“Cult hero” is an overused phrase in pop culture commentary, but no two words better describe Bruce Campbell. He’s a genre icon, the man with the most famous chin in Hollywood and the star of some of horror cinema’s most revered cult classics. From The Evil Dead and Maniac Cop to Bubba Ho Tep and My Name Is Bruce , Campbell has starred in some of the best, and worst, films our genre has to offer, but each one will be remembered because of his participation.
When SFX speaks to Campbell, he’s in the final weeks of shooting for the latest season of his wildly successful TV series Burn Notice , in which he plays a washed up, heavy-drinking former super-spy. Campbell cites its portrayal of the “human side of spying” as what appealed to him – exactly what you would expect from a man who managed to make a goofball fight with his own severed hand believably human.
During our all-too-brief chat Campbell cites heroes and inspirations ranging from the great and the good of silent cinema to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre , from his first experiences in front of the big screen to what it means to be a hero today. Bruce Campbell may be one of a kind, but his influences are myriad. As a wise man once said, “Groovy.”
“I’m a big fan of Clark Gable, John Wayne, just the big, hokey old-time movie stars because those were the early impressions I got from motion pictures. I also like guys who did comedy, like Bob Hope. They were just popular performers in the ’40s and ’50s, and they were guys who I thought excelled at what they did. Humphrey Bogart, another one of my favourite actors, guys who took control, who ran the show. They were very pronounced individuals and I thought that was very cool. They made themselves known just by doing what they did so well.”
“Physical comedy is something I’ve always been very impressed by. Buster Keaton does some physical stuff in his movies. And Harold Lloyd. It’s amazing what they were able to pull off without the digital stuff. Evil Dead II we called ‘splatstick’. If anything I guess we were trying to emulate that kind of physical bravado, where you do stuff and devil may care. In some of our early Super 8 movies we were like the movie Jackass . We would do ridiculous things, only not as nasty as Jackass . We were like Jackass with a plot. But we would do crazy things that I would never ever think of doing today because I guess when you’re young and bold you do things like that.”
“I like guys who can sing. I like Dean Martin. Frank Sinatra’s an obvious choice, but I also like Elvis because guys like Elvis had great voices. Frank Sinatra at one point had an amazing voice. Singers can only last so long, but I remember the guys who, at their peak, really had the stuff. Any of these major performers who stuck around a long time. I also appreciate longevity. People who don’t burn out in five
or 10 years. They’re around for 30, 40, 50 years some of these performers.”
“It’s one of my favourite movies. Because it has a score, not a soundtrack. It has a theme, it has a very strong plot, it has my favourite actor, who I feel is just a very manly presence, William Holden. It’s great filmmaking. And when they blew up a bridge they really blew it up. Blew up a bridge with a train on it. They didn’t dick around.”
Sam Raimi’s mother dropped me and Sam off at a theatre to watch
A Clockwork Orange
, in, I guess, it was probably high school. Completely inappropriate, and a very disturbing movie. It’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. As was
, which I saw in college. People always say, ‘What’s a good horror movie?’ A good horror movie is one that makes you think you’re going insane. When I was a kid, don’t forget, I went to movie theatres with big screens. I saw
The Sound Of Music
with a full theatre of 1,100 people, and that became one of my favourite movies also because it probably has the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a movie and it would also have worked extremely well without music. It
was well plotted.”
“I’m a fan of guys like Steve Carrell; he’s a naturally goofy, funny guy. Will Ferrell, I like him because he’s fearless. He does fearless comedy. He doesn’t care if it fails or succeeds. He did a whole movie where he spoke only Spanish. Again, it’s bold. People who are bold, people who are fearless: I’m impressed by that because we have a very fearful world that we live in and it’s nice to see people who conduct themselves in a fearless way. I think fear is a killer.”
“Sam is a great inspiration because he was completely insane. He was doing very, very difficult shots even on the first movie. On Evil Dead we took an entire day to get one shot. On a movie set now he would be fired if he ever did that. So he was always outrageous, always thinking bigger than we could afford. The fact that he’s doing Oz, The Great And Powerful , this $250 million movie is because he’s the guy to do it. He loves it. The bigger the better – bring it. So he’s been very inspiring in that he’s always thinking bigger, bigger than what you see in front of your eyes.”
“They are an inspiration, because you don’t want to let them down. Because nowadays with Twitter you’re going to hear from them! When it turns nasty it turns really nasty, because they couldn’t get to you before, they couldn’t contact you. I do conventions to take the pulse. I go to see who wants my stuff signed and what they are bringing to get signed, what movie, what item, what do they care about, what’s memorable to them. And it lets you know what they’re interested in, because if they like something you’re good to go, but if they don’t like it you’re screwed.”
“You get more leeway in B-movies. You can do what you want. The Man With The Screaming Brain is the story of a rich industrialist you could say. It’s an allegory you could say. It’s communism, capitalism… disguised in a swapped brain movie. To me I just love the idea that movie got financed, because it cracks me up. We shot in Bulgaria, and everything about it was ridiculous: how it got made, how it got financed.
“With B-movies you can have weird endings, weird stories, twist endings. You can have more outrageous characters who can do more outrageous things. You don’t have to follow the A-movie paradigm of the hero doing X, Y or Z. You have much more leeway in B-movies, so I’m much more interested in general because A-movies nowadays are B-movies. If you get bitten by a radioactive spider, that’s not only a B-movie, that’s a 1950s B-movie. If you dress up like a bat and fly around a city, that’s one hell of a B-movie. So I hope they’re getting more respect now.”
“I have a writer that I like, a guy named Dayton Duncan. He writes a lot of history. Another guy, Bill Bryson, is a humorist. It’s guys who can make me laugh just by reading the book. Anyone who can make me laugh out loud, I’ll read their stuff, just because they’re good storytellers, and they’re interested in the same stuff I am. Dayton Duncan did a book called Miles From Nowhere and it’s about all the parts in America that are two people per square miles or less. He went out to all the desolate parts of America to see what would still be qualified as the frontier as far as two people per mile, who lived out there and what did they do. Most people don’t think about that, so I found that fascinating.”
“Early horror movies really made an impression on me. We knew when we were going to make our first movie it would be a horror movie, so we went to see them all. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will always stick with me as being one of the most effective, really intense low-budget horror movies. But I actually prefer Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein . That was just more entertaining. The original Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, they’re all cool, just a little slow. They were B-movies I guess, but for their day they were pretty hot stuff. Now I guess they’re just a little dated. The comedy ones are better paced.”
“One last thing about heroes. We have more and more superhero movies out there. I think it’s because the world needs heroes. We need people to look up to, because I think what happens in the media so often, because of the scrutiny now, everyone’s going to take a fall at some point. From Tiger Woods to the biggest, most famous politician. Everyone’s in the public eye. Athletes left and right, they’re going to fall off that pedestal. Olympic athletes who have been caught doping, you know. So I think we’re looking for heroes in movies because we can’t find them in real life. I’m not sure what that says about our society. We’re a little weird how we treat our heroes too. I think we treat our heroes poorly.”
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