Hail to the King: A Fan’s Ode to Bruce Campbell
I am to Bruce Campbell as Annie Wilkes was to Paul Sheldon in Misery…minus the sadistic rage and predisposition to kidnap their favorite entertainer.
I was about 14 when I had my first real dose of “The Chin,” as many fans affectionately refer to Campbell. Sure, I saw him in Darkman four years earlier, but his role was so minor that I forgot he was in it until I researched his filmography for this article. Pushing Darkman aside, my first real Bruce Campbell movie was Evil Dead 2. I remember that first time vividly. It was the summer after Army of Darkness was in the theatres, I was living in Whitmore Lake, and I would walk up to the local video store on a daily basis to chat with the clerks there – all Eastern Michigan University students working at an independent video rental store called Sigma Video to make ends meet. In retrospect, I’m sure they were all sick of having to talk to some punk kid, but their passion for cinema has stuck with me to this day. I owe a lot of my film education to those guys.
When Evil Dead 2 was recommended to me, I was looking for something different in the horror genre. After watching it, I was hooked. Bruce Campbell’s arrogance and on-screen charisma as Ash was infective. The movie itself is an absolute riot – the perfect blend of horror, comedy, and gore. Without Bruce Campbell in the lead role however, I don’t think Evil Dead would be the cult phenomenon it is today.
After Evil Dead 2, it was all downhill from there for me. I went back to watch Evil Dead, which is essentially the smaller budget precursor to Evil Dead 2, followed by Army of Darkness. I then began to devour everything I could: episodes of Hercules and Xena, his attempts at being a TV lead with Briscoe County Jr. and Jack of all Trades, My Name is Bruce, Man with the Screaming Brain…well, I think you get the point. Even his cameo roles for friend and co-conspirator Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy were memorable, and in the case of Spider-Man 3, one of the only bright spots in an otherwise horrible movie.
If it ended there, I could simply say that I really enjoy his body of work. Unfortunately, there’s more. I’ve met Bruce on four occasions, where he’s ridiculed my fandom (Once, I even spent $50 to get an autographed copy of his first book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, off eBay). I’ve seen movies in the theatre where he was in attendance: the 20th anniversary of Evil Dead and the premiere of Man with the Screaming Brain. I used to e-mail him when he had an AOL e-mail address. No matter what though, through it all, Bruce Campbell seemed genuinely grateful for all of his fanatics…even when I had him autograph a train of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness merchandise.
While I may have multiple versions of each film in the Evil Dead Trilogy (thanks for re-releasing them so many times Anchor Bay), my obsession is waning as I move into my later years. I still appreciate Bruce as an actor and as a character. His Ash, and Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton, will always be my favorite examples of 1980s machismo. But, as someone in his mid-thirties, it’s time to transfer that obsession over to something a little more mature…like Batman. I’ve finally gotten rid of my 3-foot tall talking Ash Army of Darkness action figure, but I’ll never stop being a Bruce Campbell fan. If Bruce is involved, I’m all in…even if it’s a remake of the trilogy that started it all for me.
The new Evil Dead opens in theaters nationwide on April 5th!