Things to do with a Screaming Brain

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The story behind Bruce Campbell’s latest horror spoof is a nightmare. For those unfamiliar with the Campbell’s oeuvre, he’s the man who played the butt-kicking, boom-sticking Ash in the popular Evil Dead series of Zombie flicks. He has a legion of fans, who’ve followed him from the cult favorite to his various television productions, the humorous western Brisco County, Jr. and the post-colonial spy-goof Jack of All Trades, and came in droves to watch him again on the big screen playing Elvis in the conspiracy-laden mummy movie, Bubba Ho-Tep. Campbell wrote a best-selling memoir, If Chins could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, that has a five-star customer rating on Amazon.com, obviously boosted by his immense fan following.

His latest film, recently released on DVD, is called The Man with the Screaming Brain, and that it exists at all is a testament to the fortitude of the man with the unmistakable chin, and his cohort, producer David Goodman.

The movie itself is a schlock-fest. Produced as a made for cable movie for the Sci Fi network, the film has a lot of vision, but never quite rises above its unmistakably low budget. Campbell plays William Cole, an American C.E.O. on a business trip with his wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron), visiting the eastern European city of Bravoda, Bulgaria. The couple hires a Russian cab driver and all around tough guy, Yegor (played by the charismatic Vladimir Kolev), only to have a run-in with a murderous gypsy seductress, Tatoya (viciously envisioned by Tamara Gorsky). Rounding out the cast are the mad scientist Ivan Ivanov (Stacy Keach), and his assistant Pavel (rubber-faced Ted Raimi). Mix in a freakish brain transplant and stage is set for the fight between Capitalism and Communism, all in one nastily sown-together forehead. The film has moments of great energy, and inventiveness but they’re fleeting.

 The character of William Cole is easily Campbell’s least sympathetic to date: the ugliest of the Ugly American cliche, bad-mouthing every un-American thing he sees and most of the people with whom he comes into contact. It’s a far cry from the wise-cracking Ash, with his chainsaw and bravado. The C.E.O. is even a bit of a coward, especially in the eyes of his wife. Still, Cole works to save his strained marriage, and the consequences are humorously horrific and life-changing.

The most interesting parts of the DVD are the special features which outline the twenty-year hassle to get the movie made. They could be invaluable to many a b-movie filmmaking wannabe, outlining the struggles that Campbell and producer David Goodman went through to get the movie made. The commentary is a fun overview of the time spent shooting the movie; a great tribute to the b-movie film.

“There’s a whole counterculture out there that has alternative cinemas, that want alternative movies,” said Campbell in one of the many illuminating behind-the-scenes features on the disc, “This movie’s so weird that it belongs in a house that won’t compete with Die Hard 9.” The Man with the Screaming Brain is a movie that was 18 years in the making. From development deal to broken development deal, from agent to producer, to venture capitalists to its eventual production for the Sci Fi network. The disc serves as a landmark of the perseverance that it took gather the resources to make a dream project.

For the best presentation of The Man with the Screaming Brain, fans should check out the recent comics adaptation published by Dark Horse Comics. With art by Rick Remender and Hilary Barta, the comics capture the essence of the script with a cartoonish, noir-esque use of shadows, replete with a zaftig femme fatale and a futuristic robot that would have cost millions to film. The image of the robot on the DVD is less remarkable, though perhaps slightly more blood-curdling.

“[C]omics are where it’s at,” touts Campbell in the first issue of the comics adaptation. After twenty years of development deals, it seems that the best telling of the story wasn’t in film after all, but in the pages of a comic book.

The two versions of the story stand out in different ways with regards to their script. In other ways, they highlight the differences between low-budget film-making and comics.

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