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THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Bruce Campbell, Antoinette Byron, Tamara Gorski, Vladimir Kolev, Ted Raimi, Stacey Keach
Director: Bruce Campbell
Audio: English Dolby Surround 5.1 or 2.0
Subtitles: English close-captioning
Video: Color, 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Commentary, featurettes, behind-the-scenes, trailers, galleries
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2005

"We gotta find the woman that killed us both!"

Film **

I would say that generally, any film with the word "brain" in it is a sure-lock to be a turkey, a howler, a scream, and any combination thereof.  Has anyone ever seen They Saved Hitler's Brain?  How about The Brain that Wouldn't Die?  Or one of the all-time worst cinematic monstrosities ever, The Atomic Brain?  And wasn't there a dreadful Star Trek episode about Spock's brain, too?  Well, now to this illustrious company of insanely bad cult sensations we can add Man with the Screaming Brain (2005)!  But, I mean that in a good way.

With a title like Man with the Screaming Brain, I think we can all reasonably assume that this film, directed by none other than Bruce Campbell, the reigning King of Camp himself, has no critical aspirations beyond offering ninety minutes of goofy entertainment.  Make no mistake, this is a bad film.  This is MST3K-territory bad.  This film is so bad, it's gone full cycle back to good again.  You'll probably feel a little guilty or stupid watching this film, but so what?  There are certainly worse things in life than a little bit of mindless fun.

The film concerns - you guessed it - a man with a screaming brain.  Well, an overly talkative brain, to be more precise.  And as you might imagine, a mad scientist and his idiot helper are involved somehow.  Mad scientists always turn up in films like this.  Our mad scientist du jour, who goes by the ridiculous name of Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Stacey Keach), has discovered a breakthrough method for fusing two brains together.  Imagine the possibilities - the mathematical genius of Einstein mixed with the observant wit of Mark Twain or the wild craziness of Steve Martin with the irony of Lily Tomlin!  The mind boggles.   Unfortunately, the process is not yet stable, but such details need concern only lesser men.  All Dr. Ivanov needs is a human guinea pig or two to help him perfect the process.

In the film, Bruce Campbell plays William Cole, a womanizing American industrialist who arrives in Bulgaria on a business trip.  He has dragged along his lovely but bored wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron).  Alas, there's trouble a-brewing in this marriage, and Cole seems more interested in the local flavors, such as savory hotel maids, than in his own perfectly fine love mate.

Cole hires a taxi driver, Yegor (Vladimir Kolev), for the day.  As it turns out, Yegor is an ex-KGB agent, so he's more manly than Cole, certainly.  Later, while Cole is making goo-goo eyes with a gypsy maid named Tatoya (Tamara Gorski), his wife is left utterly alone with Yegor for, shall we say, a sight-seeing tour of her own.  As (bad) luck would have it, Tatoya is a bit on the unstable side and doesn't take rejection too well.  When Cole pooh-poohs the very thought of leaving his wife for anything more than just a little fling with Tatoya, the gypsy's reply is to whack him later on the head with a metal pipe.

This clobbering attack is witnessed by Yegor, who heroically comes to the rescue.  Well, not quite.  Ah, but the wily ways of woman are far more fatal than even the martial skills of an ex-KGB agent.  Yegor falls for the droopy, weepy-eyed look, and gets stabbed by Tatoya in a moment of supreme sucker-ness.  For good measure, Tatoya even grabs Yegor's own gun and riddles his useless carcass with his own bullets.  Ouch.

Cole's wife, deprived of husband and lover in quick succession, comes after Tatoya in a rage.  Sadly for Jackie, the ensuing catfight ends when Tatoya shoves Jackie down a flight of stairs to her own broken neck demise.  Three deaths just like that!  This woman Tatoya is just so plain bad, she simply has got to die!

Who can save our intrepid but dead heroes now?

Enter, the mad scientist and sidekick Pavel!  Thanks to Pavel's corpse-acquiring skills, mad scientist Dr. Ivanov soon has three dead bodies for his human clinical trials.  Pulling the switcheroo, Ivanov uses part of Yegor's brain to replace the crushed portion of Cole's brain.  As for Jackie, Dr. Ivanov decides to transplant her brain into a robotic body.

Like a miracle, Cole awakens out of his formerly dead slumber.  But in his deranged confusion, he breaks out of the laboratory and meanders aimlessly into the streets, a man with two brains and no memory.  Fortunately, the amnesia wears off, but Cole discovers to his horror that he and Yegor are now somewhat glued together.  The capitalist and the communist argue and fight over control of Cole's body before realizing that they share a common goal - avenging their demise at the hands of that crazy hotel maid.

