The King & I, and my niece Sophia, at the book signing for If Chins Could Kill, August 10th, 2001

Every now and again, I receive a beautiful card from my kindly Aunt Evelyn. The message always includes a warm endorsement of The Cobra's Nose, but always with the caveat, "of course, I don't always know what those articles are all about." Well, Aunt--this is going to be one of those articles.

You won't be alone though in wondering who this Bruce Campbell guy is, as I learned to my chagrin when I tried to drum up envy among my friends and family because I was going to meet him and you weren't, hahahaha.

"Who?" they said. Almost everybody said that. My siblings knew, and Capt. Wiffle, and my niece Sophia, and Cobra Reader X was eventually persuaded he did, too; but that's about it.

The revelation of your ignorance made me fretful. After all, was not Bruce Campbell the star and co-producer of the legendary Evil Dead Trilogy? Was he not the title character in two TV series, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Jack of All Trades? Did he not have a recurring role on BOTH Hercules: The Legendary Journeys AND Xena: Warrior Princess? Not to mention tiny parts in films such as Darkman, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Congo? And did he not guest star on The X-Files and Ellen about a year after most people stopped watching them? Okay, I get it now. But it's not too late to cultivate an appreciation of Campbell, and-yes, I know I say this a lot, but I really, really mean it-you'll thank me for it later.

Campbell in Jack of All Trades

Bruce Campbell's winning autobiography is called, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, so let's start with his chin. It juts out from a lean jaw, and ends with the suggestion of a cleft. The last really notable chin in moviedom belonged to Kirk Douglas, and some have suggested that it was inherited by his jowly son Michael-but they are wrong. Campbell is the true heir of the heroic chin.

So there's the heroic chin, complimented by high cheekbones, flashing brown eyes, arched eyebrows, with dark, thick, wavy hair at the top of a slender, graceful frame. And if this description makes him sound like a character from a comic book, romance novel, or pulp fiction-real pulp fiction, not the movie of that name-well, that's just what he looks like. And if it's a combination that's hard to take seriously in the flesh, well, he seems to know that, too. He wears his good looks lightly, like a costume, one informed by an innate clown spirit and spending his formative years dorking around with his brothers and neighbor kids.

As you may remember from the "Xenavision" article from Volume 26 (you do remember the "Xenavision" article from Volume 26, don't you?), one of those neighbor kids was budding director Sam Raimi, who found eager collaborators in Campbell and other high school friends. Later on, Raimi teamed up with his college roommate Rob Tapert and made a

short feature called "The Happy Valley Kid," a hit on the MSU campus. Emboldened by their success, they with Campbell made a cross-genre comedy called "It's Murder!" "It's Murder!" was not a hit. In fact, Campbell called it "the Heaven's Gate of Super-8." But the filmmaking bug had bitten hard, and they began raising money for their first commercial feature, eventually known as Evil Dead: The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror. You can hear their voices joke and bray through the commentary track of the DVD.

Campbell in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

And that's the next aspect of Campbell's appeal, his voice. For while he may look the classical hero, Bruce Campbell's voice is genuine, 100%, all-American, Midwestern smartass. The voice was perhaps most famously deployed in the Evil Dead Trilogy--especially the second and third episodes. How famously? The denizens of Cosmodemonic's Tech Fortress regularly used sound clips of him saying, "groovy" and "if it isn't Mr. Fancy Pants" without realizing the source. Actually, I don't know if that counts as "famous," but the words have found their way into the larger culture.

In the Evil Dead movies, Campbell plays Ash, an idiot with a single redeeming talent: his ability to effectively combat monsters. Sure, Ash would be better off if he had half a brain (when Campbell learns Ash has a namesake, and there were at least two at the book signing where I saw him, he apologizes for their parents' silliness), but as his prowess increases, so does his arrogance. In the first movie he faces the Deadites with wordless terror, and in the third, Army of Darkness, with impudence ("Yo, she-bitch--let's go"). Through it all, Campbell's voice always registers the perfect blend of delirium, mockery, and fear.

Fighting demon possessed zombies requires considerable fortitude-the willingness to cut off one's own evil-infected hand, for instance-and lots of derring doe. Which brings us to a third reason Campbell is worth seeking out: his sheer physical bravado. Again, this is perhaps best showcased in the Evil Dead movies, in which Sam Raimi visits fairly brutal tortures upon him. In one scene from Evil Dead II, Raimi lashed him to an X shaped brace attached to a truck which moved thirty miles an hour, which he (Raimi) could rotate at will, while other crew members beat him (Campbell) with pine branches. Campbell does more than endure physical humiliations, however. He generates them in awe inspiring bouts of comic masochism, as when Ash's evil hand beats the tar out of him. I don't have any documentation, but Campbell's work must have been the inspiration for Jim Carrey's spectacular split-personality showdown in Me, Myself & Irene. Carrey's character even gifts himself a Campbell-esque chin at the end of the movie.
If zombie battles do not sound like your cup of tea, and I do have trouble imagining my Aunt Evelyn watching one, there are certainly milder displays of Campbell's agility. For instance, as Autolycus, the suave King of Thieves, in the Hercules and Xena shows, he recalls Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but with a crafty smirk. But even when he does nothing more than walk to the lectern at Changing Hands Bookstore, he does it with such good natured confidence that he's well worth watching.

Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & Irene,
Bruce Campbell in Darkman

Are his movies also worth watching? Unhappily, for the most part, no. At the book signing, Campbell turned his back and invited the attendees to shout out the names of all the movies he was in that they felt wasted their money and time. Many, many titles were shouted out. Campbell noted that the danger of this experiment was that if he turned his back long enough he was likely to hear his entire resume. But do I recommend his work anyway? You bet I do. For the reason why, let's take a look at the second part of his autobiography's title: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. The B in front of movie can denote a disreputable genre, like horror, or a film of modest ambition, or a movie that just turned out to be substandard. It would be unfair to deny that some of them have crackerjack aspects, though, and that Bruce Campbell is a B movie star of the first magnitude.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

So, keep your eyes open and you might see Campbell in a supporting role in the upcoming Jim Carrey vehicle The Majestic or Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, or what the hell, maybe even the lead in Phantasm's End or Bubba Ho-tep. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is in reruns on TNT, and Xena (which you should be watching anyway) plays on a number of stations. He's not hard to find if you put your mind to it, and easy to admire once you do.

Left: Campbell as Autolycus in the Hercules & Xena Shows
Below: "Name's Ash--Housewares" Campbell in Army of Darkness

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