Synopsis: Somewhere in Bulgaria, sleazy American industrialist William Cole (Bruce Campbell) is finalizing a tax scam that will earn him millions. Meanwhile, mad scientist Dr. Ivan Ivanov (Stacy Keach) and his demented henchmen Pavel (Ted Raimi of XENA) have created a drug that can connect human brains like Lincoln Logs. But when an illicit tryst with a sultry hotel maid leads to Cole’s murder, Dr. Ivanov reanimates him by transplanting the half-brain of a former KGB operative into Cole’s skull. Now, the capitalist and the communist must reconcile their differences to hunt down the beautiful gypsy freak who killed them both.
Antoinette Byron and Tamara Gorski of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS co-star in this screamingly funny horror comedy that marks the feature film directing debut of America’s most beloved best-selling author/B-movie superstar!
eyelights: Bruce Campbell. Ted Raimi. its core concept.
eyesores: its cheapness. its genre ambiguity.
“My brain’s on fire!”
‘Man with the Screaming Brain’ is the debut directorial effort by Bruce Campbell, the cult icon whose status was cemented in the ‘Evil Dead‘ series of films and television shows. Released in 2005, it follows William Cole, an arrogant businessman, to Bulgaria as he tries to expand his company’s holdings.
One day, a psychotic young gypsy steals his cash and a ring he purchased for his spouse, Jackie. In the ensuing confrontation, Cole is brained and left to die. Then Jackie tries to get revenge on the gypsy, and is also killed. But some eager Bulgarian scientists have plans to bring Mr. and Ms. Cole back to life.
And, when they do, there will be hell to pay!
On paper, ‘Man with the Screaming Brain’ should be a riot: it has a goofy plot, goofy characters and even a few goofs in front of the camera. Really, it has all the makings of the perfect late-night B-movie: it’s unusual, was made on a shoe-string budget and it marries science fiction, horror, sex and comedy.
But it just doesn’t work.
Obviously, it’s not well-made or clever enough to be a good picture. But it’s also not silly, campy or bad enough to be a guilty pleasure. If anything, it comes off like the lame cousin of ‘The Man with Two Brains‘ – despite the on-screen presence and valiant efforts of Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi.
Bruce Campbell is excellent, but his character isn’t likable. One could say the same of his iconic Ash Williams, except that Ash’s faults are laid bare and mocked, whereas William Cole is just an @$$hole. He’s a caricature, but not enough of one that he becomes amusing; he’s far too dry and one-note.
He does have some excellent scenes, like after the brain transplant, feeling that his head’s on fire, he flushes it in the grossest toilet ever, then pours cool milk on his head, and then melts bag of ice on it. You can totally see how Campbell was going for some of the slapsticky farce of ‘Army of Darkness‘.
Except that he’s no Sam Raimi, the genius behind the über-low budget ‘Evil Dead’ films.
A perfect example of Campbell’s weak direction is when Cole, whose brain is fused to a Russian taxi driver’s, makes a scene ordering a meal and picking from a salad bar. What could have been funny was as limp as the bar’s lettuce. And jumping in a donation bin to try various outfits, just looks dumb.
He does far better with Jackie and Tatiana’s catfight, which consists of incredibly weak slaps and kicks, as well as nakedly fake pushes. Of course, most of that is due to the performances, more so than the staging. Similarly, the chase that finds Cole stealing and riding a pink moped lacks the necessary zest.
Perhaps it was a lack of vision on Campbell’s part, perhaps it was the technical limitations of the production.
But it doesn’t quite work.
Thankfully, Ted Raimi is a joy to watch. Granted, his character is a cartoon, but that’s why it’s enjoyable: his half-baked performance and outrageous accent are perfect contextually. It would obviously be unwatchable in a better picture, but it’s perfectly-suited for the kind of B-movie this aspires to be.
Part of the problem is the tone of the picture. On one end, there are really dry bits, where the humour comes from playing with stereotypes. On the other, there are the odd in-your-face slapsticky bits. It vascillates wildly from one extreme to the other, never really blending its various brands of humour.
It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.
Frankly, I wish that I could enjoy ‘The Man with the Screaming Brain’ more. It has most of the ingredients needed to make this deliriously awful, including terrible wigs and cheesy effects, but it has too few deliberate -or inadvertent- laughs to compensate for its weak technical presentation.
It falls flat.
It’s really missing something.
Date of viewing: June 5, 2017