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October 18, 2011

The Mike's True Heroes of Horror (6/10) - Bruce Campbell

Gotta admit it...there were a few times when I almost convinced myself to vote this guy off the list.  That's less a statement against him and more of a statement about how many people there are who could be listed as true heroes of horror.  But, when push came to shove, I realized that every list needs a King. Who am I to deny y'all that?
Bruce Campbell
Who is Bruce Campbell?
Born and raised in the land of Michigan, Bruce Campbell started making Super 8 movies with friends as a teenager and never looked back.  His first feature - made alongside old friends Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert - would slowly but surely make its mark in the horror viewer's mind.  A couple of sequels and a few other horror roles - but mostly those sequels, would skyrocket Campbell to the top of the nerd love food chain in the early '90s.

Campbell has spent much of the last twenty-five years at work thanks to this horror trilogy. His travels have included frequent collaboration with Raimi and the Coen brothers, a couple of cult favorite television shows (I still think The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is one of the greatest things ever on TV, but that's a different story), and recent mainstream success in the USA series Burn Notice.  Campbell has also written a couple of books, done some voice acting, and even starred in Old Spice commercials.  Oh, and he's made a few more horror movies too.
Bruce is most known for....
Being groovy. Even though his character in the first Evil Dead film was far from it, Ashly J. Williams - or, just Ash - has a place at the top of most horror fans' lists of cool dudes.  Campbell played the character across all three Evil Dead films - The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness, if you're counting along at home - and his progression from ambitious young actor to posterized cult God can be graphed in a linear fashion through the films.  By the end of Army - and I'm talking about the superior "Eff Yeah, Ash Rules" ending that the studio tacked on, not the drab and dopey ending Raimi wanted - Campbell's appeal to the horror fan had become everlasting.  And, based on those three movies alone, that appeal was completely earned.
Other horror hits....
After the Evil Dead flicks, finding Bruce Campbell movies became a favorite pastime of many horror lovers.  Though his career has taken many paths into many genres, he's always had a place in the horror genre, for better or worse.  Early in his career he popped into films like Maniac Cop - which I loved last night - and Intruder, but with time he started making fun cameos in things like Waxwork II (a personal favorite).  Campbell has strayed from the horror genre at times, but has made many returns in the last decade, even directing himself in a couple of campy films, The Man With The Screaming Brain and My Name is Bruce.

To be honest, my favorite performance from Campbell doesn't come from any of these movies or any of the Evil Dead flicks.  It comes from Don Coscarelli's brilliant Bubba Ho-Tep, in which Campbell rocked the screen as a retirement home Elvis who battles a soul sucking mummy.  I kid you not when I say that this ridiculous sounding movie pretty much rocked my socks off dramatically; Campbell's ability to bring the King to the screen in such a sad state is insanely moving.  It's one of my favorite movies of the new millennium, easily.
(Oh, I also have to mention Terminal Invasion here.  Sure, it's a bad movie that premiered on what is now SyFy, but it borrows from one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes and Campbell rocks and I just love it. So yeah, Terminal Invasion. And I'm saying that now, even though I just watched an interview where Bruce made fun of people who like Terminal Invasion.)

So, why's Bruce Campbell here?
Part of me thinks that question is too easy to answer, part of me thinks that question deserves more thought.  I mean, he IS Bruce Campbell, after all.  That fact alone makes him one of the most important, raddest, and best people to ever step foot in horror.  At least that's what a lot of horror fans think, and Campbell knows it.  The deification of the Evil Dead star has often left Campbell reacting to fans in a darkly humorous manner that doesn't seem too far off from the spoof version of himself that appeared in My Name is Bruce.

In recent years, I've really come to respect that side of Campbell.  No human who's worth a hoot wants to spend all day having people blow sunshine up their rear and treat them only with reverence.  If you've ever checked out footage of Bruce interacting with fans at screenings or conventions, you'll generally find an air of disregard for the drooling and screaming that goes on around him.  The guy knows he's just a guy who's been in movies - some good, some bad - and he doesn't buy in to that diva mindset that many other celebrities are cursed by.
Some have read Campbell's attitude as a dislike for these fanatical fans, but I've always found the guy to be a fresh kind of humble.  Since joining Twitter a few months back, Campbell has used the microblogging tool to interact with plenty of fans who have plenty of questions for him, and provided a good insight into just who Bruce Campbell is by sharing his thoughts and humor with most of us.  I got my own little interaction with Campbell back when I questioned him about the new Evil Dead project - and inadvertently started an internet feeding frenzy - which I must admit is one of the highlights of my year.  But it's not a highlight because I'm in awe of Campbell, it's a highlight because I really respect what Campbell has done in horror.

And truthfully, what became of Ash in the Evil Dead films was worth the accolades.  Campbell's willingness to throw himself - and his body, which must have been battered thoroughly throughout the three films - into the splattery situations of these films is nothing but wonderful, and his snarky charisma really carried the latter films at times.  The resulting iconic quotes and hilarious sight gags of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness were just what horror fans needed at the time, breathing life into the slasher filled wasteland that was the '80s and early '90s.
When we think of Campbell as Ash, it's easy to want to throw ourselves at his feet and scream "We're not worthy!"  Heck, I stumbled into calling him a King in the opening of this post.  But Bruce Campbell should be recognized as a hero of horror for more than just his character in an iconic trilogy.  The fact that Bruce Campbell continues to throw himself into the horror scene and interact with his fans, even when some of them lack sanity, is what's cemented his status as a true hero of horror to me.  He's having fun with us, just as we're having fun with him.  I dig that.


Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

That's exactly why I love Bruce, too. He essentially calls himself a third rate actor who has been in some crappy movies, but his personality and gift at physical acting is what people love about him and he recognizes that. He still shows up at conventions and such to meet and greet his fans and that's a guy I can get behind!

Bubba Ho-tep is super duper fantastical.

R.D. Penning said...

Bruce is my hero! Everything he touches is amazing!

Chuck said...

Some excellent point, Mike. You've inspired me to break out Bubba Ho-Tep tonight as I haven't seen it in too long.

And you're right about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. It was the "coming thing" before steampunk was really a genre to follow.