This one’s going to be brief tonight. I have the flu and I would really rather just try and get some sleep. Please feel free to send me some get-well cards (and rum). Email me for the address. Don’t forget the rum.
Screaming with man brain, the.
Starring Bruce Campbell, co-written by Bruce Campbell, produced by Bruce Campbell, and directed by Bruce Campbell. If you don’t know what to expect by now, then you are in the wrong place my friend.
So, for those of you in the wrong place, here’s what’s happening: pharmaceuticals manufacturer William Cole and his wife Jackie have come to Bulgaria as William is looking to diversify his businesses into the newly-capitalist Eastern Bloc. Hiring Russian cabbie Yegor to drive him around, he soon finds himself on the receiving end of a pipe to the head from Yegor’s former fiancee Tatoya, just before she kills Yegor. The two men’s bodies are retrieved by local scientist Dr Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov – pioneer of a new anti-tissue-rejection compound – who decides to test his invention by splicing the undamaged halves of each man’s brain and then implanting it into Cole’s body. Hilarity ensues.
There’s something I should probably mention before we go any further today. My name is Ryan, and I am a Bruce-aholic. This will not be the most neutral piece you will ever read about this flick, unless of course this is the only piece you ever read about this flick. If that is the case, I’m flattered and all, but you should really shop around a bit more when it comes to movie reviews. Don’t just take my word as gospel. Yes, it is true that I haven’t been wrong about something since 1987 but that does not mean that other online or print critics can’t have valid points to make, particularly if they are in agreement with me. But anyway, back to the movie.
Well, this was different. If this film can be taken as a glimpse inside the mind of its creator, then that mind is full to the brim of nothing but Frankenstein and The Three Stooges. Is that a bad thing? Depends on who you ask. I enjoyed this film, but I get the joke; I imagine a lot wouldn’t. It seems Bruce Campbell essentially took a few old friends and a fairly meagre pile of the Sci Fi Channel’s money and fucked off to Bulgaria for a few weeks to have fun, with these ninety minutes being the tangible result. In it, Bruce plays a caricature of the typically boorish American abroad, full of bluster and superiority. Antoinette Byron is his long-suffering wife and Vladimir Kolev is Yegor, the former KGB operative-turned-cab driver who comes between them, first by screwing Mrs Cole when she’s trying to get back at her husband, then by unwillingly getting the right hemisphere of his brain stuck in Cole’s head. Honestly, it’s a bit of a shame Yegor gets disposed of so quickly as he’s one of the most fun characters in the flick. After the surgery, he is still technically around, but only as an extra voice in Cole’s mind.
Dr Ivanov, as played by Stacy Keach, is not the typical evil mad scientist you might expect. He is mental – that’s fairly self-evident – but he’s not evil; he believes his invention is for the benefit of mankind. What he does to Cole and Yegor is done with the intention of saving their lives (with the added benefit of demonstrating his work to Cole, who Ivanov hopes will invest in further research). The only evil character in the film is Tatyova, Yegor’s gypsy ex-fiancee, played by Campbell’s former Hercules castmate Tamara Gorski. Unfortunately there is no reason given for why she is evil and kills almost everyone she meets. I suppose she’s just meant to be nuts.
After Cole’s unforseen medical intervention at Ivanov’s hands, he and Yegor each have control of one half of his body. This allows Bruce to break out some of the old “haunted hand” gymnastics from Evil Dead 2. Even after 20 years Campbell is still a very physical actor, but the effect isn’t quite the same as it was. Like in his pictures with Sam Raimi, the comedy in Screaming Brain doesn’t come from a stream of bad gags and winking at the camera; the film is played mostly straight with the comedy naturally occuring in the ridiculousness of the situation. I was just thinking actually (yes, I’m shocked too. And no, I didn’t hurt myself) that if this same script had been shot back in the fifties it would have come out as a straight horror flick. The increasingly absurd events presented in a tone of dead seriousness is what makes it funny now, while mostly neutering the horror aspect. Bruce understands this.
Campbell has directed plenty of episodes of television before, especially for the shows he was starring in, but this was his feature debut behind the camera. That experience has taught him how to make the most of limited budgets and locations, but he isn’t exactly an effusive director visually. To be blunt, the film looks like a tv episode. It could even be a pilot for a series in which Cole stays as CEO of his company while Yegor takes control of the body at night to go off and fight crime or something, like a funny Russian Batman. Don’t know about you, but I’d watch that show.