This man needs no introduction: Bruce Campbell. The Chin, as his adoring fans have come to know him, has been blessing us with his manly chin and straight / humorous line delivery since 1981’s THE EVIL DEAD and he hasn’t stopped since. Though, as shameful as it is, he never truly reached that level of star power that you’d expect a square-jawed talent like Campbell to have, even at the height of his career when the EVIL DEAD sequel ARMY OF DARKNESS arrived in theaters across the country and gave the unknowing average movie audience a new hero to root for: Ash. Never-the-less, he’s a true hero to genre fans everywhere and it’s about time we give the man some damn respect.
A talent like Bruce Campbell is bound to make a handful of solid good movies over their career, but hot-hell does Campbell have quite the respectable filmography. Filling the Best Work was a piece of cake… filling the Worst Work not so much (we’ll get to that later). Campbell will forever and always be known as Ash from THE EVIL DEAD series and that’s for good reason: not only are all the movies pieces of quality filmmaking and all-around entertaining pieces of horror (and comedy!), but Campbell was practically made for the roll, returning to the character in THE EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS (not to mention lending his voice and likeness to the numerous video game spin-offs, including EVIL DEAD: HAIL TO THE KING and EVIL DEAD: REGENERATION). Some could say it was a blessing that he kick-started his career as Ash, while others may call it a curse… because he’ll never be able to live that character down, and maybe that’s why he never reached A-list status. But for me, the world would be a worst place without Ash, and honestly… most actors dream of the type of fanbase and recognition Campbell receives for that one roll. All the power to him!
Outside of Ash and the EVIL DEAD series, Campbell also made a splash in the MANIAC COP franchise, breathed new life into Elvis Presley (and his career) with BUBBA HO-TEP, and even made a movie based on his real life, MY NAME IS BRUCE. That last one is more tongue-in-cheek than a legit movie, but if you’re a fan of Campbell, it’s hard not to like it for what it is. The man has also rocked the small screen with cameos in THE X-FILES, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, and HERCULES, and has had a few hit shows on his hands, including the currently airing BURN NOTICE on the USA Network. All this and I didn’t even have time to mention his epic cameos in the later Sam Raimi movies, including DARKMAN, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, the SPIDER-MAN trilogy, and even OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. The man’s that good!
As I mentioned earlier, Campbell has done a ton of awesome things over the years, and he brings a surprising level of quality and professionalism to every project he’s in…. whether it’s a turkey or not. And I will give him this: most of this bad movies are ones where he is making (more or less) a cameo appearance and not the star. I’m talking about CONGO, ESCAPE FROM LA, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: BLOOD MONEY, and WAXWORTH II: LOST IN TIME. All these… not so good… and definitely not as good as his best work. That being said, I can forgive him for all of that because he’s not the star of any of those movies .
He is, however, the star of both THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN (and the director!) and ALIEN APOCALYPSE, and both of these movies are pretty difficult to sit though. Maybe it’s because they’re both made-for-TV SyFy Original Movies and are inherently bad (and they don’t feature a mega shark), but I just can’t get into these two movies… never could and maybe never will (though I may end up growing to appreciate them more in the future). Too cheesy, too slap-sticky, too goofy, and too all-out silly—and while they may not have come out as horrendous if they starred anyone else (like the infamous Paul Logan) the fact that it’s Campbell (and that I know he’s better than these two movies) makes them all the more unforgiveable.
They don’t call Campbell The Chin for nothing—the man has one of the strongest, manliest, square-jawed chins in the business, thus making him the ultimate movie hero. He also has the tough guy attitude to go along with that impressive chin of his, as well as the manliness of manly physique. So wait, why isn’t Campbell the ultimate Hollywood action hero? Because of his second most stand-out trademark… his impeccable comedic delivery. The guy knows comedy more than just about real “serious” movie star out there, the problem is, the goofy way he delivers lines and the mockingly macho cadence and tone of his speech makes it tough to actually take the guy seriously. Which works wonders for THE EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS, as those are both horror comedies, but anything straight-up serious doesn’t work with Campbell—whether that’s a plus or a minus is up to the viewer (I think he’s great… but hell, even I couldn’t take him seriously in a seriously tough guy role).
The Chin has a few real hidden gems out there—the first being an extremely short film by Sam Raimi, the others being a couple of truly underrated TV shows. First up, STRYKER’S WAR, where Campbell stars as a War veteran coming back to his hometown after being on the front lines only to confront some savageness going on in his hometown… where he eventually has to take out the trash. Solid little short and the basis for the full-length movie THOU SHALT NOT KILL… EXCEPT!. As far as I know, you can only find STRYKER’S WAR as an extra on the Blu-ray of THOU SHALT NOT KILL, but since both films are worthy, I’d say it’s more than worth the price of picking up.
Which leads me to his work on TV that never seemed to gain him much respect: THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTRY JR. was a damn fine show, set in the Wild West with Sci-Fi and Action shenanigans each and every week. Campbell is the perfect cowboy action star for Prime Time TV, and yet… the show only lasted a grand total of 27 episodes before it was canned completely. Damn you, Fox! It’s as if they didn’t know the level of awesome show they had on their hands… the execs probably didn’t ‘get’ it and tossed it aside, but it was a damn fine show that’s only available on DVD (Netflix streaming, get on that shit, yo!). His other show, JACK OF ALL TRADES, was also pretty damn entertaining, but only lasted one season as well. The Chin just can’t catch a break!
So what’s next on Campbell’s plate? If you watch carefully, you’ll see him reprising his classic cameo role in yet another Raimi movie in theaters right now in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, and he’s found a TV series that has lasted more than one season with BURN NOTICE, a USA Network show that just wrapped its 5th season and is aiming for a 6th in the fall. He’s more of the “older guy / sidekick” character, but hell, it works for the show and it works for him just fine. But the big daddy of all of his upcoming work is as his role of Producer on the upcoming EVIL DEAD remake, which slaughters itself into theaters April 5th, 2013. From everything he says about it, the film is gonna be awesome, and from all the trailers, I’d say he’s gonna be right. We all cursed the project from its inception, but goddamn if Campbell and company did their best to prove us wrong and make something on par with the original. Well played Campbell, well played.
Bruce Campbell is and will always be Ash from THE EVIL DEAD series, and that’s not a bad thing to never be able to live down. But over the years, he’s proved himself to be more than an axe-wielding defender of evil… but also an aging Elvis impersonator who defends evil, an innocent cop defending himself from persecution and other maniacs on the force, a man of the Wild West defending against odd-glowing orbs, and… as himself, defending against real life monsters. He’s also a talented comedic writer, he’s starred in a few epic Old Spice commercials, has small (yet significant) roles in web-slinging blockbusters. And sure, he has a few bad seeds out there, but let’s be honest: The Chin is always awesome, no matter what he’s in, and even his “bad” ones aren’t all that bad. Hail to the king, baby!