Since his debut as a chainsaw-wielding demon slayer in 1981’s “Evil Dead,” Bruce Campbell has enjoyed a career longevity that most B-movie icons would envy.
He worked with his high school friend Sam Raimi on two satirical “Evil Dead” sequels, and the Raimi-produced “Hercules” and “Xena” TV series (and made cameos in each of Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies). In the 1990s he starred in the short-lived comedy/adventure TV series “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” and “Jack of All Trades.” He received serious critical praise for his portrayal of an old, ailing Elvis Presley in “Bubba Ho-Tep,” and currently co-stars on the top-rated USA Network spy series “Burn Notice.”
But mostly Campbell makes cheesy straight-to-video genre movies. His resume includes “Maniac Cop,” “Alien Apocalypse,” “From Dusk Till Dawn 2” and “Mindwarp,” as well as such major studio stinkers as “Congo” and “McHale’s Navy.” A fan favorite for his unique style of jut-jawed, sarcastic machismo, he is a popular fixture on the horror film convention circuit. He has capitalized on his fame with the autobiographies “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor” and “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.”
Now he’s appearing as an egocentric caricature of himself in the horror spoof “My Name Is Bruce.” Campbell directed, produced and co-wrote the feature, in which he is mistaken for his character Ash from the “Evil Dead” trilogy and forced to fight a real monster - a 9-foot-tall sword-wielding Chinese god of war - in a small town in Oregon.
In an interview he discussed ardent fans, the wild dog problem in Bulgaria and Will Ferrell’s body odor.
What are the pros and cons of being a cult film icon?
It’s great to have a fan base. The disadvantage is that I’m more stereotyped outside the industry than I am within. If all you watch is horror films, that’s all you’re going to know me for. There’s other stuff out there, too, but rabid fans tend to home in and only watch very specific genres. There are verbatim lines of dialogue in the new film from my encounters with fans - anywhere from “Did working with Ellen turn you gay?” to “Why did you make ‘Serving Sara’?” I had a conversation with a wheelchair fan who was the rudest person on the planet. And what are you going to do? You have to be nice to this person because they’re in a wheelchair, but you want to kick them in front of a bus. In the movie, I get to do that.
Fanboys and fangirls have asked you to autograph their bodies, then had your signature tattooed in place permanently. Does that strike you as a little weird?
It’s great. I just did eight of them in one night. They come up and say, ‘Here you go, I shaved a spot for you.’ It’s a wonderful form of expression. There’s a guy who’s got the entire ‘Army of Darkness’ poster on his back. His whole back is the poster.
In “My Name Is Bruce” you’re kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car by a fan and you say, “It’s finally happened.” Do you ever worry about eventualities like that? Like somebody would want a permanent souvenir of Bruce Campbell, and put your head in a Tupperware jar?
No, I’ve managed to defuse it over the years by doing so many appearances. People only want you if they can’t have you. So if they see you at a signing in Cherry Hill, N.J., they say, “Oh, hi, Bruce. See you next month at the HorrorFest in Dallas.” It breaks the mystique down. They say, “Oh, you wore the same shirt as at the other event.” They see you as horrifyingly human. And that’s ultimately what my devious goal is.
A lot of your fans are college students who weren’t even born when you made “Evil Dead.” What’s the secret of your youth appeal?
College students like irreverent stuff. When you’re college age you’re questioning everything and you’re challenging everything and you think you know it all. They like blowhard characters because they’re blowhards. Most college kids are blowhards. They think they can do anything, and God love them for it. I love to see a blowhard take a fall, whoever he is; that really gets me, I want them to be punished. This movie’s a metaphor for: Watch out if you’re a blowhard.
You’ve been very candid in criticizing your co-workers when you think they deserve it. Most people with long careers in Hollywood are more circumspect.
I’m not going to lie on somebody else’s behalf. Matthew Perry loused up the shooting schedule on “Serving Sara” because he was irresponsible and got thrown back into rehab. Everyone says, “Poor Matthew Perry.” I thought, “You SOB.” Matthew Perry will have trouble getting insured because he stopped an actual production. Robert Downey Jr. tends to take his pants off over his head when he’s not working.
You spent more than 20 years working on your pet project “The Man With the Screaming Brain,” where you played a guy with a schizophrenic brain transplant, and also directed. But after it was done, you said you wished you hadn’t made it. Was it a disappointment?
“The Man With the Screaming Brain” began in 1983. It was finished in 2005. It took 18 different twists and turns, depending on who was going to finance it. Finally the Sci-Fi Channel agreed to make it, and they shoot their movies in Bulgaria. Make a movie in a country where they still have packs of wild dogs, it puts everything into perspective. I carried a bag of dog food everywhere I went on that show. You feed them and they’re not thinking about eating your leg at that point. I make no excuses about any bad movie I’ve made, I’ll take my share of the blame, but they can make movies in better places than that.
Do you believe there’s such a thing as a movie so bad it’s good?
“Plan 9 From Outer Space” is entertaining on a whole new level. It’s not really a movie, it’s a new form of entertainment. But it’s pretty rare that a movie is bad and entertaining. Most bad movies are just bad movies. I’ve read very funny reviews of this film, where they assume I was trying to make a bad movie. That I was obviously doing things poorly. What they don’t realize is the one thing different between me and Troma (the schlock studio best known for “The Toxic Avenger”) is I never go in intending to make a bad movie. It’s easy to make a bad movie, but I never try to make a bad movie. Sometimes it just happens naturally.
You branched out into TV commercials as a spokesman for Old Spice deodorant, playing a suave version of yourself. How did you feel about Will Ferrell succeeding you?
Will is smellier than I am. He needs it bad. Bad.
You’re now on a hit TV series. How will co-starring in “Burn Notice” affect your other work?
For the last decade I’ve tried to do more of my own stuff, writing books, making movies, touring like a maniac. Then this TV show came up out of the blue and it seemed like a fun opportunity. And now it’s the No. 1 show on cable. Go figure. I’ve been in TV shows before. The ones I star in last for one year. The ones I don’t last for six years. So I plan on being on “Burn Notice” for six more years.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article