My Name Is Bruce (2007)

Bruce Campbell has achieved a level of cult stardom that few have ever reached. If you add in the film My Name Is Bruce to his resume, then he may be in a class by himself. Campbell directs himself portraying himself in this send up of his own B-Movie fame. In the fictional mining town of Gold Lick an ancient Chinese guardian spirit named Guan-Di has been awakened by, who else, but kids fucking around in a graveyard. The only kid to make it out, just happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan who decides to kidnap the actor, who happens to be filming a sci-fi movie nearby, and ask for his help in saving the town. Campbell thinks the whole thing is a gag set up by his agent and falls into his fast-talking, smart-arsing, womanizing, machismo persona. When he realizes that this spirit means business, Bruce must decide if he’s a true hero or just in it for the paycheck.

Obviously, for every fan of Bruce Campbell this is a no-brainer must see movie. But, honestly I’d have a hard time recommending this one anyone but Campbellites (I just made that up, does it work? Nah I didn’t think so, I’ll stop). This film relies heavily on inside jokes relating to Campbell’s career for most of its laughs, so if you haven’t done your homework you’re getting two things out of this movie. Jack and shit, and Jack left town. Many of Campbell’s past co-stars from the Evil Dead films make humorous cameos including Ted Raimi (who actually has three different stereotypical roles), Ellen Sandweiss, Tim Quill & Dan Hicks. Grace Thorsen plays the leading lady and love interest of Mr. Campbell. She fits the bill nicely, as does most of the supporting cast in the town of Gold Lick. It’s not all comedy though, this movie does earn it’s R rating with a slew of decapitations & dismemberments, as is tradition in a Campbell horror outing.

Bruce Campbell’s directing chops pale in comparison to his on-screen presence, so don’t expect him to turn into Clint Eastwood in a few years. Though, I’d actually love to have seen Bruce in the leading role of Gran Torino. If anything, just for the whole “Get off my damn lawn” scene with the shotgun. That kind of a dramatic lead role has never been Bruce’s style. If he’s the lead, it’s gonna be corny as hell, most likely. Though his more serious work has landed him bit parts that he has handled very nicely. The Coen brothers took a shine to him, giving him ample screen time in The Hudsucker Proxy, as well as cameos in Intolerable Cruelty & Ladykillers. He plays a matinee idol in the Jim Carrey drama The Majestic, though his part is merely in the films being show at the theater. Campbell seems to be a perfect fit in period films set in the 1930’s & 40’s. It’s a shame he’s not cast this way more often. Bruce is and probably always will be stuck in this kind of role and in this kind of film. But the way he embraces his fame it looks like that’s fine with him and it’s more than fine with me and his millions of fans. Keep ’em comin’, Bruce.

-Wes Kelly

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Army of Darkness (1992)

Alright, you primitive screwheads, listen up! See this? This is my review for Army of Darkness, the final entry into Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead trilogy, and it needs to start off with a confession:

Up until 81 minutes ago, I had never been able to see the entirety of this film.

I know, I know. My head is hung low as I write this, weighed down by my ineptitude as a cineaste; but I would like to remind you, dear reader, that this has been rectified and it was a most enjoyable viewing experience. I would also like to offer up an excuse of sorts, as I tried to watch Bruce Campbell wage war on the Deadites in the year 1300 AD way back in 1993 or so, whenever the film first hit video. I, along with a close friend at the time, Jerry Warren, ventured forth to our local Blockbuster to get some films to watch one Friday or Saturday evening, and plucked this horror-comedy off the shelves along with Unforgiven and White Men Can’t Jump. I remember these titles specifically, not because I am some sort of savant, able to remember the particulars of when and where and with whom I’ve seen every movie, but because these were the three titles that we guessed had boobs in them.

As a wise knight in a now classic film once said (paraphrased to fit in this review comfortably):

“They chose . . . poorly.”

There wasn’t one goddamned boob in the runtime of Army of Darkness! Or, more accurately, there wasn’t one goddamned boob in the first 30 minutes of Army of Darkness*! Jerry was incensed by this, and insisted on turning it off around the time Ash is in the windmill being attacked “Gulliver’s Travels” style by multiple miniature, prankish versions of himself, deeming in “stupid.” A sequence I thought was pretty cool, by the way. But instead of watching the end of Raimi’s trilogy, we put in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning western, Unforgiven, only to encounter the same result. My friend, growing impatient at the lack of breasts, chose to fast forward through all of the movie after 15 minutes, all the while getting more and more upset as he realized that, for the most part, he would be coming up dry yet again. At this point in the evening, Jerry, driven into a rabid, puberty-fueled rage, insisted on us watching a scrambled feed of the Playboy channel for the rest of the evening; his transformation into Ahab complete, the mammary gland becoming his white whale.

