“Frankly, I can never be far enough from Hollywood,” wrote lantern-jawed Bruce Campbell in his 2001 memoir If Chins Could Kill.
Now, in this variety pack of “further confessions” titled Hail to the Chin, the self-styled “B movie actor” recounts trading smog-clogged L.A. for a lavender-carpeted hillside in southern Oregon, then shooting films and TV series in Bulgaria, Colombia, New Zealand and his native Michigan.
“I’ve been called a ham actor,” Campbell says with felony-level understatement. He loves to wink at the camera, and in the course of playing characters as diverse as Elvis, Reagan and Santa Claus, he has chewed up more scenery than Godzilla and Rodan combined. (Sometimes literally: His character in the “Evil Dead” horror franchise, which made Campbell a cult icon in the 1980s, sports a chain saw as a prosthetic hand.)
After decades of playing lovable rogues and vampire hunters, Campbell got his chance to direct an indie feature – the low-budget “Man With the Screaming Brain” – in 2005. Panned by Variety as “an amiable goof that looks like it was cobbled together in a hurry,” the film nonetheless qualified Campbell to conduct a master class in schlock:
“Directors of these movies (referred to variously as genre, low-budget or schlock) are usually inexperienced, callow and unrealistic, but they are also enthusiastic, daring and indefatigable. The writers, typically working on their first screenplay, have something to prove, and ... you’ll occasionally find a spark of genius,” he writes. “Fellow actors in these second-tier films are often very green with careers on the rise and it’s fun to watch them deliver every line of dialogue like it’s their last.”
Even if Hail to the Chin doesn’t make Bruceniks of us all, die-hard fans will embrace it as canon. Here the faithful will learn that English-born actress Gabrielle Anwar – Campbell’s tough and fearless co-star on the seven-season “Burn Notice” – was “never one to hide her raw emotions” from an overcautious director. Fans will also discover that headliner Jeffrey Donovan, 10 years Campbell’s junior, “became like a younger brother to me.” And they will savor the news that big bad Bruce turns the wild lavender on his Oregon property into sweet-smelling soaps and sachets – ideal gifts for the fragrant Teamsters on the Miami-based set.
Ultimately, our hero’s journey leads to the Big Show, where he lands roles in the three “Spider-Man” movies directed by childhood pal Sam Raimi. Encountering Campbell on the set of “Spider-Man 3” in 2007, star Tobey Maguire blurts out: “Of course he’s back. We can’t make a Spider-Man movie without Bruce Campbell!”
The swashchuckler has his comeback ready: “You’re starting to understand how Hollywood works, Tobey.”
Wink, zoom-freeze, scene.