“This is my boomstick!” Bruce Campbell was already a full-fledged horror icon before reciting that unforgettable line from Army of Darkness, but this put the cherry on top. “Boomstick” was Campbell’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, his “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, his “Stairway to Heaven”.
Here at Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel column, we’re used to paying tribute to the real baddies of horror. The nastier character you portrayed, the more love you’ll get here. Campbell is the rare Scalpel honoree who’s recognized for his portrayal of a hero. Throughout his illustrious career Campbell has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows, but it’s one character in particular that we all fell in love with that earned Campbell his Tip of the Scalpel nod. I’m talking, of course, of Ashley J. “Ash” Williams.
Campbell and The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi met in high school, and after a failed college stint for the actor, Bruce and Sam hooked up, filmed Within the Woods (a short film version of The Evil Dead) to attract investors, and then began the real thing. And they proved to be quite the explosive filmmaking team.
Upon first viewing The Evil Dead as a young man, I swore I would never see a scarier film. As an adult I understand that Ellen Sandweiss is a beautiful woman, but growing up there was nothing that could tear the image of Deadite Cheryl trying to free herself from the basement of the cabin in the woods. And as scary as she and the rest of the demonic presences terrorizing the cabin were, the thing that really drew the film together was our hero, Ash. A star was born. Okay, maybe not at that moment, but as the film began to catch on, Ash’s popularity grew.
However, Campbell wasn’t able to really shine until the extremely popular sequel to The Evil Dead. In Evil Dead 2, a kind of a sequel/retelling of the original film, Campbell’s talents show through brilliantly and drive the film to be an all-time horror favorite. The physical comedy performed by Campbell was incredibly effective and reminiscent of the style that made Jim Carrey famous in his early films like Ace Ventura and The Mask. However, Carrey would not have his breakout role until seven years after Evil Dead 2 was released. For the time being Bruce Campbell was (at least as far as horror movie fans were concerned) the king of intense physical comedy.
Campbell reached his campy pinnacle in the third and final installment of The Evil Dead series, Army of Darkness. Aside from the aforementioned “Boomstick” quote, Campbell’s masterfully comedic delivery managed to cement additional lines of dialogue into the lexicon of horror. Most notably was the stammered recitation of the infamous The Day the Earth Stood Still quote…“klaatu, barada, nikto,”…which Ash doesn’t manage to get out that easily. And who could forget “Hail to the king, baby!” or “Groovy!”? Yeah, the script was pretty good for Army of Darkness, but it was Campbell’s expert delivery and over-the-top performance that made these lines stick.
Campbell’s work throughout The Evil Dead series not only created fans, but fanatics. To some extent it’s this rabid fan base that has scared filmmakers away from remaking or adding a new sequel to the series until this year. Academy Award-winning writer Diablo Cody recently spoke about her trepidation with working on the script for the new Evil Dead remake, fearing fans would feel she messed up the film. That’s a dedicated fan base.
It would, however, be a disservice to Campbell if we dedicated this entire article to his work on The Evil Dead series and didn’t mention any of his other numerous successful ventures. We fell in love with Campbell for his work as Ash, but his continued diligent performances have cemented us as fans. Hell, he even got a shot to play a piano version of “Hungry Like the Wolf” in an Old Spice commercial. That’s a long way from fighting deadites!
Campbell has played an aged Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep, a police officer in the Maniac Cop series, former Navy SEAL Sam Axe in USA Network’s “Burn Notice” and himself in the tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy My Name is Bruce. Campbell has built a nice career for himself after that bit of nastiness in the cabin. He’s even written two books, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor and Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way. If you haven’t yet experienced the latter, let me recommend the audiobook. It’s more like an audioplay. Very entertaining.
You can also add voice-over performer, as Campbell has lent his unique voice to a number of animated films (Cars 2, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) and video games (Spiderman 3, Evil Dead: Regenerations), and occasional director to his resume, making him truly a jack of all trades in the film industry.
Bruce Campbell is one of the most beloved figures in horror. He’s never taken himself too seriously and seems to truly enjoy the niche he’s carved for himself within the genre. If you are sitting down to take in a movie or television program Bruce Campbell is involved in, one thing you can guarantee is a memorable performance. Whether the new Evil Dead film (of which Campbell is a producer) will deliver or not is yet to be seen. But we can sit back and reflect on all the entertaining moments Campbell has given us thus far. And it’s with those cinematic gems in mind that we give a hearty Doctor Gash Tip of the Scalpel to Bruce Campbell.
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