Sure, Bruce Campbell has been in many movies since Army of Darkness in 1992, Maniac Cop being my favorite. But let’s face it. His hardcore fans have been waiting for him to recreate Ash in every movie since then. Many will hail Bruce as perfect and believe that everything he touches is a gold plated chainsaw. Others may go with the excuse that he’s just being given the wrong projects. And of course most will continue to support everything he does in hopes that he and Sam Raimi will finally give back to them by doing a fourth installment of Evil Dead.
I love Bruce in Evil Dead and its two sequels—they are his three shining moments. Add to that the fact that I think he’s a hot piece of Ash, and yeah, I’ll pretty much give anything horror related that he’s in a chance. But, I am what a lot of hardcore Bruce fans might be and not realize—a hardcore fan of Evil Dead, NOT Bruce Campbell. Sure, Bruce had a HUGE role in making that film a horror classic, but it’s also a simple fact that the film had all the right ingredients to make it a standout amongst the sea of copycat slashers that were amassing after the success of Halloween in the early 80s. It was a late December night when me and my brothers first watched Evil Dead on VHS, my mother decorating our Christmas tree and chiding us for watching it at a time of year when all is supposed to be calm and bright (we were sitting in the dark and screaming in an uproar over the pencil in the ankle bit).
Yeah, Evil Dead broke the mold at the time it was released, delivering a dark and devilish experience that would stay with me for years. Then Evil Dead 2 was released in 1987. I was a bit older and desensitized and it was pretty much the same movie with a bigger budget and a heavier emphasis on comedy. Great movie, just—different, and not capable of leaving the impression on me that the first film had. Five years later, when Army of Darkness was released, the trilogy had transitioned fully to the slapstick camp genre and replaced the horror of the isolated claustrophobic cabin with an expansive sci-fi fantasy world. Army of Darkness is an enjoyable film. I just don’t find it to be the masterpiece most do. The film is too far removed from horror and the original Evil Dead for my tastes.
The elevation of the Ash character to cult hero in Army of Darkness has become the level of coolness to which many Bruce fans hold anything the actor has done. The rest of us wait and wait for him to reach that Ash level of brilliance again while holding onto the hope that he will make the smart move of reprising that role just one more time to restore the balance of Bruce completely.
Anyone who can’t think of a good reason to make Evil Dead 4 just needs to sit down and watch a marathon of non-Evil Dead Bruce Campbell films for a fistful of good reasons.
First good reason for Evil Dead 4: BUBBA HO-TEP
Directed by the creator of the Phantasm films and starring Bruce Campbell, this 2002 film seems to have a lot going for it. The general consensus on the internet, by hardcore Bruce fans of course, seems to be that it’s a fantastic film and Bruce’s finest performance.
The premise of Bubba Ho-Tep is bizarre. In an old folks home somewhere in Texas, the elderly appear to be dropping like flies, but are actually having their souls sucked out of their butt holes by the cowboy hat wearing zombie ghost of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Two of the old folks in the home catch on to the truth and prepare to take on the mummy—a black dude who believes he is JFK dyed black, and a dude who says he is Elvis Presley, very much alive and in hiding as an Elvis impersonator. So Bruce Campbell is playing Elvis, pretending to be an impersonator, pretending to be Elvis. This is some Victor/Victoria shit. As someone who hasn’t thoroughly studied this movie in an effort to earn a Ph.D. in Bruce Campbell—never listened to any DVD commentaries or interviews with the director or Bruce—I am not convinced that the Elvis character really IS supposed to be Elvis, but most interpret it that way. Heck, if that’s the case, then how do we know the black dude isn’t really JFK dyed black?
Bruce fans claim this is Bruce’s most brilliant performance ever. They say he IS the King, that this is the best portrayal of the King ever on film, that you forget it is Bruce Campbell. Well, to me, it’s, um…Bruce Campbell in really bad Elvis mutton chops and coiffed hair. Sorry. I never really buy ANYONE in a role portraying a famous person as that person. I just don’t know enough about the intricacies of how any famous person acts or behaves outside their public persona to be able to claim that an actor is nailing their likeness. Not to mention, I’m still not convinced Bruce’s character isn’t simply a crazy old man who seriously thinks he’s Elvis.
The first time I watched Bubba Ho-Tep, I was sure it was over two hours long, but upon rewatching it, I was shocked that it is only an hour and a half. The first 40 minutes or so did hold my attention, but I then realized why I incorrectly recalled it being longer—because after those first 40 minutes, the boredom set in once again and the film seemed to drag on and on.
