josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | sept. 2019
Do I even need to explain who Bruce Campbell is? Bruce Campbell is the Michigan native who everyone my age grew up watching in movies the likes of the Evil Dead trilogy (“Evil Dead," “Evil Dead II" and “Army of Darkness") and so many other amazing cult films such as “Moontrap," “Mindwarp" and “Maniac Cop." He would also pop up for small roles in big-budget movies now and then as when he was killed in the opening minutes of “Congo" or under heavy makeup in “Escape From L.A." Campbell's biggest mainstream impact is in the USA network series “Burn Notice" as the always awesome Sam Axe.
Short version: You have seen Bruce in things — even if you didn't notice him at the time, you saw him. Now you can see him in person when he visits Wisconsin's Pabst Theatre on Sept 28 for a screening of “Evil Dead II."
I was honored to sit down and chat with the man about the Evil Dead franchise, his creative work with television and his filming the movie “Mindwarp" in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
Why do you think 'Evil Dead II' is many people's favorite film of the Evil Dead franchise?
We had enough money and the first 'Evil Dead' we didn't have any money; we had a lot of control but we didn't have any money. 'Evil Dead II' we had more money and more experience and enough control ... and with 'Army of Darkness' things just sort of got out of control. Too much money, over budget and the studio stepped in and screwed with it ... so 'Evil Dead II' was pure but we were trying new stuff. We didn't want to do dark or melodramatic horror and we sort of got into 'splatstick.'
You have done a bit of everything, you have done drama, comedy, horror and of course hit it big with 'Burn Notice,' plus the highly thought of series 'Homicide: Life on the Street' and even John Carpenter movies. Where does 'Evil Dead II' fall in your career for you?
'Evil Dead II' is a lot more personal as it's me and two partners: Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. We grew up together and we made the first 'Evil Dead' together. The Evil Dead movies all have their own category in my life. I just snuck back and took a peek at the original cabin site not long ago and that was pretty fascinating. It's 40 years this year ... everyone thinks Evil Dead is either 1982 or 1983 ... that's all bullshit, that is when it came out — overseas in 1982 and domestically in 1983 but we shot the thing in '79. That's all that matters to me, that is when we were there slugging it out. It's 40 years this year. When you go back to that site now it's a little bit like a Vietnam battle scene. There are now mature trees growing up in where the main room of the cabin was. It's all very decomposed and lushly overgrown. Going back is kind of bizarre like a sci-fi movie.
What kind of people attend these screenings? People like me who saw 'Evil Dead II' when it was first released or newer fans?
'Evil Dead II' is old enough now — it was filmed in 1986, that is 32 years ago — that there are people in the audience who are 32 now! Some are the next generation. Some people are seeing it out of curiosity because they are told it was a wacky movie.
Do you have more people that know you from 'Burn Notice' or from 'Evil Dead'?
'Burn Notice' was funny, they didn't know me until I did 'Burn Notice' and they were like 'Oh, I didn't know that old guy did those weird movies years ago.' So I got sort of retro-discovered through 'Burn Notice.' People find you how they find you. 'Burn Notice' was a very accessible show and it was very popular. It's fun to do a show that's popular because I have done a lot of cult stuff but that usually operates in the shadows. 'Burn Notice' was, in its heyday, the number one show on cable.
How is something like 'Homicide: Life on the Street' different from something like 'Burn Notice' or 'Escape From L.A.'?
Everything is different. Every set is different. Every objective is different. Every workload is different. You have a different format when you are doing movies. So with Homicide it was that Tom Fontana who ran that, he called me up and said, 'Do you have any stories you want to do?' Normally you would have a script available to read and I said, 'What are you talking about?' He asked, 'Is there anything you would be interested in?' So I thought about it and this was right about the time of the O.J. Simpson trial so we talked about people that got off and people that didn't get off ... What you could do with a cop in that situation. He thought about it and said, 'Okay, we will do a two-parter.' Just like that, it was one of the weirdest television experiences I have ever had because creatively I was part of it. Most shows you play the part, you say the words and in this case, it was great how they handled it. We had the director of 'Romeo Is Bleeding' [Peter Medak]. These are like famous European indie film directors. It was a weird cool experience.
Do you watch the movie with the audience at these screenings?
I can click my fingers and point to the audience at these things and I know when the audience will react. I know the movie too well. I will go and have dinner and come back. I will end up watching a third of it from the wings, though. It's always fun to see who has seen it before and how many times they have seen it, who has never seen it, what their expectations are seeing a movie from the '80s, which now is old. Seeing it in the theater is always going to be a plus. I come out before the movie and set the scene, give them a little James Lipton intro of what they are about to witness. Then they see it and then I come out and do an extended Q and A.
I love theaters like the Pabst; what is there not to love? Places like that will always get me back because they are just great theaters. I have no problem playing Wisconsin; they are our frozen brothers. Our idiot frozen brothers. We are frozen brothers of the Midwest. I mean isn't the Upper Peninsula really just Wisconsin, I mean geographically? Eagle River, Wisconsin is where I met my darling wife who I am married to to this day on 'Mindwarp.'
An Evening with Bruce Campbell and the screening of Evil Dead II is on Saturday, September 28 at 7:30 p.m. at The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.
Tickets are $35. VIP packages are available at $75 and include an autographed copy of “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor" as well as a post-show photo opportunity with Bruce Campbell. More info at pabsttheater.org.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.