Man With The Screaming Brain (2005)

Written and directed by Bruce Campbell

“You killed my husband, bitch. Now I’m gonna kill you!”

The Disc

Great, silly genre artwork with Campbell – wearing a fetching ‘tache – striking a dramatic pose while holding aloft a human brain, this is in a slim case and marked ‘Not To Be Sold Separately’, which suggests it was part of a box set. Be that as it may, I do not own the other discs in the box set… oops.

Loads of features on this though, with a couple of galleries to boot, and not marked as a Special Edition – it’s the kind of affectionate collection put together by fans for fans, very cult-y.

Also, is that Ted Raimi in the tiny picture on the back cover? Knowing Campbell, yeah, it probably is.

Why did I get this?!

No idea when I bought this, but the fact it was once part of a box set and I don’t own the other discs, suggests this was a charity shop purchase.

As for why I bought it, I’ve loved Bruce Campbell since I watched Army Of Darkness on a VHS I bought cheap from Woolworths in the mid-nineties, but I’ve got pretty much no recollection of ever having watched this.

Here we go then…

The Late Review…

As always, the Late Review will cover the film from start to finish in depth, so it’s pretty long, and you can expect spoilers below – scroll straight to the next heading to avoid them!

Hmm… the disc won’t play properly, that’s not a good sign. I’ve got the movie’s audio playing over the main menu. This sucks.

Tries disc in another, much cheaper player.

Alright, it’s working now! There’s possibly an allegory there for the triumph of cheap, cult movies (represented by the TV/DVD combo), over expensive Hollywood productions (the fancy Blu Ray player), but I dunno, I’m tired.

Opening caption reads: “Somewhere in Bulgaria…” That’s a great start.

A mysterious Bulgarian lady is looking for a rich American husband, played by some shmuck in a Hawaiian shirt, but he says he doesn’t want to marry her so, naturally, she murders him before the credits even roll.

Oh, this is a Sci-Fi Channel production, with Starz, which I think was behind Campbell’s Ash Vs Evil Dead show, that’s cool.

Here’s Campbell at airport arrivals, with a magnificent ‘tache, a mobile that doesn’t work, a blonde-wigged wife in a purple pantsuit and a tonne of luggage. He’s extolling the benefits of Capitalism and mocking ‘Gypsies’… I wonder if he’ll learn the error of his ways?

Here’s Ted Raimi, it is him on the cover! He’s using a vintage joypad and a generic East European accent to control an unconvincing robot that looks like the offspring of a crash test dummy and the clown from F/X 2: The Deadly Art Of Illusion. Cheap, basically.

So Campbell and his wife are in a seatbelt-less taxi driven by a guy named Yegor (of course), and Campbell’s being the stereotypical brash American, while his wife looks like she wishes she wasn’t there. It’s basically like watching Donald Trump.

The taxi driver just called him Donald Trump!

Ooh, a wipe edit. I haven’t seen one of those in ages.

Right, sorry, back to the plot… Raimi’s boss – a genius scientist apparently played by Stacy Keach(!) – is explaining a breakthrough in allowing cells to be bonded and repaired, and they want to sell it to Campbell (who is a big name in Big Pharma, or something). Raimi’s mugging like crazy, promoting Red Bull and complaining that his flat doesn’t have hot water, and now the cells are imploding. One assumes that’s why someone’s brain will scream at some point.

Yegor takes a detour through ‘Gypsy Town’, where they immediately encounter the murderer from the beginning, then get ambushed by local villains. Luckily, Yegor’s got a gun, martial arts skills and balls the size of spacehoppers, so can easily take the two guys who try to stick them up, with a nice finger break for one of them.

However, two more then turn up, leading to Campbell panicking and asking what they should do, while his wife says: “You’re the man… aren’t you? Oh, for God’s sake,” then proceeds to take out the next two thugs with relative ease, after which she turns to him and says: “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.” She’s loving the excitement, and eyeing up Yegor, who they’ve hired for the day.

Uh oh, as if that look wasn’t enough, they’re now arguing in the hotel room, before Campbell heads into the corridor and bumps into the murderer, who’s apparently a cleaner there. Campbell’s asked Yegor to pick up a ring for his wife, and now he’s taking him to a very important meeting.

Now the mad doctor is dictating a letter to Raimi (for Campbell), outlining his discovery – which will allow “perfect organ transplant of all kinds” – but as soon as he’s finished, Raimi screws it up and says (to an empty room), he’s going to “make letter better”.

I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen this movie.

Campbell’s touring some enormous unfinished subway tunnels with a bunch of developers, and to be quite honest, it’s a 30-second scene which very much feels like it’s been included just because they stumbled across the location at late notice and wanted to include it in the film.

Meanwhile, Yegor’s driving Mrs Campbell – I think she’s called Jackie, but is barely referred to by name – around and explaining that he used to be in the KGB and was formerly engaged to the murdering gypsy woman from earlier (they don’t know she’s a murderer… yet). Mrs Campbell says she wants to see the city, but it’s pretty clear she just wants to see more of Yegor.

