Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
December 1st, 2005

The Man With the Screaming Brain

Directed by Bruce Campbell
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Antoinette Byron, Tamara Gorski
90 mins

Another movie from the sputtering remains of Bruce Campbell's career hits us right between the lobes in "The Man with the Screaming Brain".

So what we have here is the story of William Cole, an unscrupulous American industrialist who makes Ken Lay look like Mr. Rogers. William's off in, of all places, Bulgaria, and he's setting up one doozy of a tax scam that stands to net him a truckload of unearned cash.

Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated matter, a genuine real-deal mad scientist is off making a chemical that will allow two people to connect their brains together for little or no apparent reason. I guess in Bulgaria they can afford to throw R&D money at pointless projects with absolutely no marketable value. I mean, okay, if he'd gone after antirejection drugs in general it'd be a pure-t godsend. But this whole "brain linking" thing...just a plot device. And a fairly shoddy one at that.

Even better, Cole's going to spend the night knocking boots with a hot hotel maid, and it won't end well for him. Cole's a-gonna die, you see, and what's going to pull his ass out of the fire of the eternally burning variety he so richly deserves? Oh yeah, Doctor Looneyboy's brain juice! And now, with a new body, Cole can now hunt up his murderer, said hot hotel maid.

First off, the plot, as is mentioned before, is flimsy. Flimsy as a sheet of iron latticed with rust. Somehow there's a chemical that will basically save this guy's ass developed almost within days of the exact point in time he needs it? Bruce, buddy...assuming that at some point you took a screenwriting course, didn't a topic called "deus ex machina" ever come up? Did you not read "Misery?" Did you possibly miss the section on how setups so conveniently established piss off the portion of the audience that's actually thinking?

That having been said, "The Man With the Screaming Brain" is not so big a waste as you might think, given the particularly vicious nature of my last paragraph. Because there is, as always, another side to the story. Though the plot is shoddy at best, it is still spectacularly executed. Bruce's dual-pronged gifts for comedy and action show through very nicely by the execution of the positively lousy script. Check out the positively ludicrous falling down the stairs scene around thirty six minutes in. Even better, there are scores upon scores of little jokes and strange occurances popping up that are either ludicrous or just plain old funny. Bruce has always been at his best when he can be a total prick who manages to save the day almost in spite of himself, and "The Man With the Screaming Brain" gives him a character that is nothing short of perfection. The scene of him wrestling himself at the forty four minute forty second mark is straight out of Evil Dead II, and just as well executed now as it was then.

Watching Bruce argue with himself is true slapstick genius, and Ted Raimi is a pure genius as Pavel, the mad scientist's assistant. The only real problem to "The Man With the Screaming Brain" is its horrific basic premise. I truly, truly do not know for the life of me what the hell Bruce was thinking on this run.

The ending is actually quite a thrill, the irony engines come full-circle, and even a twist ending, before we get the guise of Ted Raimi doing a just-discovered-rap song over the credits.

The special features include a making of featurette, director commentary, behind the scenes footage, storyboard gallery, comic book art gallery, a biography of Bruce Campbell, and trailers for "Evil Dead", "Dead and Breakfast", "Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except", "The Man With the Screaming Brain", "Evil Dead 2", and "Lightning Bug".

And there's going to be a strange little featurette where Bruce Campbell is going to, apparently, "punk" David Goodman.

All in all, "The Man With A Screaming Brain" manages to overcome a truly lousy plot to put forth a fairly entertaining movie. You might well find it worth your time to rent a copy.

Dead Men Walking

Directed by Peter Mervis R
85 mins

Time for some fresh zombie movie fare from the good folks at The Asylum!

So what we have here is the story of a plague that's found its way into a prison. And we're not talking bubonic--this one's not only killing people, it's also bringing them back to life. The only non-infected folks left, a group of elite guards and a handful of inmates, have to overcome their natural differences and get out alive.

Just when you thought there was no way you were going to get anything but comical zombies out of The Asylum (thanks again to Chance Shirley for making up the positively kickass "Hide and Creep"), we get some genuine zombie survival horror, the greatest of the genre.

This is, actually, one of two movies that were film in the exact same prison. The second, a trailer for which is found on the DVD, is the upcoming "Shapeshifter".

Now, I have to admit, this is a really, REALLY unique idea. It basically takes the concept of "Night of the Living Dead," and takes a slightly different look. We've been to a farmhouse, the mall, underground, and a city with it--so let's take it to prison. Guy gets bit by a zombie before anyone really knows what the zombies are, and he gets carted off to jail after blasting a handful of them attacking them in his house. Naturally, the cops don't think self defense, and a court at this early stage of the game is NOT going to think "Hey, let's let the guy off--after all, his alternative was be eaten alive." And by the time we get to a point where a court WILL take that as an acceptible reason to firebomb the neighborhood, there isn't going to be a whole lot left in the way of law enforcement.

I'm frankly amazed that George Romero didn't think of this first.

It would've been perfect to slip in between Dawn and Day, but this works, as a homage to George. I'd guess Watt and Mervis were Romero fans.

I do have some minor gripes with "Dead Man Walking". First off, they're using the "fast zombie" model that the "Return of the Living Dead" series began and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake popularized. Longtime readers will know that I'm a bit of a zombie purist. I believe in slow and sludgy...and stupid. I don't much care for zombies who plan, or zombies who run like track stars, or zombies who leap long distances in a single bound. But this is a minor gripe--nothing I'll hold against the movie in general.

Second, I've got a problem with the run time on this little beauty. It's too good to only be eighty five minutes! I like this, really I do. And I'd love to see more of it.

In perfect honesty, "Dead Men Walking" is high-quality zombie survival horror. There's just not near as much of it here as I'd like. What's there is just excellent. We get the rapid descent into horror and chaos that shows a system about to collapse, and it's portrayed in a very convincing fashion. Ultimately stirring and chilling at the same time, it is actually very plausible, and this plausibility ramps up the tension factor.

Interestingly, dig that shot of the map at the thirty eight minute ten second mark. They've put a web address at the top of the map--"". It took me a little while reading upside down to puzzle that one out, but there it is.

The ending is an impressive mostly no-win scenario--the planning was all off and they all pretty much paid for it. It's a good lesson on the value of planning ahead. Plus, a "Night of the Living Dead" homage will also make an appearance in the final seven minutes.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, director's commentary, audio options, and trailers for "Shape Shifter", "The Beast of Bray Road", "Frankenstein Reborn", "The Girl in the Basement", and "Dead Men Walking".

All in all, "Dead Men Walking" is a beautifully chilling example of modern survival horror. It's fantastic stuff--despite a few minor flaws, it will still be well worth your rental.