Self-confessed B-movie actor Bruce Campbell is one of those guys you either get or you don’t. Then again, considering his short-lived A-list movie career, you probably don’t even know who he is. If you fall into the last category, you probably don’t know, or care, that Campbell has been trying to get “The Man with the Screaming Brain” made for a few decades now. In his book “Confessions of a B-movie Actor”, Campbell details how he tried to find funding for the proposed film with buddy (and the film’s co-writer) David Goodman. There were fits and starts, but the movie never came together. Now, after slaving away on one crappy Sci Fi Original Picture after another, Campbell has gotten his just dues, and “Screaming Brain” is finally realized. (The movie, curiously, doesn’t actually have a screaming brain, more like a talking one, but I digress…)
“The Man with the Screaming Brain” is, in a nutshell, Campbell ‘s tribute to schlock cinema. There’s nothing remotely original or overly great about it, and although Campbell has been around buddy Sam Raimi for a few decades now, he apparently hasn’t developed any of the cinematic flairs needed to make a movie stand out. As such, “Screaming Brain” looks every bit like the low-budget B-movie that its creator claims it to be — a film shot entirely in Bulgaria with what couldn’t have been a very high budget (nothing shot in Bulgaria ever is). Nevertheless, if you like the Bruce Campbell way of doing business, you’ll get a real kick out of “Screaming Brain”, as I certainly did.
The film opens with wealthy American industrialist William Cole (writer/director/producer/caterer Bruce Campbell) arriving in Bulgaria with his blonde wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron). The two are having marital problems, and their trip to their hotel is an eventful one, starting when they climb into the taxi of one Yegor (Vladimir Kolev), an ex-KGB agent who Jackie has lusty eyes for. Meanwhile, an enterprising mad Russian scientist played by Stacy Keach and his lackey/assistant Pavel (Ted Raimi, younger brother of Sam) have developed a method to combine two brains in order to save one.
Or some such. Does it really matter?
At this point the film meanders for a bit, and it’s not until almost the 40-minute mark (about an hour into the film if you were watching it with commercials on the Sci Fi Channel) that Cole meets his demise at the hands of a crazed gypsy woman played by Tamara Gorski. As it turns out, Yegor also had a past relationship with the gypsy woman, resulting in her shanking him (her method for dispatching of men) and then shooting him with his own gun. After Cole and Yegor’s body are stolen by Pavel, mad scientist Keach melds the two dead men’s brains into one, and as the kids say, hilarity ensues.
The film’s second half is really one big Benny Hill skit, and there’s a brief 10 minutes or so where Cole has to learn to co-habitate with Yegor, whose voice we continue to hear, although it’s Campbell ‘s body doing the acting. Campbell squeezes this brief interlude for all it’s worth, throwing himself into trash cans, toilets, and milk, and not surprisingly, they make up the film’s highlights. Alas, the film eventually returns to its shaky plot by putting Cole on the revenge trail to get even with that crazy, guy-killing gypsy chick. And oh yeah, Jackie also gets killed by the gypsy chick, gets her brain transferred into a robot with big breasts, and also goes after the gypsy woman.
If the plot described above sounds completely random, that’s probably because “The Man with the Screaming Brain” is basically a 30-minute short film stretched out into 90 minutes. The film’s first half seems to take forever to get through, but once Cole’s head gets sliced open with a steel pipe, things pick up immeasurably. Even so, the skits do sometimes run on for too long, and surprisingly there’s a gag with a pink scooter that didn’t make me laugh as much as the idea of Bruce Campbell, head partially sliced open, riding around in a pink scooter on a quest for vengeance against a gypsy broad should have. Go figure.
It goes without saying that if you were to approach “The Man with the Screaming Brain” with the right level of expectations (re: low), it’s a pretty funny little film that’s worth 90 minutes of your time. There are moments in the movie that had me laughing for 5, maybe 6 minutes non-stop. Oh sure, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that’s easily forgiven because, frankly, the film was never supposed to make sense. And granted, the production values are abysmal, but then again, this is Bulgaria , and I’m sure Campbell and company couldn’t figure out how to turn that warehouse into anything other than a lame looking bar where, predictably, Cole gets into a fight. What’s the point of having a bar in a movie if there isn’t going to be an impromptu fight, after all.
Most of all, “The Man with the Screaming Brain” works because Bruce Campbell knows his way around schlocky films. Just look at his last batch of movies. In-between every appearance in a Sam Raimi-directed film, Campbell has occupied his time with some truly horrendous movies, many of them made for the Sci Fi Channel. What makes Campbell stand out is that he knows he’s in schlocksville, just as Ted Raimi knows he’s not doing Shakespeare when he “shemps” his way through the film. “The Man with the Screaming Brain” will mostly be enjoyed by fans of Bruce Campbell, but there’s no reason non-fans shouldn’t get a kick out of it if they approach it with the right frame of mind.
Caveat emptor, as the kids say.
Bruce Campbell (director) / Bruce Campbell, David M. Goodman, Sam Raimi (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Campbell …. William Cole
Ted Raimi …. Pavel
Antoinette Byron …. Jackie
Tamara Gorski …. Tatoya
Stacy Keach …. Dr. Ivan Ivanov
Vladimir Kolev …. Yegor