Okay, so Campbell’s explaining to the developers in the tunnels that his drug company is looking to diversify by investing in the Bulgarian subway system (I’m certain this is normal procedure for US pharmaceutical behemoths). He’s trying to phone Yegor to pick him up, but can’t get through because Yegor’s busy showing Jackie a good time in his Happy Taxi. That’s the name of the taxi, of course, but also a euphemism – they’re banging in a lay-by.

Raimi’s now at the hotel and is reading the letter to Campbell – it’s been rewritten into a cheesy sales pitch, and Campbell’s given him the high-hat and gone back to his room where he finds the murderer. Almost immediately, he moves in for a lascivious clinch – he really is Donald Trump!

She’s lifted his wallet and the ring from his pocket, and is about to stab him, but his wife’s returned for a quick (and pretty hypocritical), argument, and to announce she’s leaving him. Campbell chases the woman to get his stuff back, and she’s clobbered him round the head with a metal pipe!

Now Yegor’s turned up and is arguing with the woman over Campbell’s bleeding body. I’m sure he’ll sort this right… oh no, she’s stabbed him and shot him with his own weapon. Lovely stuff.

Mrs Campbell’s told doctors to pull the plug on Bruce, as he’s in a vegetative state, and she’s jumped into a taxi to head back to Gypsy Town while the mad scientist has told Raimi to steal both bodies and bring them back to the lab.

I’ve just realised there still haven’t been any screaming brains yet.

Right then, here’s Mrs Campbell walking into a derelict-looking flat to confront the murdering gypsy woman – turns out her name is Tatoya – and that confrontation begins with the immortal line: “You killed my husband, bitch. Now I’m gonna kill you!”

What follows is a short and (probably), unintentionally-comic scene of repeated handbag-twattings and slaps, before Mrs Campbell is thrown down a flight of stairs. Luckily, she turns into an unconvincing dummy on the way down, so it probably doesn’t hurt that much.

Meanwhile, the mad scientist is mucking about with the brains of Campbell and Yegor, to combine them in fairly graphic detail. The gore is fine, but it’s interspersed with very dated and/or low-budget CGI and dry ice-infused shots of the two dead men slowly grappling to indicate… I dunno, the duality of man or something. Oh, and the magic brain machine is controlled by an old videogame joystick too. The Bulgarian equivalent of CEX must’ve had a sale on when production came to town.

Gypsies are looting the corpse of Mrs Campbell as it rests at the bottom of the staircase. Raimi’s been sent to collect the corpse. Perhaps she’ll be one of the screaming brains? There can’t be room for three in Campbell’s head, surely?

“Three Days Later…”

Campbell’s awake. His head’s partially shaved, a few inches bigger and with a big scar across his forehead. He’s overcome his death really quickly, and aside from the scar, he looks more than a little like Bruce Grobbelaar. Sadly, he’s also reliving his own death from Yegor’s point of view – which is handy, as it means they can reuse the footage from earlier.

Screaming: “What kind of a life is this?!” Campbell attacks Ted Raimi and the doctor, and it’s clear he’s learned a lesson or two from his old buddy Sam Raimi – lots of funky angles and zooms during the attack, very Evil Dead 2 or the Doc Ock attack from Spider-Man 2. Bruce Campbell is nothing if not true to his roots.

Now he’s run into the city, so we’re treated to a strange sort of travelogue as a bandaged Bruce Campbell staggers around Bulgarian sightseeing spots and gets freaked out by statues dedicated to Communism.

In fairness, I’d genuinely watch a travelogue featuring a bewildered Bruce Campbell staggering around random European cities.

Yegor’s brain is arguing with Campbell from inside his own skull, and controlling half of his body. It’s not exactly a screaming brain as such, but allows Campbell to do some of his excellent physical slapstick and pratfalls. He’s far less nimble than he was in Evil Dead 2 (or Army of Darkness, for that matter), but he can still do it. He also tries to steal Yegor’s taxi (but it looks to a passer-by like he’s having sex with it), then leaps into some sort of charity clothes bin for a quick-change gag, then beats himself up in front of a pensioner while asking for money.

Elsewhere, Mrs Campbell’s body is too broken to revive, but Raimi’s not bothered as he’s taught his robot to do some ‘hilarious’ dancing while he DJs.

Back to Campbell, and he’s having issues ordering drinks in a restaurant and upsetting customers and staff at the world’s smallest salad bar before screaming his brain’s on fire (it’s not shouting though, is it Bruce?), then rushing round trying to cool it down by pouring milk and ice on it and sticking it down a Trainspotting-inspired toilet, then resolving to track down Tatoya to take revenge.

Bruce Campbell’s stolen a small, pink scooter. Ted Raimi’s turned Jackie into a robot.

I’ll be honest this already feels like it’s been going for well over an hour.

