Bruce Campbell is a real character. And not just because the cult horror film star is a colorful and engaging guy to talk to, though he is. It’s because in his new movie “My Name is Bruce,” he plays a self-absorbed, misogynistic horror film star named Bruce Campbell, though he’s quick to point out that it’s not actually him.
“The way I look at it is, he’s just some guy named Bruce Campbell,” Campbell said during a recent phone interview. “The fact that I look like him and sound like him and I’m named Bruce Campbell has nothing to do with his portrayal … My lawyer has informed me that I have complete deniability.”
Concerned that audiences would mistake the film’s moronic, alcoholic jerk for the real actor, Campbell wondered whether he should have named the character Dash Ripoff instead. But, he ultimately concluded, “That’s part of the filmmaking process, to confuse the audience at every turn.”
Campbell stars in and directs the film. It follows the character Bruce Campbell after he is kidnapped from the set of his latest movie (“Cave Alien 2”) by a fan from the small town of Gold Lick, Ore., where Guan-Di, the ancient Chinese god of bean curd, has been unleashed and is decapitating the town’s denizens one by one. Naturally, with a villain this preposterous, only the actor who once fought mummies while portraying Elvis Presley is capable of saving the day. The cowardly Bruce, however, tries to shirk his responsibilities once he realizes the monster is real and not just an elaborate pitch for his next movie.
“My Name is Bruce” plays as a hearty spoof of the B-grade horror films that have made a name for Campbell since 1979, when he and fellow Michigan native Sam Raimi went into the Tennessee woods with a video camera and a small group of high school buddies to make “The Evil Dead.” The movie became a cult classic and spawned two sequels. Raimi has since become a high-profile director (he directed all the films in the “Spider-Man” trilogy), and Campbell has risen to the upper ranks of the sci-fi and horror elite with movies such as “Timequest,” “Bubba Ho-tep” and “Man with the Screaming Brain” (his directorial debut).
“Both he and Sam were really, really driven toward making movies,” remembered Ellen Sandweiss, a Michigan alum who attended Groves High School in Birmingham with Raimi and Campbell. She played Cheryl (the sister of Bruce’s character Ash) in “The Evil Dead.” She knew they were both going to make movies for the rest of their lives, but Bruce didn’t know he was going to be a big horror movie star.
“That was something he just kind of fell into … He always had that handsome chiseled face, and the star quality was kind of hidden behind his shy geekiness,” she recounted.
Sandweiss has a small role in “My Name is Bruce” as Bruce’s ex-wife, who, in a wink to “Evil Dead” fans, is also named Cheryl. The film is littered with these kinds of insider-only references to his career (nearly every movie he’s made is name-checked), and it plays as a love letter to the twisted relationship he has with his freakishly loyal admirers. Many of the questions his fans ask him in “My Name is Bruce” come from real life.
“It’s for the fans. There’s no question about it,” Campbell said, alluding to the movie’s lukewarm critical response.
Most of the film’s cast is made up of familiar faces from Campbell’s past: Ted Raimi (Sam’s brother) appears in multiple roles, and he also had character parts in the “Evil Dead” trilogy and “Man with the Screaming Brain.” And Dan Hicks, from “Maniac Cop” and “Evil Dead II,” plays a pig farmer. Campbell has known these guys for a long time and said their goal is to have a company of people they can keep falling back on, much like Christopher Guest (“Waiting for Guffman”) or the Coen brothers (whom he has worked with before).
Campbell noted that “My Name is Bruce” is intended to be pure comedy, not a horror film. He describes it as “a Bob Hope movie with decapitations.” When asked if there are any other kinds of films he would consider making besides horrors and comedies, he mused, “I want to do a ‘Walking Tall’ movie someday — a poor guy comes to clean up a small town.”
But he will not touch a zombie film.
“I’ll be honest with you, I pass on any script that has either a zombie in the story or in the title,” he said. “They’re just terrible adversaries. They mumble and they don’t understand English. They stumble around and to me they’re not scary… Give me someone who’s possessed, someone who knows your name. To me, something like ‘The Exorcist’ is way scarier.”
Campbell understands the popular appeal of B-movies, which is why he’s taking “My Name is Bruce” on a 22-city tour. He’s hosting screenings followed by Q&A sessions on his old stomping grounds, the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak this weekend, Nov. 21 to 23.
“We are taking the show to the people,” he said, hoping the audience will ask him questions different from the idiotic ones his fans in the movie throw at him. (For example, one asks if working with Ellen DeGeneres on her sitcom “Ellen” turned him gay.)
“Otherwise,” he threatened, referencing the fate of one of the fans, “they’re going to get shoved in front of a bus.” Whether in character or in person, it’s never wise to mess with Bruce Campbell.