I don’t really know when I first noticed Bruce Campbell. If my memory serves me correctly, it was likely during radio ads for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., a program that was broadcast on the FOX network for a single season. I didn’t watch the show during the original airing, but did eventually get around to seeing a few episodes. The first time I sat and watched Bruce Campbell though, that I remember.
It was the fall of 1997. I had moved from my childhood bedroom to the basement of my parent’s house about a year and a half prior, sleeping on the couch in the family room until eventually migrating into a large unfinished section of the house. I was channel surfing and for some reason or another settled on the Sci Fi Channel, something I didn’t (and don’t) regularly watch. It was a film where a shotgun-wielding man with a chainsaw attached to his right arm battled against shrieking witches in the middle ages, eventually replacing his chainsaw with a hand-crafted prosthetic steel hand and taking on waves of stop-motion skeletons and demons of all sorts. I told a friend about it, and to my surprise she was familiar with the film. It’s title is Army of Darkness, or in some circles “Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness.” Within a week I had purchased the then four year old film on VHS, along with its two prequels, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.
The Evil Dead trilogy is what made Bruce Campbell a household name to horror fans, though not at first. The first film was released two weeks before I was born, and the sequel wasn’t released until five and a half years later. Perhaps that long delay between films was appropriate, since Evil Dead II is essentially a remake of The Evil Dead, with Army of Darkness being the true sequel. Over the course of the film the genre seems to shift from pure horror to more or less a black comedy, with Campbell’s signature over-the-top performance playing the part of “Ash” Williams like no one else could. Writer/director Sam Raimi created the series, and frequently worked with Campbell before and after it as well. His high school friend and frequent director even placed him in a minor role in Spiderman when he hit it big.
Campbell often portrays a pseudo-macho, ego-driven character, delivering witty back to back one-liners. He’s like an exaggerated low budget Han Solo. He can be the star and the comic-relief at the same time. Campbell acknowledges and embraces his B/cult-movie actor status, but remains approachable at appearances, much to the delight of his dedicated fans. When he doesn’t receive top-billing, I know I’m always excited to see him in one of his almost-signature bit parts in major films, making a little game out of spotting his cameos.
Campbell’s work extends to the small screen as well. Along with guest spots on successful Raimi franchises such as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, he’s also had spots on more serious and big title programs such as Homicide: Life on the Street and X-Files. His last starring role on television lasted for a season and a half at the turn of the century, Jack of all Trades, in which Campbell played a Jefferson-era secret agent tasked with defending the young United States. The show was ran weekly before a low grade sci-fi program called Cleopatra 2525, both of which my roommate and I stayed up late in the dorms to watch every Sunday night. If you missed his earlier TV work, Campbell now co-stars as an aging Miami spy on USA Network’s Burn Notice, which as of this writing appears for free on Hulu for those who don’t have cable. Although he has gained some weight and some gray hairs, his Burn Notice character “Sam Axe” is classic lovable Bruce Campbell, and his fans are likely responsible for the series’ ratings success, which is now on its third season.
That and all the explosions. Gotta have explosions.
Hail to the king, baby.
Required Bruce Campbell Viewing:
- The Evil Dead
- Evil Dead II
- Army of Darkness
- Bubba Ho-tep
- My Name Is Bruce
Other Notable Appearances:
- The Hudsucker Proxy
- Escape From L.A.
- McHale’s Navy
- Spiderman (all three so far, actually)
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
In: Movies, People, Television · Tagged with: Army of Darkness, b-movie, Bruce Campbell, Burn Notice, cult, Evil Dead, horror, Witty