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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