All the major news media completely missed the fact that 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the first time Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead trilogy and other favored works, directed a feature film. I was reminded this evening as I was digging through a stack of old 35mm photos in a beat-up shoebox labeled “2005” and ran across evidence of the time Campbell hosted a special screening here in Indianapolis. And I was there!
Unfortunately that film was Man with the Screaming Brain, an inexpensive B-movie clearly shot in eastern Europe and tailor-made for a Syfy Original Movie airing.
The screening took place at Key Cinemas, which at the time was Indy’s only art-house theater. It was a relic in a time of multiplexes — curtains in front of the screen, hardback chairs that offered no comfort adjustments, painted floor chipping in spots, ceiling tile damage too difficult to fix, lobby walls covered in indie and foreign-film posters, permanent popcorn-butter stench permeating the air and all solid objects, and a skeleton crew (including the owner) who took pride in bringing unusual works to town that all the other theaters deemed too insignificant.
The south side’s Key Cinemas is not to be confused with the north side’s Keystone Art Cinema. Each was located near the north/south poles of Keystone Avenue. Both showed the same sort of rare, unusual, challenging fare. Key Cinemas was around decades before Keystone Art Cinema opened in 2005, the same year as the Screaming Brain event. They coexisted for a short time, but Keystone Art Cinema is located closer to Indy’s upscale intelligentsia and has a full-service bar. The perpetually underfunded Key Cinemas didn’t stand a chance and closed in 2008. Up until then, I’d accumulated fond memories of seeing a couple years’ worth of Oscar-nominated shorts there, a documentary about the Jonestown massacre, a foreign film or two, and so on.
Key Cinemas was, in all reality, the only place appropriate for a Man with the Screaming Brain screening.
Campbell was in high spirits that night. He spoke briefly to the crowd and signed autographs for the largest crowd I ever saw in that place. For signing I brought along a copy of his recently released novel, a wacky roman à clef called Make Love! the Bruce Campbell Way. I got my several seconds with him, same as everyone else. I probably said something stupid. I vaguely recall him saying something about the weather or maybe another small-talk subject. An aide cheerfully took two photos with my camera so I could have souvenirs to treasure and reflect upon in my old age.
Some souvenirs age more gracefully and scan more clearly than others, especially when they don’t involve old technology and a darkened theater. But these could’ve been worse. At that point I’d been dieting since July 2004 and had lost dozens of pounds. Campbell notwithstanding, that’s my favorite aspect of these grainy old pics above all else.
After the autograph line and some more applause, at long last came our feature presentation — directed and co-written by Campbell, and starring Campbell, Ted Raimi, Stacy Keach, and an actress named Tamara Gorski, whose other resumé highlight in my eyes would be a so-so season-1 episode of Angel.
My reaction to the film can be summed up in one word: “Yeesh.”
It may or may not have been telling that, when the credits finished and the house lights came up, Campbell was long gone. One fact remains important above all matters of quality control: for one unique night I had the privilege of meeting Bruce Campbell and supporting independent cinema.