“As an actor, they think you’re just a buffoon. And with a book they kinda go, ‘Oh, oh, you might be a buffoon with a brain’,” says cult movie icon Bruce Campbell, who’s been the most badass buffoon in the business for nearly 40 years, ever since he and childhood pal Sam Raimi were making Super 8 movies in Michigan.
Since then, Campbell has lent his action-wiseguy persona to recurring roles in TV shows such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Burn Notice, cameos in big-budget flicks including The Hudsucker Proxy and all three of Raimi’s Spiderman films and star turns in B-movies like Bubba Ho-Tep. But he’s best known as Ash, the hero of the slapstick-horror Evil Dead franchise, which began in the micro-budget 1981 indie Evil Dead and has been reborn on the current Starz series, Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Campbell has recounted his adventures in two laugh-out-loud memoirs, 2001’s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor and the recent Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. In the latter book, he recounts running around Romania in astronaut drag shooting a lo-fi sci-fi pic, tearing fight-scene hamstrings and hitting dive bars in Miami, wrecking tanks while visiting the troops in Iraq and other weird adventures. On-screen, he can make a zombie attack hilarious and on the page, he shows a similar devil-may-care wit. Campbell recently spoke to Vegas Seven about TV, movies and bringing his game show(!) to the home of Wink Martindale.
You’re coming to Las Vegas to promote Hail to the Chin, but you’re doing it with a game show. What’s that about?
We’re trying to offer something a little different. This game show we came up with called Last Fan Standing, it’s not your broader game show. It’s Thor’s hammer, stuff like that. It’s all geek, it’s all sci-fi/horror/fantasy. And it’s a little different than a standard meet-and-greet where we read the book [and] we sign their stuff. We’re trying to get them a little more involved and give them great fun for their money.
Who is your hosting inspiration? Are you a Richard Dawson, a Pat Sajak…?
Richard Dawson was too slimy: He kept kissing women on the lips. I’m like a Gene Rayburn kind of guy, Wink Martindale. More or less Price is Right, Bob Barker.
Do people freak out when you call them up on the stage during the show?
Fans are weird, you know. In many cases, they’re very socially… what’s the word… awkward. So a lot of times they will have a hard time reacting. The audience will react for them. I think inside they’re dying.
Did you ever think that you’d be doing a TV show when you started with this character so long ago, scraping pennies and making movies in the woods?
No … The first movie, we had no idea we would even finish the thing. It was a four-year slog just to get it done. And an even longer slog to return the money to the investors. Nobody broke even for about 10 years on that project—none of it was a slam dunk. People forget … Army of Darkness went well over budget; it bombed, and so they killed the franchise. It was really only [in] the mid ’90s, the DVDs with the making-of, the extended version, the missing scenes, the commentary—it kind of renewed interest in these movies.
So we thought, “Let’s try a remake.” And that did well, but people … they wanted the real deal. They wanted Sam Raimi back, they wanted the character of Ash. So miraculously, we were able to convince Starz to do it. We knew that they were a good partner and content-wise, we needed to have no restrictions. Why would you make a PG version of Evil Dead? We’ve done 15 hours of new Evil Dead in the last three years. And if you did a movie, you’d get one R-rated movie for an hour and a half. So good dollar value for the fans.
Talking about the difficulty of the first Evil Dead movie, how much easier do you think it would be with current technology where you could’ve shot it on a smartphone and edited it on a laptop?
It’s easier for filmmakers, technically speaking, but it’s still about the drive to actually come up with an idea, to write it down, to refine it, to create a financial structure to raise money, to actually raise money—that doesn’t get easier with technology. What’s easier now is cutting a little demo that you can show your investors in beautiful stereo, broadcast-quality video. Showing [your movie] in the theaters is easy: You take your thumb drive to your local theater; you don’t have to do a 35-millimeter film like the old days. But still, you have to not be a slacker and actually do it. You have to actually finish the movie.
In the days of analog filmmaking, the only people who wanted to make movies were people who were willing to rent an actual machine, buy actual film stock, go to an actual laboratory, get actual insurance, you know, put deposits down on these things because you never owned them. An Aeroflex camera was 20,000 bucks—you weren’t gonna buy it.
Your first book is largely about making that film—you did everything from hit up dentists for production money to building camera rigs out of two-by-fours and Vaseline. Do you think being involved in every aspect helped prepare you for your career?
We cut our own coming attraction. I learned how to do a v-lock. I learned what screen lines work. I learned how to lay out an ad the size and density that Variety needed. We created hats, matchbooks, T-shirts. So we got to really make and sell a movie right from the ground up. So I’ll always have that, and it’s great information for the future. Do I need to do all the handmade stuff again? I don’t know.
In all of your years of dealing with blood and effects, dangerous fight scenes and uncomfortable locations, has there ever been a point where a director or producer said, “Do this,” and you’ve gone, “Hell no!”
I’ve only recently encountered that. And the answer is, yes, I have. I have said that to a director in particular. And if you’re a producer on the project, there’s not much they can do. I’ve realized a good point: I will be the final arbiter of Ash. I will be the one who determines what will come out of his mouth. So we generally have a good relationship with the writers and directors, but as a producer and as Ash, I outrank them.
Are you looking forward to coming to Las Vegas?
I enjoy what Las Vegas has to offer. I enjoy what Las Vegas represents. So it’s gonna be fun. We had a great couple of shows, our last few events, but where better to do Last Fan Standing than Las Vegas? Cement my future as a game show host in the home of Wink Martindale.
Bruce Campbell: Last Fan Standing
Friday, Sept. 29, 7:30, tickets starting at $33, Vinyl at the Hard Rock, hardrockhotel.com