Robo-Jackie’s off to Gypsy Town to get Tatoya, looking like a 1980s Doctor Who villain crossed with a Eurotrash comedy sex doll, and it finally feels like the film has some energy behind it. She’s just stumbled across one of the car thieves from earlier and broken his finger again, while Raimi gets maced then punched in a car park, then mugs for the camera before collapsing.

Almost as an afterthought, the scientist is getting drunk and having a breakthrough on how to have both men’s brains live harmoniously inside one skull, while Raimi’s spit-taking his way around Bulgaria chasing Robo-Jackie, who’s having her own adventures comically changing her breast size on a bus.

Ted Raimi just said “Fo’ schizzle, my nizzle.”

Fuck’s sake.

Tatoya is trying on wedding dresses in a shop when Robo-Jackie tracks her down and is instantly shot as the murderess flees in a car just as Bruce Campbell rocks up on his stolen pink scooter before falling foul of a washing line and the vehicle trundles off and falls over before ‘exploding’ unimpressively like a firecracker. That’s pretty much the best laugh of the movie so far, to be fair.

I know we must be in the home stretch now, but bloody hell this feels a lot longer than the 90 minutes it’s supposed to be.

Right. There’s been a car crash. Ted Raimi’s lost some teeth, Bruce Campbell’s trapped under the vehicle which is leaking fuel. Robo-Jackie’s turned up to save him, and he’s apologised “for every mean thing I’ve ever said and done to you”, and she ‘dies’ in the explosion.

Campbell’s chased Tatoya into a bar filled with villains (“This just keeps getting better and better” – I’m sorry, but it doesn’t Bruce), who all attack him one at a time leading to some classic Bruce Campbell abuse and physical comedy until the Yegor part of his brain takes over and fights dirty, grabbing dicks, biting ears and breaking that same guy’s finger again, with plenty more Raimi-inspired crash-zooms.

Wait, now Robo-Jackie’s back to tackle Tatoya on a bridge! No, wait, she’s been thrown off the bridge. Well, an obvious dummy that looks a tiny bit like her has been thrown off the bridge, and Campbell’s chased Tatoya into the subway tunnels.

The subsequent chase through tunnels, up and down ladders and gantries, lasts bloody ages, and is – frankly – not terribly compelling. I hate to be looking at my watch during films, but there we are, I’m looking at it right now and struggling to believe we’re still not at the 90-minute mark.

In fairness, the chase ends with a nice silhouette fight, and Campbell gets his ring back before dropping the villain from a high platform and rushing to his robotic bride’s side. She’s in a bad way, but luckily Ted Raimi has a battery and jump leads handy and there’s a nice gag as the three of them get zapped.

To his credit, Campbell is emoting the hell out of this scene as he says goodbye to his comically-bad robot wife, but it’s instantly undercut by more broad ‘comedy’ from Raimi as he struggles to rescue Tatoya’s corpse from some slowly-flowing water.

“Back In The US, 6 Months Later…”

Campbell’s head is pretty much back to normal, and Jackie’s mind is now in Tatoya’s body (I think, it’s kind of hard to tell when she’s all gussied up in US fashion), and they’re heading out for a swanky do like the happiest couple who ever lived.

So… that’s a happy ending? I guess? Whatever, it’s an ending.

Thoughts on the movie

When half the joke is that things are cheaper in a foreign country, it’s probably to be expected the same goes for moviemaking. I read that the budget for this film was slashed just before filming, or in early production, which sounds about right. There’s apparently a graphic novel which Campbell approved and uses all the stuff they couldn’t do due to budget restraints. Whether that’s enough to improve the whole product, I dunno, but I’m curious to read it, though.

When you see a film like, say, Ocean’s 12, it’s clear that it’s a bunch of friends making a movie while they’re enjoying a little holiday. In that case, it’s obvious that the filmmakers are having more fun than the audience. In a way, The Man With The Screaming Brain also feels like a film made by friends on holiday, and it’s more fun that Ocean’s 12. Considering the huge amount of responsibility on Campbell’s shoulders, I suppose he wouldn’t have had time to enjoy himself, but despite its cult appeal, Ted Raimi looks like he’s the only one really having fun.

There’s a weird tone to it too. It’s silly, yes, but not always ‘winking at the camera’ silly. It’s definitely one of the most cult-y films I’ve ever seen, but there honestly seem to be points where it’s trying to take itself seriously. Or perhaps I just didn’t get fully into the spirit of it – I suspect it would be best viewed at 2am with a crowd of Bruce Campbell fans as part of a marathon screening.

The Verdict

I love Bruce Campbell, and could read or listen to him talking about his career (or watch him killing Deadites), for hours, so it’s hard to write off The Man With The Screaming Brain completely.

That being said, I’m not going to watch this again. Fair play on the directorial effort, Mr Campbell, but there’s another title of yours on this list that I’ve got much higher hopes for. That, however, is for another Late Review.

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