" then grabbing a file - and wrote Jeffrey's bad poetry, but even if I had only been a typist, Frankenhooker would have been a wonder. Another instance, I suggested that Jeffrey's magic serum should be purple -- but I was consciously referring to the Aylmer's purple juice from Brain Damage, so I stole an idea from Frank to use in Frank's movie. Fun!

The book's wonderful cover art.

CE: Which kind of writing did you enjoy more - the prose of Brain Damage, or the screenplays for Frankenhooker and Basket Case 3?

UBM: Working directly with Frank is a lot more fun than copying Frank's screenplay, so working on the films had a lot more laughter to it...also, the real themes of Brain Damage are pretty grim, and drawn from certain aspects of life in New York that were directly affecting just about everybody in NYC in the early 80s. Brain Damage is an absurd drama told by a man with a sharp, irrepressible sense of humor. Frankenhooker and Basket Case 3 were out-and-out comedies...not a shred of seriousness in either.

And Basket Case 3 was more fun to write than Frankenhooker was, probably because Frank had no reason to care what kind of movie it would turn out to be. All the barriers were down, and he just wanted the thing to be full of dumb bizarre jokey stuff. If production hadn't become a nightmare - the budget was decimated while he was shooting - I think Frank would speak of it more kindly today.

The Aylmer in all its glory.

CE: Do you think you'll write any other novels? Or an autobiography?

UBM: Writing one good original novel is a goal of mine, and while I don't doubt that I have the ability, I am not sure I have sufficient will...I don't find the process of writing enjoyable enough to leap into a big project. But I think that, if I develop the right strategy, I may be able to trick myself into doing it.

Another wild image from the film version.

CE: Anything else you'd like to tell us about your friendship and collaboration with Frank Henenlotter?

UBM: I just want to add one thing … let whoever is interested know that Frank possibly saved my life...the rock magazine I edited was a fiasco for a bunch of reasons, and a very frustrating experience, most of all when it was shut down through a Jimmy Swaggart-led boycott of rock magazines in the South -- before he got caught with a hooker.
After that, I was pretty much through with the magazine business and way too young to retire -- and flat broke to boot.
I had absolutely nothing on my plate until Frank brought up the Brain Damage novelization.

When I was at Fangoria, I thought now and then about working in film, and there were just two guys that I knew I'd jump at the chance if I could work with them; they were David Cronenberg and Frank. I really doubt that Cronenberg would have been as much fun, and I know he would never have given me first credit on the screenplay...I don't think anyone in movies would be as generous.

CE: What a terrific interview! Thank you for your time and insight into the background of this terrific book!

UBM: Thanks again for the review. I was trying to think of a way to properly thank you...this evening, I was watching the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon, and it came across my mind that you might enjoy this small insight into the film and book. Shortly after I read the screenplay, Frank said to me: "You know what the Aylmer is, right? It's just the Maltese Falcon." This turned on some lights, and that's why the scene in Germany features characters based on Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

The Aylmer is indeed the stuff dreams are made of...or nightmares...get this book - you'll love it!

Amazon Kindle edition link

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! And yeah - he was such a big part of our high school years. Did you know he commented my very first post here? I almost wept.

  2. Excellent interview. Very interesting subject.

    1. Thanks - this one might turn up in a Crazy Movie Weekend one of these days...

  3. Awesome. Just plain. awesome! You know I'm a HUGE fan of Brain Damage! even made a fanart!

    1. Kaijinu! Thank you so much! And FANTASTIC artwork! Do you mind if I show it to Uncle Bob and Frank Henenlotter?

  4. Interesting! I'm a huge fan of Henenlotter and next to Frankenhooker, Brain Damage is IMO his best movie.
    Great, great post, Craig.

    1. Thanks, Harry! I was pretty chuffed when Uncle Bob said yes to the interview! And that picture of the book - that's my pic - of a copy of the softcover I won from Uncle Bob signed by him AND Frank Henenlotter!

  5. I don't mind! in fact, it's an honor! 8D