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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hail to the King: 10 Bruce Campbell Movies to Watch Beyond ‘The Evil Dead’!

Bruce Lorne Campbell is 64 years young this month. This marks over four decades spent with the Michiganer; add on a few years if you include the Super 8 shorts saga with Scott Spiegel, Bill Ward and Josh Becker.

Armed with the charisma of a leading man, comedic chops of a vaudevillian and a couldn’t-give-a-shit persona that fans pine for, Campbell is a thespian chameleon who shows no signs of stopping. He’s writing a comic book, authored his fifth book last year, appears at cons regularly (with epic “answering questions sarcastically” panels), supports the troops, and reunited with Sam Raimi as Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Most were inducted into the cult of Campbell through Ashley “Ash” Joanna Williams, horror’s favorite final boy, who has generated a potpourri of analyses that cover everything from toxic masculinity, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and a trans-coded character arc. 43 years after its conception (it was filmed in 1979 but released in 1981), The Evil Dead franchise is more alive than ever. He lent his voice and expertise for Evil Dead: The Game, which sold 500,000 units in under a week, and produced Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise which releases on HBO Max this year.

There’s conjecture that his personality is akin to Ash, as one fan dubbed him “the jock who became king of the nerds.” However, his memoirs (If Chins Could Kill, Hail to the Chin) provide insight into how his brain operates. Beneath the wisecracking insults and trolling tweets, he’s a humble defender of humanity, the environment, cinema, and his loyal (and overenthusiastic) fanbase. In an attention-starved society where everyone tries to be the Main Character, it’s refreshing how Campbell wears the Supporting Act badge with honor. He’s happy to be “the guy on the left or right of the lead on the poster,” and we revere him all the more for it, forever the Main Character in our eyes.

Happy birthday to Mr. Bruce Campbell, the man who chainsawed his way into our hearts and cheers to the many years to come. Since BruceFest was canceled this month, here’s a watchlist of his work (beyond Deadite slaying) to fill the void. Before you ask where Brisco County, Jr., Jack Stiles and Autolycus are, this list focuses on film and not television. Now… sit down you primitive screwheads, grab a Shemp’s and immerse yourself in his ongoing filmic legacy.

Hail to the king, baby.

Bruce Campbell movies my name is bruce

My Name Is Bruce (2007)
Director: Bruce Campbell

No better place to start than with a meta story steered by Campbell and filmed in a Western town in his backyard. The self-parodying concept was pitched by writer Mark Verheiden, where the fictional Bruce Campbell is an alcoholic B-movie actor wallowing in self-pity in an Oregon trailer park. When a fan (Taylor Sharpe) encounters an evil Chinese entity named Guan-Di, he enlists the help of Campbell to save the community. It’s filled with easter eggs and cameos (Ted Raimi, Ellen Sandweiss), but is silly enough for the casual viewer to enjoy. Notice that many ideas originating from here made their way into Ash vs Evil Dead. My Name Is Bruce is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Director: Don Coscarelli

This cult classic Bruce Campbell movie shows us Elvis Presley as we never imagined: a 68-year-old with cancer on his penis fighting the supernatural. Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, it’s set in a nursing home where Elvis and Jack (Ossie Davis), a Black man who believes he’s JFK, witness an ancient Egyptian mummy sucking the souls out of the residents. On top of being a fun horror-comedy, it shows how you can still kick ass in your elderhood. As much as it’s demanded, don’t expect a sequel that includes Campbell. He has zero interest in reprising the role and vocalized that not everything needs a part two. Bubba Ho-Tep streams on Amazon Prime, Tubi, and Pluto TV.

Bruce Campbell movies running time

Running Time (1997)
Director: Josh Becker

Inspired by Alfred Hitchock’s Rope, this ambitious black-and-white crime thriller was shot to feel like it was done in one continuous take, a technical achievement that befuddled some critics at the time. It features Campbell as Carl, a prison inmate who dives back into the life of robbery upon release. Alongside his cronies, Patrick (Jeremy Roberts) and Buzz (William Stanford Davis), they execute a heist that goes wrong. In the midst of it all, he also copes with the emotional complexities of reconnecting with former flame, Janie (Anita Barone). Shot in ten days on a low budget, Campbell is proud of this one and it’s a must-watch for fans. Running Time is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Bruce Campbell

Black Friday (2021)
Director: Casey Tebo

Adding to the Thanksgiving horror subgenre, Black Friday boasts an ensemble of horror beloveds. Campbell is Jonathan, the John Cleese-looking manager of toy store All-Mart, overseeing employees portrayed by Devon Sawa (Chucky), Michael Jai White (Spawn), Ivana Baquero (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Ryan Lee (Goosebumps). When alien parasites begin to overtake the shoppers, their ability to band together and save the world is tested. On top of the visual gags and scares, it lightly explores the horror of retail and excessive consumerism. It’s the horror version of The Breakfast Club led by a great ensemble. Black Friday streams on VOD. 

