Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Stacy Keach, Antoinette Byron
Directed by Bruce Campbell
Slight spoilers within
Over a decade in the making, I have to admit that The Man With The Screaming Brain is definitely an odd debut, at best. Some local Boston-ites and I were treated to a special screening of it on Tuesday night hosted by the man himself, and while I admit it was a great movie to watch with a crowd, I’m not sure what the overall life of it will be.
The film takes place in Bulgaria (the only place Sci Fi would pay for him to film in, so the script was wisely re-written to take place there instead of it’s original setting of East L.A.), with Campbell in the role of William Cole, sleazy & arrogant president of a large drug company who’s traveled with his wife Jackie (Byron) to the small country to look into “diversifying”. This has something to do with a proposed Bulgarian subway system, but to be honest it’s not really explained why a drug company would have any interest in such a thing.
At the same time, Dr. Ivan Ivanof Ivinahoff (Keach, back to an odd role the likes of which we haven’t seen him tackle for quite a while) has developed a process by which two brains can work together in the same head, though the science is a bit flimsy and not very well explained, either. Good thing, since it’s not really all the important how it works, just that it does work. He sends his assistant Pavel (Raimi) out to intercept Mr. Cole with the big news, since Cole’s company is working on a similar method, but things go wrong. Pavel re-writes the letter Dr. Ivanof dictates to him, and Cole shows absolutely no interest in what he sees as a scam by some backwater hack doctor.
While his wife Jackie is out doing nasty things with their hired cab drive Yegor (Vladimir Kolev), Cole returns to the hotel and tries to mess around with the maid in their room, a mysterious gypsy woman by the name of Tatoya. When she tells him they’re going to be married (it’s just as random as it sounds) he tells her to cool off, and she takes it badly. His wife comes in right before Tatoya can off him, and Cole realizes the gypsy thief stole his money and wallet. He chases her down, they have a bit of struggle, and he ends up smacked on the back of the head with a lead pipe. Yegor arrives a few minutes later and is also killed by Tatoya, and when Dr. Ivanof hears the report of two bodies on the police scanner, he realizes this is the perfect opportunity to test out his new method and sends out Pavel to collect the bodies, something he seems quite adept at.
Cole awakens with a nasty scar and no memory of who he is, just a random assortment of flashes from both his and Yegor’s mind. They break out of the lab, develop an idea of what’s happened to them, and go out to hunt down Tatoya for revenge. At the same time Jackie decides to get some revenge of her own but, of course, ends up getting killed in the process. To the rescue is the mighty police scanner, and suddenly Dr. Ivanof’s got yet another brain he can put somewhere, so they decide to put it in the body of a badly-built robot Pavel created seemingly to rap with (actually just an actor in a yellow jumpsuit with a fake plastic head…). So, now we have two brains in one businessman, and his wife’s brain in a robot running amok through the streets of Bulgaria.
The film’s got some potential when Cole first awakens and realizes he’s not alone in his mind, with a lot of physical humor taking place as Yegor has control of the left side of the body, and Cole the right. A lot of pratfalls and silly walks ensue, but unfortunately it’s not played up for as much humor as I had thought it would be. Campbell shows he’s still got the chops for beating himself up however, which even after all these years doesn’t stop being funny, I just wished there was more of it.
That’s all right, because there’s a lot more bizarre humor to take its place. For my money the best of it came from Ted Raimi, whose character dresses like he’s about 15 years younger than he actually is and loves loud rap music. To hear him speaking in a bad Russian accent is, by itself, a great source of humor, and it just gets better when he starts saying things like “fizel my shinizel”. Then we have the beautiful but creepy gypsy woman whose had nothing but nothing but bad luck with men and decides she’s just going to marry herself before she’s almost killed by the Jackie-bot, so she spends the entire third act in a white wedding gown being chased by a man with two brains and a vengeful android.
Getting the idea of just how weird it is? The acting across the boards is actually quite good, the only weak spots being when Campbell’s portraying Cole pre-death. He just doesn’t do arrogant American very well, though he gets the sleazy part down. Luckily that doesn’t last and he’s back in his true form of…well, Bruce. The Bulgarian locations lend an odd look to the film, which only increases the strange factor, as it’s a country with a lot of interesting architecture slammed up against disgusting slums. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes nasty, but it’s always interesting. I’m very glad Bruce opted to re-write the script for the location, I just don’t think the overall film would’ve been as effective set in the U.S.
So was it a good movie? Not in the classic sense, no. The story is pretty ridiculous from start to finish, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all. The tongue is firmly in cheek throughout, you can tell Bruce was taking a lot of inspiration from 50’s movies with similar titles that did take themselves far too seriously. I would say the Man With the Screaming Brain works on the same level as Lost Skeleton of Cadavara, but with less wink-wink humor and more ridiculous situations to take their place.
I’m sure enough fans will tune in when it premieres on the Sci Fi Channel to give it some good ratings, I just can’t see if it’s going to work that well outside of the Bruce-worshipping atmosphere I was in when I saw it. But give it a chance, if nothing else to hear Ted “Rhyme Throwa” Raimi doing a Russian rap song over the end credits. Classic.
3 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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