I think the film is too little of too many things at once. Despite the premise, it doesn’t on any level satiate fans of Bruce horror. Regardless of some subtle witty dialogue, it doesn’t satisfy lovers of Bruce humor. If you want to argue that it’s not supposed to be about Bruce but a deep, probing “what-if” about Elvis and the reasons he might have faked his death to escape the public eye, well, that whole story arc is merely an obvious psychological profile that could easily apply to many iconic figures. And finally, if this is just a big social commentary on how the elderly are forgotten and need to feel important to feel alive, I can get that with a lot more laughs and in a much shorter time span by watching an episode of The Golden Girls.
There are some entertaining moments. While the dialogue is often witty, it falls flat in its effort to be subtle and smart. And yet, at the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the humor is over-the-top adolescence, like the film beginning with Bruce talking in detail about his penis and a certain problem he’s having with it—a theme that pervades and feels like a contradiction to Bruce’s otherwise serious Elvis portrayal. It’s as if the goal was to throw in classic Bruce to make his longtime fans happy. The same holds true for a very Evil Dead 2 battle with a giant cockroach. Classic Bruce indeed, but completely removed from his melancholy turn as Elvis. It’s most definitely Bruce Campbell wrestling that bug, not Elvis Presley. Or maybe it’s Bruce pretending to be Elvis pretending to be Bruce???
Even with moments of fun, the movie is gloomy and depressing and I just can’t see what the purpose would be of multiple viewings. The slow country western musical score doesn’t help with the mopey pacing. Even the final confrontation between Elvis, black JFK, and the Country Western Egyptian mummy ghost zombie is disappointing. Elderly Elvis whips out a fistful of boomwalker, the mummy makes some desperate attempts at humor in Egyptian, which calls for subtitles (I hate subtitles!), and Elvis kills the mummy the same way TWICE (not sure why it didn’t work the first time), and it’s like Déjà vu since in both cases, the final blow is pretty much identical, right down to a typical cheesy one-liner from the hero.
Second good reason for Evil Dead 4: ALIEN APOCALYPSE
In 2005, Bruce did two direct-to-Sci-Fi Network movies (yes, that’s how it was spelled back then). First was the low-budget campfest Alien Apocalypse. This is a pretty easy route for him to take considering the network’s original films are laughable as it is and they definitely make good use of Bruce’s deadpan comic talents. As a result, this blatantly cheesy b-movie, complete with hokey gore and bug-like aliens that nosh on human heads, is a no-brainer for Bruce. He can do this stuff with his eyes closed. There’s something very Army of Darkness about the vibe of the film, right down to Bruce’s plan to be known as the great healer by all his followers in the human rebellion he begins. I think he’s hotter than Marc Singer in the similarly themed V!
Alien Apocalypse isn’t cinematic brilliance, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s cheap made-for-TV entertainment, and as that, it works. Despite some gore and aliens, this is in no way Bruce horror. It’s Bruce humor all the way. On a rainy Sunday, if you were lazing around home on your living room couch and came across this movie, you’d probably bitch about how stupid it is after you finished watching it all the way through, if just for Bruce.
Working against this film, at least on DVD, is the fact that the disc opens with the trailer for Evil Dead. Sorry, but if you’re about to make us sit through a goofy film like this, don’t remind us of the great film Bruce Campbell DID star in right before it. After watching this film, I was itching to pop the original Evil Dead into my player and give it a watch instead of pushing on to the next cheesy film. But push on I did.
Third good reason for Evil Dead 4:
MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN
This one, also a Sci-Fi original from 2005, is actually a complete Bruce Campbell creation. He wrote, directs, and stars in it, and it was apparently a personal project that was a long time coming (like, almost 20 years). Again, not Bruce horror—all Bruce humor. It’s slapstick, it’s cheesy, it’s campy. In Bulgaria on business, Bruce’s character and his wife get a ride with a Russian cab driver…which is where the problems begin. A series of events lands them in the hands of crazy scientist Stacy Keach and his Igor-like sidekick Ted Raimi. The scientist’s plan involves brain swapping, and before long, Bruce’s brain is being shared with the brain of another. So the two put their brains together (because two heads are better than one) to find the person responsible for getting them in this predicament.
