Few actors have a following as tenacious as Bruce Campbell’s. There is hardly a genre property that hasn’t had a suggested dreamcasting of “The Chin” (or “The Bruce” or just “The Man”. Campbell’s nicknames tend to start out similarly). If the enthusiasts had their way, we would have Bruce Campbell as Superman, The Comedian and The Lizard. That last one is especially interesting as IMDb showed Campbell as having the part of Dr. Connors in its Spider-Man 2 listing for over a month courtesy of an overzealous devotee. Fans can now rejoice as the film Man with the Screaming Brain has more Campbell than ever before. He wrote the screenplay, he directed, he has producer credit and he stars.
With a title like the Cormanesque Man with the Screaming Brain, there isn’t much guesswork as to what you can expect. This is a film deliberately trying to channel 50s era schlock sci-fi. Campbell plays William Cole, a drug company’s CEO who travels to Bulgaria to check on an investment opportunity in public transportation. He brings his trophy wife (Antoinette Byron) along as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. Upon arrival in this German-speaking country, the couple glom onto the only English-speaking cab driver (Vladimir Kolev) within shouting distance. Elsewhere in Bulgaria is a scientist going by the repetitive moniker Dr. Ivan Ivanov (“Mike Hammer” himself, Stacy Keach) who is closing in on the secrets of overcoming tissue rejection. His assistant (Mr. Nepo-what? Ted Raimi) is dispatched to Cole’s hotel to announce Dr. Ivanov’s findings and persuade him into backing his work. What he finds is that the Russian cab driver’s gypsy ex-girlfriend (Tamara Gorski) has left Cole brain dead and the cab driver bullet-ridden. To no one’s surprise, the assistant returns the bodies to the lab and Dr. Ivanov performs a partial brain transplant adding a little Russian to Cole’s cranium. Now the real fun can begin.
From here, the film plays out like a combination of two Steve Martin films: the obvious The Man with Two Brains and the more comparable All of Me. Yegor the former cabbie now controls Cole’s left side and speaks to him with a disembodied voice. Fans of the Evil Dead franchise will be delighted by a scene in a buffet line where the two battle over which salad ingredients will make it to their plate. Unlike Evil Dead II, however, Campbell is now possessed in a larger area than just his hand. Campbell’s acting has shown a sharp incline in the last few years. Previously, his thespian skills were arrested in a pre-Stanislavsky era like a John Wayne or a Tyrone Powers. Campbell floated on screen presence, energy and a natural proclivity for physical comedy. Since his role in Bubba Ho-tep we have seen much improvement in his talent on screen. Campbell’s Elvis Presley was like John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn… a performance rather than just a presence. Campbell’s work in Man with the Screaming Brain is nowhere near the level achieved in Bubba Ho-tep, but he does sell a scene where he cries over a dying robot that he could never have reached even five years ago.
It seems that Campbell has learned quite a bit from working with longtime pal Sam Raimi. Scenes filmed in Dr. Ivanov’s lab are framed and blocked comparably to lab sequences in Raimi’s Darkman. Additionally, Campbell utilizes a camera twist effect to a character’s fall into a table that is more than reminiscent to Raimi’s style. Unfortunately, these effects are too few and stick out in the otherwise straightforward technique filled with tight close-ups. As Campbell’s first full-length feature film as director, this is more than an adequate attempt. A next attempt is most certainly warranted and would be welcomed. The ultimate question remains whether Man with the Screaming Brain will play to a bigger audience than the hardcore fans. This remains to be seen. Those who love Campbell have always felt that if he was just given the right role he’d shine enough to break his self-proclaimed B-level status. This isn’t that film. It seems even Bruce Campbell doesn’t know exactly what to do with Bruce Campbell.
Man with the Screaming Brain is playing in theaters in conjunction with Campbell’s book signing circuit for Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way. Check his official website for dates and locations and you may be able to catch this film on its mini-tour before it airs on the Sci-Fi channel. After that, check your local listings. If you’re a fan of “The Chin” then I’d recommend you check it out. I can say with all certainty that it’s much better than the other film in Campbell’s Sci-Fi channel two-picture deal.
7.1 out of 10