Cult legend Bruce Campbell, famous for his role Ash Williams in the Evil Dead franchise, was a featured guest at Fan Expo Canada this year and the Nightmare on Film Street crew made sure we were in attendance for his Q&A. Unfortunately this meant passing up on the reunion panel for the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I’m confident we made the right decision.
Panels at fan conventions tend to follow a similar pattern. A host introduces the guest, they make small-talk for a minute or so and then take questions from the audience to help steer the conversation. We knew pretty quickly, when Bruce Campbell burst on stage with no host, that we were in for something completely different.
I don’t have anything planned. I have absolutely nothing planned. This is going to be as interesting as you are…..okay, goodnight everybody!
What followed should have been listed in the program as “Bruce Campbell’s Roast of Fan Expo”. The next forty minutes was essentially an improvised stand-up comedy routine comprised of crowd work and prank phones calls. Yeah, that’s right- Bruce Campbell took an audience members cell phone and made a serious of ominous, slightly alarming calls to his sister. (We’ve included a clip in our Fan Expo recap on this Thursday’s episode of the Nightmare on Film Street podcast)
Campbell, or at least the persona of Bruce Campbell we see in public appearances, does not pull punches or suffer fools gladly. When presented with a hypothetical question regarding his characters, or asked to shout-out a Facebook fan group, Campbell handles himself like an insult comic tearing apart the idiocy of the request before (maybe) giving an sincere answer. Several times throughout the hour he was asked questions about coming up in Hollywood and rather than recount stories he’s tired of telling, Campbell would simply hold up a copy of his first book If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. When pressed for a story that maybe wasn’t included in the book, Campbell responded:
Meaning I didn’t use all the best stories? Did I leave all the special ones out for Q&A’s and Fan Expo? No sir, anything I care to tell anybody is in this book. If I didn’t put it in this book, it’s none of your fucking business.
Out of context, these quotes make Campbell sound like a crusty, old grump that yells at neighborhood children for fun, but the same could be said for Don Rickles. As promised at the top of the hour, Campbell plays off the crowd, challenging them to produce the show themselves. He puts the control and direction of the Q&A in the audience’s hands, acting as both performer and commentator on stage. Some nervous fans brave enough to speak were met with playful mockery, “Did you have a question, or should I just continue to ridicule you?” though a matter-of-face response was usually to follow.
When asked about the decision to develop Ash vs. Evil Dead rather than a fourth Evil Dead film, Groovy Bruce had this to say:
Everybody says Evil Dead 4! Evil Dead 4! You know, if we did an Evil Dead 4 Sam Raimi would spend $200,000,000 on it, and it would bomb. […] If you did it as a feature, it would be rated R. if you did it on cable, they’d butcher the shit out of it. If it was on regular television, why even show the show, so Starz is […] really the only scenario where you not only get unrestricted but by the end of this last season that we shot, you have 15 new hours of Evil Dead.
As the panel began to wind down, Campbell did manage to find space for some “inspiring” words to a budding film maker. The young woman, preparing for film school after spending some time working in film, made the mistake of asking for advice he had learned in his early career. As with everyone else, Campbell offered her a quick glance of his memoir but circled back to encourage her as only Bruce Campbell could.
I grew up in suburban Detroit. They don’t make movies there, but we did anyway. So, it’s gotten a lot easier for filmmakers to make films now. You can go to your local S-Mart and buy a giga-tower and all the software you need, and you can do your own music and after effects, and you can walk to your local theater with a frickin’ thumb drive. So I’m sorry that it cant get any easier for you. You should be making a movie this weekend. But you get the idea. There’s no secret, there’s no path, […] It’s not like you can’t do it.