In the immortal words of Freddie from Return of the Living Dead, we’ve found the one thing that will finally relieve all this horrible suffering - "Live… BRAAAAAIIINS!” Yep, after many, many nights of themed movies, we’ve finally plumbed for a brain-themed Zombie Club.
Tonight’s Screaming Damaged Brains Night came about thanks to Anchor Bay and their recent Box Of The Banned, a seven-disc box set featuring six classic Nasties titles, including Nightmares in a Damages Brain. Made in 1981, Nightmares… was originally marketed alongside a ‘Guess the Weight of the Brain’ gimmick at trade fairs before becoming one of the first successfully prosecuted titles of the Video Nasty era.
Following the theme, in name only, was Bruce Campbell’s directorial debut, The Man With the Screaming Brain. Shown on US TV earlier this year, Campbell’s film features such classic delights as ex-KGB taxi drivers, Hungarian brain transplants, robots in yellow tracksuits, Stacey Keach and a gurning Ted Raimi. Oh yes - bring on the brains…
Brought to you in association with Rawshark and men with B.A.L.L.S. (Brains At La-La Setting).
The Man With The Screaming Brain (2005)
Plot Following an attempted murder, Bruce Campbell is brought back to the land of the living by Stacey Keach and his assistant Ted Raimi.
Rawshark Finally made after years of effort, The Man With The Screaming Brain was eventually funded by the Sci-Fi Channel who threw Bruce a bone and allowed him to film his first feature in Bulgaria. Enlisting the help of old buddy Ted Raimi, Bruce ultimately delivers a reasonably enjoyable comedy ‘b’ movie that is guaranteed to please most fans of the big chin.
Campbell plays William Cole, a CEO of a drug company who visits Hungary with his wife Jackie. There they meet Yegor, a tracksuit-clad ex-KGB taxi driver, and Tatoya, Yegor’s ex-girlfriend who is so much of a bunny-boiler, you get the impression she would quite happily take on the whole cast from Watership Down. In a fit of jealousy, Tatoya kills Bruce and Yegor before murdering Jackie too in a hilarious sequence where she is pushed down a staircase (”That’s the best falling-down-stairs I’ve ever seen!” - Jim) in a worthy triple-rewind moment.
Luckily, all three dead or dying bodies fall into the hands of local scientist Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Keach) and his goofy assistant Pavel (Ted Raimi). Ivan saves Bruce’s life by adding in parts of Yegor’s brain, and places Jackie’s bonce on a hip-hop dancing mobile robot. Bruce (now with Yegor talking to him inside his head) and ”Robo-Jackie” both promptly escape in a bid to track down their killer.
With a fairly dull opening half hour, TMWTSB takes it’s time to get going, but as soon as Bruce undergoes surgery, the film lightens up immensely. With a comic scar across his forehead and wild parted hair, Bruce almost looks the spit of Basil Fawlty and clearly relishes the All of Me-style theatrics as both he and Yegor fight for control of Bruce’s body. As Zomblee commented, ”This is Bruce’s bread’n’butter”, and it’s pretty impossible not to smile as Bruce gleefully plays up to his Three Stooges line of physical comedy.
Okay, so overall Stacey Keach is underused, Raimi is overused and the plotting in general is just ever so slightly confused, but if you can forgive it’s thin storyline, TMWTSB is essentially good drunken fun and let’s face it, you just can’t knock the image of a bald, brain-scarred Bruce Campbell riding along on a pink Vespa.
“Get off my Vespa you ugly man!”
Jim And I think that’s the whole point of The Man with the Screaming Brain Rawshark, it’s just good clean ridiculous fun. And it’s a good job too because, I don’t know about you, but I kind of have an expectation of guys like Bruce Campbell to deliver the goods every time, if you know what I mean. Let’s be thankful then that, like the best in the business, Bruce knows his target audience, what he has to do, and what he can get away with as well.
The film’s opening in Stacy Keach’s lab, with Ted Raimi’s yellow suited hip-hop dancing robot (“I reckon that’s just a guy in make-up.” – Rawshark), sets the scene quite nicely. Then onto grumpy American Bruce’s trip to Bulgaria on business with his porcelain ‘Jackie O’ style wife (who’s a poor man’s Heather Locklear), and the love triangle between them, cab driver Yegor, and Yegor’s estranged ex-wife Tatoya.(“Don’t go near her, she’s gonna stab you!” - Rawshark). One lead pipe to the back of head and a stabbing later, Bruce with Yegor in his head is stumbling around Bulgaria wearing ridiculous clothes and sporting the most ridiculous lobotomy scare across his forehead that you’ve ever seen. And this is where the fun begins.
With Yegor controlling one side and Bruce controlling the other, the scene is set for loads of comic tomfoolery, and it’s the kind of thing that starts you chuckling well in advance because the gags are often telegraphed to you. But in a good way; Bruce trying to drink whiskey with one hand faster than Yegor can knock back vodka with the other, Bruce trying to navigate a salad bar (my favourite), Bruce on a pink Vespa, Bruce trying to cool his head down in a dirty toilet pan (“I’d have used the sink!” - Rawshark), and so on. It’s all crackerjack fun, Bruce is one of the best pratfall guys in the business, and he certainly pulls out all the stops here.
