Saturday, September 1, 2007

THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN

It took Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD) about twenty years to put together the financing for his dream project B-movie, THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN (2005), ultimately having to relocate the action and rewrite the script to take advantage of tax shelter funds in Bulgaria. And, as big a Campbell fan as I am, I wish I could say it was worth the wait.

Co-financed by the SciFi Channel, the version of SCREAMING BRAIN that Campbell has finally brought forth is (and it pains me deeply to write this) an unfortunately tedious, threadbare production that remains watchable primarily due to the writer/star/producer/director's still-potent (if subdued) charm.

It's a great premise: an arrogant American businessman (Campbell) and an ex-Communist Russian cab driver are both killed by the same insane Gypsy woman. The local mad scientist (MIKE HAMMER's Stacy Keach in an inappropriately low-key performance) combines chunks of the two men's brains in Campbell's head in an attempt to prove his own theories. Meanwhile, Bruce's blonde wife is also murdered by the Gypsy, and has her brain transplanted into a cut-rate robot body. Now all of them are out for revenge!

The set-up of the film takes way too long, and once all the brain transplants take place, the audience is desperate for some good, old-fashioned B-movie nuttiness. Unfortunately, Campbell never manages to give the movie any energy. Probably because it was intended for TV, there's no decent gore or violence, no real sex, and even the comedy falls flat. Ted Raimi is fun to watch with his Stooge-esque antics, but nothing else in the flick matches his approach.

Campbell's performance is very subdued (for him), and one gets the feeling that handling the direction and dealing with the untrained Bulgarian film crew sucked all of his usual cock-sure, wiseass energy right out of him before he ever got in front of the camera. He plain looks tired.

Ultimately, it's another SciFi Channel Original Picture, with all that suggests. Cheap, bland, and sadly forgettable. It says something, I think, that I was more entertained by the crappy but energetic ALIEN APOCALYPSE than I was by this.

The Anchor Bay DVD has some decent behind-the-scenes material, including a short featurette on how Bruce and partner David Goodman shopped the property around for 20 years and the path that led to Bulgaria that's quite fascinating, actually. The movie is presented in a slightly letterboxed 1.77:1 transfer (no doubt so it could be anamorphically enhanced) and includes an audio commentary by Campbell and co-producer Goodman. There is also a trailer, some outtakes, a storyboard gallery, and a "comic book gallery" that presents the first issue of the Dark Horse comic book adaptation.

Recommended for Campbell completists only.

BUY: Man with the Screaming Brain