A project that had been brewing in Bruce Campbell's mind for nineteen years that finally came to fruition as a Sci-Fi Channel movie, Man With The Screaming Brain is a fun, and often times very silly, throwback to fifties and sixties sci-fi/horror b-movies. Marking Campbell's feature directorial debut, the film, for budgetary reasons, ended up being filmed in Bulgaria, giving the movie an interesting European look at least in terms of sets and extras, which is fitting considering the origins that the story has in the Frankenstein mythos.
Campbell plays the CEO of a pharmaceutical company named William Cole who wants to diversify his investments. He and his wife take a business trip to Bulgaria where Cole intends to consider the possibility of investing in a partially completed subway system that will expand the city and coincidently fulfill his financial needs. Cole and his wife, Jackie (Antoinette Byron) hire a cab driver named Yegor (Vlademir Kolev) to get them to their hotel and Cole is so impressed with the way that the driver and former KGB operative handles an encounter they have with some thugs on the way that he hires him for the day. Cole doesn't know that his wife has a different kind of interest in Yegor, however, nor does he know that the sexy Bulgarian maid, Tatoya (Tamara Gorski), who is tending to his hotel room has a past with the cabbie.
When Cole gets back from his meeting with the subway developers he's approached by a man named Pavel (Ted Raimi) who requests that he meet with his boss, Dr. Ivan Ivanov (Stacy Keach). Cole thinks it's some sort of scam and sends him on his way, not paying it anymore mind. When he gets to his hotel room, his wife is gone but the maid is there and he figures he can get a lil' piece of Bulgarian tail and she'll be none the wiser. He and the maid smooch but she lifts the wallet and the ring out of his pocket and when Jackie walks in on them, she bolts. After a failed explanation to his wife, Cole chases after her to get the ring back but she clocks him outside the head with a pipe and knocks him down. Yegor shows up shortly after and she shoots him dead.
Dr. Ivanov and Pavlov hear about the double homicide on their police scanner and rush out to swipe the bodies, hoping to use them as guinea pigs in their procedure that links minds 'like Lincoln Logs' and is able to reanimate the dead. Things don't go quite as planned though – when Cole wakes up, Yegor's mind is just as dominant as his own and he finds himself resurrected as…. the Man With The Screaming Brain!. Cole, and now Yegor, make their escape and set out to make things right with Jackie, and get revenge on those who have done them wrong but nothing in life is easy, especially when the right and left side of your brain rarely agree on anything.
The first twenty or thirty minutes of this film are pretty painful. The gags are predictable and not all that funny and the characters are literal cliches hampered by poor dialogue. But once things start moving and Dr. Ivanov does his thing, the movie picks up a lot and it ends up being a fun little time killer. For a first time feature from Campbell (who had previously made the excellent documentary, Fanalysis) it is a reasonably well put together movie and once you get over the initial pacing hump of the first third, it moves along at a good pace.
The cast make the most of the, likely intentionally, cornball dialogue that they're given. Campbell in particular, who co-wrote the movie, has some of the goofiest lines of his career in this film and Ted Raimi and Stacy Keach deliver some of the most groan inducing bits of bad humor I've ever heard but somehow it suits the tone of the movie in that it really is recycling a lot of tried and true formulas that we've seen over and over again, including the comedic bits. The cast look like they're having fun in the film, and I don't really think that any of it is meant to be taken too seriously at all.
It is interesting to see some of the Bulgarian sets and locations used throughout the film as they actually give the movie a sense of class that, had it been filmed in Los Angeles as was originally intended, would be sorely lacking. The old fashioned architecture of the area makes for an interesting contrast when we see Campbell running around, stitches in his head, clad only in his pajamas and struggling to control the opposing side of his body. Moments like this bring back memories of some of the gags from the Evil Dead films and give Bruce a chance to really show of his strengths in terms of physical comedy. Moments like this, watching Campbell fight with himself as he does in this film or as he's done in the legendary Ash versus his own hand scene in Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn make life worth living and in turn make Man With The Screaming Brain worth seeing, even if you're probably not going to back to it again and again and again.
Unfortunately, Anchor Bay's 1.77.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is lacking. The movie looks to have been shot on digital video and sometimes that transfers over to DVD very nicely but this time out we're left with a less than perfect picture. Not only is there some very heavy line shimmering noticeable on all the cars and around all of the buildings in the film but the colors are murky and poorly defined. Black levels fluctuate in that sometimes they look strong and other times they look muddy. The picture lacks a lot of high detail and as a result is rather soft looking. It's watchable, there aren't any problems with print damage or anything like that, but there are some serious transfer and compression issues with this picture and for a movie made so recently it really should have looked a lot better than this, low budget or not.
Man With The Screaming Brain is presented in both an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix with an English closed captioning feature available for the hearing impaired. The audio on this release is fine, with the 5.1 mix getting the edge over the 2.0 mix as it makes nice use of the surrounds in a few scenes and adds a bit of atmosphere to the movie. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion though there are one or two scenes that have a line or two of muffled dialogue. Overall though, the audio on this release isn't bad at all.
First and foremost is a full length feature commentary track with Bruce Campbell, who is joined by producer David M. Goodman. Campbell does the vast majority of the talking on this track with Goodman sitting back and letting him do the driving, simply chiming in with his thoughts here and there or interjecting to correct Bruce when needed. As is almost always the case with Campbell, this commentary track is a lot of fun and it's interesting to hear him detail some of the odd exploits that they had to deal with on this production. Campbell explains how some of the stunts where handled such as when Jackie takes a nasty tumble down the stairs, as well as what it was like working in Bulgaria and how many locals came to be cast in fairly prominent roles. Of course he pokes fun at a lot of things throughout the film including his old friend Ted Raimi but it's all very well natured and quite informative throughout.
Up next is a thirteen minute look at how the film was made entitled Brain Surgeons: Making The Screaming Brain. Campbell and Goodman are interviewed in this segment that is spiced up with some fun behind the scenes footage, clips from the film, and a few still shots here and there. There is some material in this segment that is also covered in the commentary but the added bonus of the behind the scenes visuals makes this a worthwhile and fun little look at what went into getting the movie completed.
Neurology 101 – The Evolution Of The Screaming Brain is a fifteen minute discussion with Campbell and Goodman who stand in front of a chalk board in a classroom and proceed to document that evolution of the film from its genesis as an idea in Campbell's head through to various production hurdles and finally to the finished version that is on this DVD and that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. Again, Campbell and Goodman have a fun working relationship and their humor shines through in this supplement which makes it worth checking out.
Rounding out the extra features are a comic book art still gallery, a storyboard gallery, a biography for Bruce Campbell and a trailer for Man With The Screaming Brain. There are also trailers included for The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, Thou Shall Not Kill… Except and Lightning Bug.
Well, the feature takes a while to get going but once it gets to the mad science, Man With The Screaming Brain is a fun little movie that makes very good use of Bruce Campbell's knack for physical comedy. Anchor Bay's DVD looks surprisingly bad, but it sounds okay and the extra features are all informative and quite a bit of fun. I can't say that the film has a whole lot of replay value but it would make for a decent rental, so… rent it (unless you're a hardcore Bruceaphile, in which case you already know you're going to buy it)!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.