It does have a slow opening half hour, Rawshark’s right, but the rest of it is vintage Bruce doing what he does best. Oh and by the way, did I mention Stacy Keach is in it too? You should have heard Zomblee gasp the first time the guy walked on to the screen.
“That’s good. I’m spending millions on research and I’m supposed to drop everything to visit some quack doctor from bullshit Bulgaria?”
Zomblee Yes, I have a lot of time for Stacey Keach, particularly when he surprises us by playing a Bulgarian mad scientist with a name like Dr Ivan Ivanovic Ivanoff and a great value accent. You really can’t argue with that can you...
Of course, a lot of the credit here goes to the man behind AND in front of the camera, the Chin himself. Bruce Campbell has made a movie at last, and by God he’s been trying for a while. The bonus material on this disc boasts a featurette hosted by Campbell and producer David Goodman where, with the help of a blackboard as a visual aid, they talk us through the jinxed financing of The Man with the Screaming Brain. For my money, this is even funnier than the movie itself. The seemingly improvised rant from the Screaming Brain Brothers details every fundraising knockback they suffered since initially trying to get the project off the ground since - get this - 1986. Like a comedy double act in the best possible tradition they lead us through the almost unbelievable sequence of disasters that led to the final product we saw tonight, with characteristic silliness throughout. This is what bonus material is all about.
Ironically, this featurette made me laugh more consistently than the film itself, but don’t get me wrong - Campbell’s directing debut is a beast his fans will love. It’s cheap, cheerful fun which goes to town on the slapstick element he developed with the possessed hand scene in Evil Dead 2, but this time he can’t simply chainsaw his hand off – he’s stuck with it – half William Cole, half Yegor the taxi man. It’s as much fun as you’d expect, though the gags don’t always work as well as you’d hope. But (as the guys have already mentioned) when you’re treated to the sight of what looks like a freshly lobotomised Campbell in his pyjamas, going full speed on a small pink Vespa, who gives a shit? Priceless.
Comparisons with his long-time associate and friend are inevitable (“It’s a TV movie - Sam Raimi style!” – Rawshark) – he’s learned a lot from Raimi and it shows here, but above all else, this is Campbell’s show and even though it has its flaws Jim was on hand to point out the “great editing”. About three times.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr Ivan Ivanovic Ivanoff.”
Director Bruce Campbell
Cast Bruce Campbell
Runtime 90 mins
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Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981)
Plot A released mental patient has nightmares. And a damaged brain. And big pants.
Zomblee At the beginning of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, the main character dreams of seeing a severed head, then wakes up, screaming like the nutcase he is. “Look at his pants!” was all Jim could say at this point, logically followed by “Nightmares in Damaged Pants!” which, I have to say, really is as good as it gets here at Zombie Club. Welcome to tonight's second film, where it usually gets more interesting...
George Tatum is mentally unwell and according to the dime-store doctors in this film, has a multitude of psychiatric diagnoses, which have all but vanished thanks to a new experimental wonder drug. He’s been “rebuilt”, they say, but we know he still has nightmares in his damaged brain. And probably in those damaged pants. When he’s not screaming his head off, Tatum likes to spend time in the seedy world of peepshows, before unwinding with a frothy-mouth fit. Then he screams again. Perhaps realising the banality of this routine, he embarks on a pilgrimage to the house where he grew up and, more importantly, the house where he axed his dad in the face after catching him doing dirty things with a dirty lady. The young family who currently live there have no idea what is about to happen to them, and things are further complicated by young resident CJ’s fondness for cruel practical jokes.
“It certainly has some palpable dread” enthused Rawshark after being subjected to scene after scene featuring a really rather convincing psycho killer getting back to his roots in this strangely intriguing piece. The performances, uneven as they are, can really convince despite the cheap aesthetic – an aspect not helped by the shoddy full-frame transfer, but at least with audiovisual quality of this ilk it really feels like you’re watching a genuine video nasty. This is a cut version of the film, but still contains enough nastiness to shock, while the image of young Tatum covered in claret borders on the iconic. The sub-Myers house rampage at the end (there’s even a Dr Loomis character!) isn’t well paced but that mask he’s wearing freaks me out every time. It didn’t freak Rawshark out as much though, “He’s wearing a Sid Haig mask!” and you know what? He’s spot-on.
“You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug program and all you can say is 'I’m sorry'?!”
Jim Now this is more like it, this really feels like a proper video nasty. It's old, grainy, gritty, sleazy, dirty and bloody; just how we like it at Zombie Club. Especially Zomblee.
