Bruce Campbell, The Chin, a man that needs no introduction; but allow me to give you one anyway…
Best bud of accomplished director Sam Raimi through school, the two of them gathered funds from local investors and in 1981 made “the ultimate Video Nasty,” The Evil Dead, following it up with Crimewave (1985), Evil Dead II (1987), Darkman (1990 – take notice of the final shot) and Army of Darkness (1992). Aside from these collaborations, the two went on to forge their own careers; Raimi hitting the big time with the Spider-Man trilogy (each film featuring a Campbell cameo), A Simple Plan (1998) and Drag Me to Hell (2009), and The Chin forging a legacy as one of the most beloved cult actors of all time.
Throwing himself into every role with the desire to entertain, Campbell has endeared himself to a dedicated fan-base the world over, and these are, in my opinion, the 10 moments in which his genius shines the brightest:
Disclaimer: you won’t find Burn Notice on this list, but you will find 2 other TV series in its place.
10. Introducing Spider-Man
Spider-Man (2002). Directed by Sam Raimi
Perhaps the most important character in the whole film, given that he bestows Spidey with his superhero name (or perhaps not… its open for debate), Bruce plays the wresting announcer with his trademark sleaze and charisma, leading onto further cameos as a cinema ticket clerk in Spider-Man 2, and uppity waiter in the oft derided third instalment. Its always a joy seeing him ham it up in blockbusters when given the chance (see Congo also), and here does it with aplomb.
9. Surgeon General of Beverly Hills
Escape from L.A. (1996). Directed by John Carpenter
Is that? no it could’t be… hang on, it is! Bruce makes a relatively short appearance in John Carpenter’s bonkers follow up to Escape from New York as a deranged plastic surgeon with a questionable procedure to perform on our heroes. Seriously, if his voice wasn’t so instantly recognisable there’s no way you could tell it was him… see also Oz the Great and Powerful.
8. Everything said and done as Renaldo the Heel
Crimewave (1985). Directed by Sam Raimi
If there’s one thing Bruce eschewed in his early days it was a charming sleaziness, and that defining quality was perfectly captured in Raimi’s early collaboration with the Coen brothers, Crimewave, in which he plays a Heel by the name of Renaldo:
Girl in bar: You’re cute.
Renaldo the Heel: Keep talkin’, baby. Maybe you’ll tell me something I don’t already know.
Crimewave, for all its glorious oddness and creativity, may have its critics; but no-one can doubt the now irrepressible feeling of nostalgia that surfaces watching Bruce ham it up in his hay-day.
7. The opening credits
Jack of all Trades (2000). Created by Eric Morris
The theme song, the period setting, costumes and cheesy action all on display in just the opening credits of Eric Morris’ exceptionally fun short-lived series Jack of all Trades are enough to make any Campbell fan grin with delight, especially with the promise that the show will retain every ounce of said cheese and feature The Chin as not just a hero, but a hero in a cape and mask reminiscent of a slightly overweight Zoro. If you’re in the mood for a light-hearted, genuinely funny series to watch in between the latest HBO drama, give this a go.
6. The Orb Scholar
The Adventures of Brisco Country Jnr (1993). Created by Carlton Cuse and Jeffrey Boam
Simply stated, The Adventures of Brisco County Jnr is possibly one of the best TV series you’ve never seen. partnering up with The X Files for its short existence, Brisco was obviously a victim of its own originality, being at once a western and a sci-fi, a comedy and an action/adventure, and in my opinion its genius reached its apex with the surprisingly dramatic second episode, The Orb Scholar. Featuring wonderful performance all round (no more so than Campbell, of course), plot-twists and proper tension, The Orb Scholar showcased just how promising this cult series was, and the places it was set to go, and is a piece of television history I revisit every year.
5. Angel and Demon
My Name is Bruce (2007). Directed by Bruce Campbell
So its not critically acclaimed, so what, it’s exactly what his fans were after and My Name is Bruce has enough in jokes, cameos (Ted Raimi, Dan Hicks and Ellen Sandweiss the highlights) and shoddy production design to keep me coming back for more on a regular basis. I could’ve easily gone with moments such as the climactic tofu tossing showdown with Guan-Di, seeing the great man don the chainsaw only to admit “it’s too damn heavy” or that bizarre moment where in the middle of giving an inspirational speech in the centre of the small town he’s been conned into visiting he singles out an extra and states “nice jacket by the way,” but seeing 3 Bruce Campbells share the screen at once, one dressed as an angel, is just too brilliant to ignore.
4. Elvis and JFK VS Egyptian soul sucking Mummy
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). Directed by Don Coscarelli
With Don Coscarelli behind the wheel and Bruce Campbell in the lead as an elderly Elvis, you could be forgiven for assuming Bubba Ho-Tep to be high in oddness and possibly gore, but low in sentimentality and heart; although of course you would be terribly wrong. When Elvis and a black JFK (Ossie Davis) get suited up and face off against the evil entity preying on the hapless souls of a Texan nursing home, you’re rooting for them not because you want to see a Mummy get annihilated by two (possibly) delusional old codgers, but because you really care about these heroes… fantastic film, perfect ending. All is well.
3. The Last Stand
The Evil Dead (1981). Directed by Sam Raimi
The Evil Dead is the one that started it all; the definitive Video Nasty, the feature film debut of Raimi and Campbell and still the greatest “cabin in the woods” horror film of all time. Ultimately, despite its story about the Necronomicon and deadites being unleashed, swallowing the souls of the living, it’s really just a story about a reluctant, almost cowardly everyday guy having a really, really bad day… a day that ends with him not only coming to terms with the gruesome deaths of all his friends and his love, but having to kill them again, culminating in an ingenious climax involving claymation, a wonderfully energetic performance and even more energetic camera work.
Evil Dead II (1987). Directed by Sam Raimi
Do I really need to give an explanation here? Everyone’s favorite chump Ash lops off his possessed hand with a chainsaw, and proceeds to attach said chainsaw to his bloody stump, before uttering that immortal word that fan-boys decades later would still be quoting with excitement. In case you’re wondering, I’m certainly one of those fan-boys…
1. “This is my Boomstick!”
Army of Darkness (1992). Directed by Sam Raimi
Many would argue that Evil Dead II is in fact Campbell’s most recognized moment, but I beg to differ. When Ash surfaces from the hellish pit he’d been thrown into to die, chainsaw attached to his stump and shotgun in hand, before dispatching a rampaging deadite and announcing to his medieval audience his unbridled awesomeness its crystal clear: this is what entertainment and escapism are all about. Bruce owns this role, and Army of Darkness remains his quintessential movie, blending all the horror, fantasy, action and comedic elements his name has become synonymous with while not forgetting to tell a fun linear story in the process.
Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. Be smart, and if you’ve never taken interest in the career of this great man, rectify that immediately.