The Man with the Screaming Brain

And also stop him from wearing billy bob teeth when pretending to be British.  It's tiresome.

 

Sometimes, things you would think would be good   just aren’t.  As a child I had an inordinately deep love of peppermint. They made peppermint candy. They made peppermint gum.  Heck, they even made peppermint ice cream.  So why, I wondered, is there no peppermint soda?  I decided that I would make my own.  To tap water I added sugar, peppermint extract and green food coloring.  Sure, red might be more appropriate, but we didn’t have red.  Besides, red would have looked like cherry soda and that would be boring.  I imagined that it would be green and sweet with a bite – that’s just what I wanted.

Taken on their own, these ingredients are just fine, but when you get them together you get a pungent beverage that burns your eyes.  It felt like I’d been hit with Christmas tear gas.  It also made my pee green for a week, which I thought was kind of cool.  “So that’s why there are no peppermint sodas,” I said to myself as the minty, blinding lash of the peppermint whip bit deep into my corneas, “It’s a really bad idea.”  With that in mind, I bring you, The Man with the Screaming Brain, a movie that I like to think of as Bruce Campbell’s own attempt at making peppermint soda.

 

A horror-comedy B-movie that rolls in its B-movieness, like a chihuahua reveling in rotten Dinty Moore beef stew it found in the trash. It should be great.  It has the right ingredients: number one, it has a great title: The Man with the Screaming Brain.  That title shouts B-movie.  From the moment I read the title, I wanted to love this movie.  I wanted to take it home and introduce it to my mother. Then we’d plan a Spring wedding, after which I’d take it on a cruise and make love to it all night long.  Next, we have a preposterous plot involving brains being switched around and mixed up, like something from an old Curt Siodmak mad scientist script.  This is so delicious it has to be fattening!  We also have tongue-in-cheek acting, a beautiful homicidal gypsy woman, a former KGB spy, Ted Raimi, Stacy Keach – and most importantly of all –  Bruce Campbell.  This should be right in my wheelhouse, after all, I liked My Name Is Bruce – a kitschy Bruce Campbell movie that some say doesn’t even rate B movie status – but one I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story starts out promisingly enough; we have William Cole (Bruce Campbell), a wealthy American executive who  represents a large pharmaceutical company. He has come to Bulgaria to do a business deal.  Right off the bat we get that he’s an ugly American with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  From the moment he, and his bored wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron), step off the plane, you know that he is going to alienate everyone he encounters and that he will pay for it royally.   Mr. Cole hires Yegor (Vladimir Kolev), a very capable English speaking cabbie as his personal driver for the day, instructing him to take Mrs. Cole shopping before returning to pick him up from his meeting.

The business deal is not the only thing that is going to make demands of Mr. Cole.  In to the mix we have a post-Soviet mad scientist, Dr. Ivanov (Stacy Keach) and Pavel, his goofy assistant (Ted Raimi).  Dr. Ivanov has developed a ground breaking tissue anti-rejection drug, allowing such exotic surgeries as replacing damaged brain tissue with undamaged donor brain tissue.  The drug works, but still needs refining.  Dr. Ivanov wants to get Mr. Cole and his company to back his research.

We also have Tatoya (Tamara Gorski), a gypsy woman with stunning eyes, who is hellbent to marry a rich American and doesn’t take rejection well.  She works at the hotel where Mr. Cole is staying and has her sights set on the boorish American. This doesn’t bode well for Mr. Cole.

Okay, this all sounds good to me.  We know from the title of the film, The Man with the Screaming Brain, that something bad is going to happen to Mr. Cole which will lead him to Dr. Ivanov. We can guess that the results of that meeting should be weird, campy and involve dangerous experimental brain surgery.  If you are clever, you will probably be able to figure it all out even though I’ve gone to some considerable pains to avoid spoilers.

The fist half of the movie flows along nicely.  The humor is a bit cornball, but that is to be expected, an even hoped for,  of a movie like The Man with the Screaming Brain.  I enjoyed the first half.  The jokes worked.  There was plenty of action.  It seemed to be setting us up nicely.  Sadly, the second half of the film starts to drag.  The humor falls flat.

Now, I’m fairly tolerant.  Many of the things that ruin a movie for other people just  don’t bother me.   Filmed in black and Wwhite?  No problem?  Cruddy special effects? I can take it in stride.   Hammy acting?  I’m a Bruce Campbell fan, so obviously I can not only tolerate hammy acting, but I even revel in it. There is only one thing that I can’t forgive and that is when a movie bores me.  And the last third of The Man with the Screaming Brain bored me.

So where did the wheels fall off?  I suspect that it was the script that really needed the doctor here.  The underlying themes of the movie also tend to get shuffled around, with Campbell unable to find one and stick with it.  Saying something like that might come off as a little picky for a movie called The Man with the Screaming Brain, and it would be, if the movie was a straight up camp homage to mad scientist B movies from the 1950’s, but it’s not.  Campbell tries to weave in a bit of romantic comedy and it doesn’t really work.  Some of the jokes die right before your eyes, such as the visual gag with the robot or Dr. Ivanov’s rants.  It seems to me that Bruce Campbell and  David M. Goodman knew what they wanted, but just didn’t quite know how to get there.  Hiring a third writer, one who has a taste for the genre and a flair for comedy, would have probably been a good idea.

Campbell did get good performances out of his cast.  Ted Raimi and Vladimir Kolev were fun to watch.  Kolev as Yegor, the KGB assassin turn cabbie, nearly steals the show.  Just imagine James Bond and Borat mixed together and poured into a tacky track suit and you’ll have Yegor.   I also had a hard time taking my eyes off of Tamara Gorski.  She just oozed exotic irresistible femme-fatal.  Lastly, The Chin himself, Bruce Campbell – he was Bruce Campbell – which is just what I wanted to see.

I have a really hard time saying unkind things about The Man with the Screaming Brain.  I understand that this was Bruce Campbell’s baby and he struggled for a decade to get this movie made.  I really wanted to like this movie, but it just came out like my homemade peppermint soda.  Still, even with all of its failings The Man with the Screaming Brain is still light years better than most of the other “Made for Sci-Fi” movies I’ve seen.

Starring:
Bruce Campbell
Tamara Gorski
Ted Raimi
Vladimir Kolev

Screenplay:
Bruce Campbell
David M. Goodman

Director:
Bruce Campbell

Two out of five Vincents

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