I looked at this DVD with worry. It had a couple of strikes against it before I even opened the clamshell case –
1. It was made for the Sci Fi Channel
2. It was made in Bulgaria
The DVD had one potential bright spot, erstwhile B-movie superstar and now novelist Bruce Campbell had written and directed it as well as occupied top billing on the marquis. As we all know, Bruce's presence on screen can elevate unmitigated crap to watchable levels at the very least. So I was hopeful that his position as writer and director would shove the film up to a solid 2.5 skulls. How wrong I was, The Man with the Screaming Brain did not attain the coveted 2.5 skull spot. No, it leapt all the way to the top of the pack at a solid 4 skulls!
It's amazing what a man can do with his talents on a minuscule budget, especially if it's a project he's trucked around for 19 years but never had the financing to make it happen. Such is The Man with the Screaming Brain. Shot for about the same budget as a single episode of Joey, the film looks and sounds like a much more expensive endeavor.
The cast includes Bruce Campbell, naturally, Ted Raimi, and Stacy Keach, certainly more talent than the usual gang of overdubbed eastern block doofuses, and shanghaied Peace Corps workers populating these Bulgarian masterpieces. Stacy Keach? He was Mike fucking Hammer man! My grandmother used to watch that show!
Anyway, the film is actually meant to take place in Sofia, Bulgaria (written to take advantage of their virtually non-existent labor costs) where William Cole (Bruce Campbell) and his wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron) have come to finalize a deal where he will tax shelter some of his massive wealth by investing in a nearly finished mass transit system. Filling out the role as Mayor is our old friend Velizar Binez (Of Shark Zone and Alien Apocalypse fame). It's nice to see a familiar face.
Cole hires former KGB agent and current Happy Taxi driver Yegor (Vladimir Kolev) to act as his surrogate limo man. When they get stuck in traffic and have to take a detour through the dangerous "Gypsy Town" part of Sophia they nearly run over the owner of a wedding gown shop Tatoya (Tamara Gorski). Tatoya was also once Yegor's fiancé (he was "stationed" in Gypsy town before the eastern block collapsed) but ditched her when he realized she was nuts.
While Cole is busy with the mayor, Jackie gets busy with Yegor. Back at the hotel (Cole bums a ride) he encounters Tatoya who is also a maid at the hotel. She declares that he will be her next husband and a few misunderstandings later Jackie has stormed out and both Cole and Yegor are dead.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ivan Ivanoff Ivanovich (Keach) and his assistant, the hip-hop loving Pavel (Ted Raimi) have perfected a process for grafting two dissimilar cell types together without the natural rejection associated with transplanting non-native cells into an organism.
Although rejected by Cole (due to a hilariously bad letter rewritten by Pavel) Ivanovich procures both Coles and Yegor's bodies and blends Yegov's good left brain with Cole's healthy right brain. Now Cole has a second voice and personality, Yegor's, who also contols the right side of his body.
Jackie learns that Tatoya killed her husband and her lover and vows revenge, but she too is killed. Her brain is dropped into Pavel's robot body, which immediately escapes and stomps off looking to take revenge on Tatoya.
The rest of the film is a race between Cole/Yegor and Robot Jackie to find the gypsy woman while Pavel is sent into the city to find them as Dr Ivanoff struggles to iron out the final problems with his process for fleshblending.
There's a whole hell of a lot going on in The Man with the Screaming Brain, and all of it is good. The writing is very crisp and witty, and very often laugh out-loud-funny. Campbell's characters are all well rounded and, dare I say, likable. And there is physical comedy aplenty too, enough that my 4 year old son was cracking up through the middle third of the film.
The acting is much better than anything we have come to expect from the homeland of Dmitry Badfilmova's Film Production Company and Borscht Manufacturing Collective. Although, Antoinette Byron's Australian accent comes through sporadically, she is overshadowed by the amazingly good Vladimir Kolev. He should be making features in the US! Yegov's 180 difference from Cole is evident from the start and without even breaking a sweat becomes the most interesting and fun character in the film. Stacy Keach handles the science goop with aplomb and Ted Raimi is very, very, very funny as Pavel.
All great, all watchable, and as I said before, all had something interesting to say.
Campbell is no slouch as a director either. He shot The Man with the Screaming Brain in widescreen and makes good use of the frame. He manages to make Sofia look both beautiful and ominous at the same time. Gypsy Town is suitably creepy and dangerous too.
This could have been a very well received theatrical release, and when we're talking Bulgaria, that's saying something.
The DVD comes with a commentary track with Bruce Campbell offering his usual hilarious take on the film. A lot of pride shows too, which is nicer than say, his track on Alien Apocalypse where the commentary turned into an impromptu MST3K episode. The set also features behind the scenes footage, storyboards, trailer, and the making-of featurette, Brain Surgeons: Making The Man With the Screaming Brain.
Should you buy The Man with the Screaming Brain? You certainly should. It's also offered on the Sci Fi Channel so set your TIVO (VCR for us Luddites) and catch it when you can. You will not be disappointed.