As for Jackie, she too awakens soon thereafter and formulates a similar train of thought.  Possessing a bionic body decidedly enhances her kick-ass factor, too.  In other words, Tatoya had better run fast because she now has a two-brained freak and a homicidal robot after her hide!

There are certainly funny moments in the film, although Man with the Screaming Brain does betray its television origins.  The movie's direction is pedestrian at best, and the first half of the film crawls.  However, once Cole is revived from the dead, the action and the laughs really start to pick up.  Watching Bruce Campbell argue with himself as the Cole/Yegor hybrid is a trip.  Plus, this "inner conflict" of a man with two minds provides a wonderful excuse for some of Campbell's patented pratfalls and physical humor.  Ted Raimi, as Pavel, also partakes in sight gags, double-takes, and general tomfoolery himself.  As for the women, well, Antoinette Byron is hot, and so is Tamara Gorski.  Need we say any more, boys and girls?

Sure, Man with the Screaming Brain is not a particularly great film.  It is about on par with the generally pathetic quality of most of the Sci-Fi Channel's "original movie" offerings.  But at least this film doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's quite a hoot at times.  So, if you want an evening of mindless laughter, just shut down your own mind, and let Man with the Screaming Brain do the thinking for you!

Video ** ½

Man with the Screaming Brain is shown in a 1.77:1 widescreen format.  The picture quality is slight soft and appears as might be expected for a made-for-cable television movie.  Subtitles are somewhat hard to read at times.  The bit transfer rate averages only around 4.5 Mbps with some aliasing issues.  Skin tones are accurate, although the make-up job for the post-op William Cole is more corny than convincing.  But that's okay because it's in keeping with the general wackiness of the film.

Audio ***

The audio track is available in either a 5.1 Dolby surround mix or a 2.0 version.  Either way, the film sounds just fine, considering its low-budget television origins.  Be sure to watch the closing credits for arguably the very worst rap song you may ever hear.  It's played for laughs and sung with a bizarre Eastern European accent.  Quite a riot, really, if your ears don't melt first.

Features ***

Hey, just check out that DVD artwork!  It's like a cover from a vintage 1950's Tales of Terror comic book.  You just have to love it.  Plus, it pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film as well.

The DVD opens with trailers for Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Dead and Breakfast, Lightning Bug, and Thou Shall Not  Kill...Except.  A trailer for Man with the Screaming Brain is available elsewhere on the DVD.

Now, Bruce Campbell may not be hot stuff as a director, but when it comes to commentaries, he is the king of the road.  His entertaining audio commentary on this DVD, including words from producer David Goodman, is worth listening to for its non-stop prattling sprinkled with fairly humorous stories about shooting a film in Bulgaria, of all places.

Brain Surgeons: Making the Screaming Brain (14 min.) is basically what it sounds like.  Bruce Campbell discusses his original concept for the film and how it came to be produced in Bulgaria.  Campbell cheerfully throws in many anecdotes from the set and also describes the different work ethics between American and Eastern European film crews.  Some of the comments made here are reiterations of those already noted in the commentary track.

Neurology 101: Evolution of The Screaming Brain (14 min.) re-unites those two yahoos Campbell and Goodman for a side-splitting lesson on the surreal tooth-extraction method of finding financing for movies.  Naturally, they use Man with the Screaming Brain to illustrate their decades-long painful quest of perseverance to make a movie.  This classroom lesson, complete with chalkboard and a cluttered diagram, is an absolute scream, although it may give aspiring young filmmakers reason to pause and shudder at what awaits them.  Nevertheless, this DVD is worth every cent just for this hilarious featurette alone!

Behind-the-scenes is a narration-free montage of rehearsal sequences, screen tests, flubs, alternate takes or angles, and general mugging for the camera.  It's an amusing nine minutes of cheerful goofiness.  Campbell appears to have done quite a number of his own physical stunts, and be sure to check out the mime/contortionist playing the robot, too!  It's Devo déjà vu!

For more about Campbell, peruse through the extensive Bruce Campbell biography.  It's filled with amusing little quotes!

Lastly, there are two galleries.  One is an art gallery with forty storyboard drawings.  The other displays thirty pages of sample artwork from the Dark Horse comic adaptation of the film.  The storyline is sequential but incomplete, and the dialogue balloons can be difficult to read on smaller televisions with poorer resolution.  The actual 4-part comic is available from Dark Horse.

Summary:

Originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, Man with the Screaming Brain is pure junk.  But it's campy junk, and with Bruce Campbell, that means it's good junk.  In any event, it's better than most films about "brains" if that's saying anything.  Consider this alternative niche flick an homage to ridiculous B horror movies.  Groovy, indeed!

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