Bruce Campbell playing one character with two brains. As you can imagine, this leads pretty much to one long movie featuring Bruce’s Evil Dead 2 shtick, with one of Bruce’s hands having a mind of its own—literally! Again, this is a no-brainer (or two brainer), with Bruce in the most familiar of territories. Is it entertaining? Of course. Would you sooner watch Evil Dead 2? Absolutely. It’s just more Sci-Fi Sunday afternoon filler. The most memorable part for me is a scene in which Bruce grabs the crotch of a bald stud. Straight guys will better appreciate the catfight between a blonde and brunette…
And just as with the Alien Apocalypse DVD, the release of Man with the Screaming Brain is at a great disadvantage, with the trailer for Evil Dead once again starting things off. Man, I REALLY have to watch Evil Dead, SOON. But not before the fourth reason for Evil Dead 4.
Fourth good reason for Evil Dead 4:
SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat should be a Dan wet dream. It was made in 1989, so it just squeaks in under the wire of coming from the 80s. It stars Bruce. It stars Maxwell Caulfield of Grease 2. And it stars Deborah Foreman of Valley Girl and April Fool’s Day. And it tries desperately to be campy.
But it’s SO boring. There’s this town called Purgatory where all the vampires live a quiet life, wearing sunscreen and sunglasses and drinking artificial blood years before all of Sookie’s friends. But now, the fake blood factory isn’t working. So Maxwell Caulfield, the big vamp in town, brings in the man who created it to help.
Meanwhile, Bruce Campbell, a descendant of the Van Helsings, comes to town. His timing couldn’t be better. Evil vampire David Carradine has escaped his tomb and is ready to make the vampire colony evil again!
The movie showed promise when a naked Maxwell Caulfield turns into a cheesy stop motion bat, but all the humor falls so flat it’s painful. There’s bad 80s cheese and there’s rotten 80s cheese. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat stinks. Even Bruce Campbell’s shtick feels forced and tired here. The pacing is slow and the film waters down to a seemingly endless battle between good vamps, bad vamps, and humans, at which point it turns into an Old Western shoot ‘em up. Bubba Ho-Tep flashbacks! Someone stake me through the heart.
Fifth good reason for Evil Dead 4: MY NAME IS BRUCE
If Bruce wasn’t going to come back for another Evil Dead, then THIS is the movie he should have made rather than all those others. Although, without them, there wouldn’t be much of a point to this film, which mocks Bruce’s entire film career post-Evil Dead trilogy. Bruce handles the directing duties, but this time, he leaves the writing up to someone else, which is probably smart. There’s got to be some limit on self-indulgence. This one, while blatantly mocking the fans, is also just what the fans wanted—the chance to sit and watch Bruce take jabs at them and simply laugh at the reflection of themselves on the screen rather than actually self-reflecting on it….
What a great premise for this little homage to everything Bruce. Some goth kids who look more like members of Fall Out Boy unleash an ancient Chinese God from a cemetery. One of the boys, a Bruce fanatic, decides to call on the actual Bruce to help his little town vanquish the monster—so he kidnaps Bruce! Bruce, now down on his luck with his career dried up, divorced, living in a trailer home, and drinking too much, believes it is an elaborate birthday present from his agent and that all the townspeople are just actors, so he goes along with it, taking charge to defeat the monster. But man, is he in for a rude awakening (of the dead) when he realizes the truth.
My Name is Bruce is meant to be appreciated by those who have seen Bruce’s films, most of which are referenced. There are several cameos by actors from the Evil Dead trilogy as well. Bruce pokes fun at his “loving fans” who hate and criticize every movie he’s in. The film pokes fun at customer reviews left by losers on Amazon (which means I’m mentioned! Yay!). There’s a great question from one of his fans who confronts him on the street: “Did Ellen turn you gay?” And to keep with the gay themes, there’s even a very genuine representation of gay love and relationships…if gay couples looked like something out of Deliverance.
There are only two parts of this film that disappointed me. First, the dialogue works in a positive comment about Bubba Ho-Tep (ugh!). And, the film has a “Greek chorus” in the form of two banjo players who sing during interludes throughout the film. The lyrics aren’t funny and add nothing to the film, and the presence of the two men interrupts the flow, in my opinion.
Best thing about My Name is Bruce is that it shows that Bruce is well aware of his standing amongst fans, knows that most of his movies are bad, and hopefully, realizes that he needs to get on the phone with Sam Raimi and start working on Evil Dead 4: Back to the Cabin! Immediately.