In Carl Rainer’s 1983 comedy Man with Two Brains there is a line that says little about brain research, but probably a lot about the people who make science fiction movies about the brain: I don’t know if I was as interested in science as I was in slime. Snakes and frogs. When I saw how slimy the human brain is, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
The goose is a large part of the horror genre. Blood, intestines and intestines are abundant, both in the best and the worst way. What I like most about The Man with Two Brains is his unmistakable passion for films that are not very respected. Science fiction films with shaken morals and even more shaken facts, such as Donovan’s Brain and the Brain That Doesn’t Die, are absurd science fiction stories in which doctors are driven to unspeakable and unhappy acts because they want to cross the boundaries of human knowledge and, especially in the Brain That Doesn’t Die, the boundaries of their raw libido.
Although rarely aired today, Donovan’s Brain and the Brain That Doesn’t Die were frequent television clips years before the release of The Man with Two Brains and were probably familiar to fans of the genre in the early 1980s, at least for a short time. The first film is about a scientist whose wife was beheaded in a car accident and left alive in a laboratory. So he goes to miserable bars and tries to find a sexy body to stick on his wife’s head, which loudly and often pretends to be better to just die.
Karl Rainer’s film, The Man with Two Brains, combines elements from this and other films in a crazy farce that did the same fantastic and horrible thing in the 1950s as dead people who didn’t wear a black window. The director doesn’t recreate the visual aesthetics of the time – which could be interpreted as a criticism of the B-movies of the time, i.e. it might not have been worth it – but he tries to understand how they deconstructed the male psyche, how ridiculous their stories were and how exciting it would be to push them a little further and see a mad scientist kissing the human brain (it doesn’t matter, he wears wax lips).
Steve Martin plays Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (sounds like a spell), a brilliant brain surgeon who, when interviewed about his own amazing greatness, faces a beautiful woman named Dolores Benedict with his car. He is played by Kathleen Turner, whose hot twist in her first film Body Heat was so iconic that it already saturated him in the second film The Man with Two Brains. Dolores was literally killing her rich ex-husband when Dr. Hfuhruhurr arrived, and now that she needs brain surgery, our protagonist is the only person who can save her.
With his new method of operating skull screws, Dr. Hfuhruhurr saves Dolores, who quickly seduces him into marrying her. The only problem, apart from the fact that Dolores is caricaturally cruel and absurdly bad, is that they have been married for six weeks and haven’t had sex yet. Dr. Hfuhruhurr literally walks disappointed to the walls, so they go to Austria to escape all this and have a romantic honeymoon.
Of course, the two-haired man needs time to get to the second part of the brain. To be precise, it takes more than 40 minutes, almost half the time of the film. But Rainer, with his co-authors Steve Martin and George Jeep, isn’t turning the wheels. The jokes in The Man With Two Brains are almost as fast as those in Naked Gun, without the audience having to worry about whether they can follow it all. Looking at home today is probably the best option because you can pause the scene and reconsider all the spiritual dialogues you missed because you laughed so much.
In Austria, Dr. Hfuhruhurr meets Dr. Nassiter, a scientist who improves the method of preserving the human brain in banks. His laboratory is filled with elevator killers who strike in local hotels and whose crimes are suppressed with the emphasis on their black hands. Rainer doesn’t seem very interested in the giallo genre, but he seems to have seen a few, and the permission to use a serial killer – who would be criminal if he revealed himself to the uninitiated – as a subplot is one of the film’s many strengths.
Dr. Hfuhruhurr was surprised when he discovered that he had a psychic connection to one of Dr. Nassiter’s brains, a woman named Anna Uumellmachaie (that sounds like the spelling), who was pronounced by an unrecognized Sissi Spask, and he quickly walked away with his gaze and into the village. Although her marriage to Dolores has been broken off – Hfuhruhurr has already tried to get a civil divorce – she clings to it because, unknown to Hfuhruhurr, he just inherited $15 million.
Dolores may have her body, but only Anna Uumelmahaye has a heart. Soon Dolores gets jealous of her husband’s attention for the brain cramp, so she tries to bake Anna in the oven. And when that fails, she decides to smooth out the murder of Dr. Hfuhruhurr, while Dr. Hfuhruhurr – in an attempt to save Anna’s life because it turns out she is dying (again) – decides to kill another woman to give her true love to her body.
The last act of Man with Two Brains Steve Martin turned into a madman who was a demanding sex worker from Austria looking for the perfect used car. The irony is that for the first time he falls in love with someone just because of his mind, but looking for the sexiest body he can find, he doesn’t get lost in Rainer, whose film ends with a subversive twist, which is frankly a cheap joke that falls on his face.
A Man with Two Brains is such a playful and stupid film that it is very unpleasant to see a handful of twisted and really unpleasant jokes all over the script. Jeffrey Combs, a few years before he too went crazy in CPR classics, plays the small role of a surgeon who hurts Dolores while she’s unconscious, which of course should be funny, and it’s not. There is also a scene in which Dolores finally reveals how angry she is with Dr. Hfuhruhurr, releasing a stream of seemingly random racist nicknames. They were supposed to look bad, and they do, but it’s very bad taste, not to mention the incredible clicking sound. And the end contains as many benign comments on bodily matters as Shallow Hal, which doesn’t even seem so far away.
But most of Rainer’s films are a comic delight, seemingly boundless by common sense or conventional formula. The genre of horror-rock science thrillers and serial killer riffs is presented, and The Man with Two Brains is able to remain astonishing and stupid even in the strangest situations. There’s even a pattern of supernatural doubling. When Dr. Hfuhruhurr asks his late wife if he shouldn’t marry Dolores, his portrait quickly turns around, the walls behind him open and his mind screams: NO! NO! (Unfortunately this was too subtle an allusion).
That’s why we chose to make one for films like Man with Two Brains, a very funny and well-informed kind of satire that is almost completely out of fashion. As a child I saw Rainer’s film with very little knowledge of the horror genres, it was Lapun, and I only appreciated it as a fantasy and stupid nonsense. It is much easier to appreciate the classics of Rainer’s comedy with a practical knowledge of their origins, a genre based on the sad realization that humanity’s scientific progress is limited to the ego, the impulses and the weaknesses of mankind.
They’re playing God! says a detective, Dr. Hfuhruhurr, when he tries to put Anne Umellmachie’s mind into another woman’s body, and a good doctor comes straight to the point with his knee-bending reaction.
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