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)
Director: Anthony Hickox

In the Western town of Purgatory, vampires wear sunblock to protect themselves from the sun and manufacture artificial blood for consumption. They’re forbidden to feed on people, an ordinance enforced by Count Mardulak (David Carradine). The human designer of the factory, David (Jim Metzler), is hired to handle repairs and brings along his family, while Campbell plays a descendent of Van Helsing on the hunt for vampires. In its climax, they get caught in-between a vampire civil war. It’s a delightful romp that features the beautiful sandstone arches of Utah. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat streams on Plex and VOD.

Bruce Campbell movies maniac cop

Maniac Cop (1988)
Director: William Lustig

“You have the right to remain silent… forever!” In his first non-Detroit-based role, this slasher shows Campbell as Jack Forrest (who almost donned ‘80s “guy-liner” if the makeup artist had their way), a police officer wrongfully accused of murder, alongside Robert Z’Dar is the titular character, Detective McCrae (Tom Atkins) and Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree). It’s available to watch with Campbell as a guest on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. He also appears in Maniac Cop 2, albeit much more briefly. In 2019, it was announced the film would return in the form of an HBO series from Nicolas Winding Refn. Maniac Cop streams on Shudder, Vudu, AMC+ and VOD.

Bruce Campbell movies syfy

Man with the Screaming Brain (2005)
Director: Bruce Campbell

Part of a two-picture deal for the Sci-Fi Channel (Alien Apocalypse as the other), this is Campbell’s feature directorial debut shot in Bulgaria. He’s William Cole, a rich American industrialist who ends up in the hands of Dr. Ivanov (Stacy Keach) and his assistant Pavel (Ted Raimi). After Cole and his chauffeur Yegor (Vladimir Kolev) are killed by a Roma woman named Tatoya (Tamara Gorski), Dr. Ivanov and Pavel merge Cole and Yegor’s brains into one body, which plays out like a hilarious possession-esque film à la Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in All of Me. Campbell has stated the comic is closer to what the film should have been, if there had been access to a proper budget. The Man with the Screaming Brain streams on Amazon Prime.

Alien Apocalypse (2005)
Director: Josh Becker

Also shot in Bulgaria, this Bruce Campbell movie was a rousing success for the Sci-Fi Channel upon release. The film introduces us to a group of astronauts (Campbell, Renée O’Connor, Michael Cory Davis) who return to Earth after 40 years in space. They immediately become enslaved to grasshopper-resembling aliens who have invaded Portland, Oregon, very much a Planet of the Apes with giant bugs. While some may guffaw at the green alien goo, campy dialogue, and dated CGI, it actually makes for an entertaining hour-and-a-half if you stash away your pretentiousness. It’s a grand, slimy time. Alien Apocalypse streams on Amazon Prime.

Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (2011)
Director: Jeffrey Donovan

Sam Axe is another of his adored characters from USA Network’s Burn Notice, which ran for a successful seven seasons. The idea to give Axe his own spin-off TV movie was suggested by creator and showrunner Matt Nix to Campbell. Directed by his co-star, Jeffrey Donovan, it follows the former Navy Seal while still on active duty during his last mission in Latin America. It checks off the action-genre boxes with explosions, strapped baddies/allies (including Pedro Pascal pre-Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian) and features a little nod to Ash with a chainsaw scene. As always, it’s fun to see Campbell lead and this one has plenty of zingers to go along with it. Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Bruce Campbell movies Hallmark


One December Night (2021)
Director: Clare Niederpruem

And now for something completely different, here’s a Christmas tale where we never see our hero splattered in blood. He’s Steve Bedford, one-half of a country/rock duo named Bedford & Sullivan (his other half as Peter Gallagher), who split up years ago on bad terms. When they reunite for a holiday concert, it stirs the past and their 30-something kids (Eloise Mumford and Brett Dalton) are left to mend the relationship. Don’t let the Hallmark logo deter you; this movie features one of the rare times we see Bruce Campbell flex his ability to tug at the heartstrings. It’s as warm as a mug of hot chocolate and something to enjoy with the family. One December Night will re-air on Hallmark this coming Friday, June 24.

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