In the first few minutes we're introduced to Tatum, our schizo psycho, who often dreams of severed heads and big Y-fronts. Then he wakes up screaming, American Werewolf in London style. Then he wakes up again, screams even louder and this time I scream too. Man, I thought that was great, although Zomblee had a better explanation for this double jump. "I think he's trying to explain the bad editing." He's right of course, it's not a patch on the first movie, which I remember pointing out had "great editing". About three times.
Anyway, we're then introduced to C.J. ("He's a little shit..." - Zomblee), C.J.'s mum and her boyfriend who, despite looking initially like a hairy asshole, actually turns out to be a really nice chap. "Like the Erin Brockovich guy?" Yes, thanks Rawshark. We also get to meet the sexy young babysitter who likes to take impromptu showers ("Did you ever have a shower when you babysat?" - Rawshark) and walk up and down stairs wearing nothing but a skimpy see-through nightie. "Don't tell her we'll backlight it!" - Zomblee.
And, with the characters in place, it's time to sit back and watch the nastiness ensue. Tatum starts his sleazy adventures at a down-town peep show booth thing, where he's not too keen on getting his money's worth. "It's like not applauding if you don't go down with the screen!" - Rawshark. But that doesn't last long and, before you know it, Tatum's up to his old tricks again as random potential victims float in and out of the plot. Alcohol inspired confusion sets in. "She's just random getting killed chick, isn't she?" Yeah, I think so Rawshark.
Despite the big haze of vino (I got a bit excited with the first movie, see) I remember the gritty 70s nasty feel and the blood bath finale reminding me of both Taxi Driver and the original Toolbox Murders (although mainly the latter as there are no Oscar worthy performances here), but that's about all really. I noted down but don't remember the "Star Wars towel wrap" character, neither do I recall the "really funny putting pants on" scene - thanks to Zomblee for both of those. Oh well, I guess you can't really label a night a success without a blackout or two.
"Psycho killer, Q'est-ce que c'est? F-f-f-far-far-f-f-f-far-far..."
Rawshark With Nightmares being one of the few video nasties I hadn’t got around to seeing, I was hugely looking forward to this one, even more so when the film opened with a genuinely startling dream sequence featuring a decapitated head in a blood-red bed. Damaged brain, damaged pants, dreams of murder - we just know that this guy’s not going to be the next Apprentice for Mr Trump.
It turns out that the doctors (who are seen using computers with five monitors, prompting Jim to comment on the technical age ”before Windows”) recently released George Tatum after passing him fit for society. A spot of sleazy XXX peeping later, and George is soon back to his old ways, repeatedly plunging knives into the backs of young girls and stalking out his old house. Is he really cured? Evidently not.
Ok, so far, so very slasher you say, but surprisingly Nightmares turns out to be one of the better nasties (and yes, it is pretty nasty), opting for an air of unease rather than crowd-pleasing gory set pieces. Despite Zomblee calling the young boy CJ ”a little shit”, it’s the scenes that feature the gung-ho action kid that really stick in the mind, whether it be CJ faking his own stabbing (a great ‘is he pretending?’ moment), or when he’s ruthlessly intimidated and questioned by the local ambulance man following the discovery of a dead body - ”Answer me, CJ!”.
With an almost authentic feel to the film that makes it seem ever so slightly real and horrific, Nightmares is a disturbing thrill that lasts all the way to it’s FINAL DAY title card. Determined to go out in a bath of gory glory, Tatum descends on his old house to dispatch as many shagging babysitters and wrong-doers as he can find, only to be blasted by CJ with a shotgun. Still, at least that leads George to finally remembering the full flashback of the events of that night when a little boy chopped up his father and girlfriend in a blood-soaked axe-swinging frenzy. Turns out, it was George as a boy all along. Nasty, nightmarish stuff indeed.
“Are you looking at the child, or are you the child?”
Director Romano Scavolini
Cast Baird Stafford
Runtime 94 mins
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Ok, so it was hardly an ideal thematic match, but I ask you, where else are you going to see a double-bill of comedy sci-fi directed by Bruce Campbell alongside a viciously nasty and previous banned slasher movie other than at eatmybrains’ Screaming Damaged Brains Zombie Club? Nowhere, that’s where…
The Man With The Screaming Brain could hardly fail tonight, seeing as it starred (and was directed by) the legendary Bruce Campbell, Stacey Keach and Ted Raimi, all favourites of ours here. Forgive its slow-paced opening and sit back and enjoy Bruce ‘possessed’ by the brain of Hungarian taxi-driver Yegor whilst fighting his way alongside his robotic wife to avenge his own ‘death’. Includes ”One of the best ‘falling-down-stairs’” scenes Jim’s ever seen. Oh, and did we mention it has a great moment with Bruce riding on a pink Vespa too?
It had been a while since we had seen a full-blooded nasty brought to the Zombie Club table, but Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (despite still being slightly trimmed – this is the BBFC-approved but cut theatrical release) proved it’s bloody worth by being a genuinely unsettling look into the damaged brain of a psycho killer. Nasty, nightmarish stuff indeed, with a cool kid and a plausible killer, it prompted Jim to shout out ”Ban it, I say!” You know, he may have a point.