Now that my admission/atonement is (somewhat embarrassingly) out of the way, laid bare for all to read, what you should know by now, either from being a fan of the series or from reading Adam’s and Wes’s earlier posts on the prior entries in Raimi’s ternion of horror, is that The Evil Dead was a straight-up micro-budgeted horror flick, and that The Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, was part remake/mostly sequel, only this time, Raimi turned it into a splatter-comedy of titanic proportions. For the third film, the creative team has—for all intents and purposes, left the horror genre behind, instead electing to move into the realm of slapstick, concocting an epic (at least as much as its succinct runtime allows for and also given the lack of locations in the first two) campy adventure. If you were to throw together the collected works of Ray Harryhausen, a dog-eared copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and an unholy union of the comedic stylings of The Three Stooges and Monty Python, you would be on the right track in guessing the overall mood and tone. In other words, Army of Darkness is essential viewing.

For newbies to the series, the film does a quick recap of the circumstances that Ash (Bruce Campbell) found himself in; how he got a chainsaw for a hand, how he had to eradicate his girlfriend once she turned into a Deadite via “bodily dismemberment,” how squaring off against an ancient evil isn’t exactly anyone’s idea for a relaxing weekend in a cabin in the woods, and how he managed to get stranded in the past, roughly 700 years before his time. Before Ash has a chance to, you know, get his bearings after falling through the pesky time portal responsible for his current situation, he gets rounded up and sentenced to death, mistaken for an ally of Henry the Red, enemy #1 for a bunch of warring Brits. Despite pleas from their learned men—that Ash may indeed be the prophesied savior of their peoples—the townsfolk elect to toss him into the pit-o-doom where he has to exchange in fisticuffs and deflect the kung-fu stylings of a Deadite, gets to partake in the Ash version of He-Man’s “I Have the Power”** motif (the broad sword replaced with a chainsaw), and survive an encounter with a spike-encrusted wall, all the while exhibiting a flare for the dramatic akin to Indiana Jones.

After crawling back out toward the sun and impressing the town with his “boom stick,” Ash is indeed hailed as their savior, the chosen one that will rid their land of the Deadites. The problem is, all he wants is to trot back to the future and forget this ever happened; to go home, like, NOW. Unfortunately, Ash needs that pesky Necronomicon to do so and is also assigned the menial job of memorizing (sort of) a couple of magic words to prevent the unyielding armies of the undead from being unleashed and allowed to run roughshod over the land. How difficult could that be, you ask?

Plenty difficult, I answer.

And with that Army of Darkness is off to the races, never stopping to allow the audience to catch its collective breath. Once the first manic, bat-shit insane sequence is over with, another is already lurking in the darkness, ready to spring forth and take its place; there is no filler, no bland B-movie subplotting, hell, no monologues even. There is, however, a riotous string of events involving a two-headed Ash and enough one-liners to make Arnold’s head spin, all delivered with relish, accompanied by a pompous grin and flair for the ridiculous that only Bruce can get away with. Greg Nicotero truly puts the “special” in special effects, with a heavy dose of stellar foam and latex work, with the standout being the “Pit Bitch” (brought vividly to life by Bill Bryan, who did the same with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters all those years prior). All the practical effects are so lovingly put together that, if you don’t get a kick out of the final battle, especially after seeing our hero, Ash, driving his modified Oldsmobile Delta 88 through a horde of undead skeletons (all voiced by the director himself), chopping and eradicating them with extreme prejudice, I just don’t think we can be friends anymore. No seriously, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

All that being said, its no wonder this one bombed and caused disconcertion in its studio-head backers, who found its original ending too depressing (I’m not sure what it says about me that I found it just as funny as the finale of the final cut, albeit in a different fashion), calling for reshoots and a “happier” ending, and combative MPAA board members who wanted to slap the film with the dreaded NC-17 (the studio wanted a PG-13) due to the violent manner in which a Deadite is decapitated. If you ever need a definition to the term “cult film,” look no further than this sweet little nugget of ’90s excess. It’s a creative bit of nonsense that answers to no one, happily existing in its own cinematic time and space. You either get on board and take the ride of your life or it leaves you staggering at the station in a daze, wondering what in the world you just saw. For me, it’s a trip I plan on taking again soon; I’m sorry that it took me so long to take the initial voyage, but at the same time, it was worth the wait.

-David

*To clarify, there isn’t a fully exposed breast in the entire 81 minutes, another fact just learned today, and one that kept building in suspense over 19 years and hit its zenith as I finally got to watch the entire film. There is, however, some side boob, if you’re interested in that type of thing.

**Yes, I’m fully aware this reference dates me to the early days of the Triassic period. Get off my front lawn, you rotten kids!

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

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Back before I was able to drive, we lived very far from most video store chains or other places with lights. The closest one to us was a few miles away in the convenience store of a gas station. So if I wanted to watch a movie I was usually resigned to choosing from our movie collection or whatever was on TV. Back in the early to mid 90s, TV channels would have “shows” (an odd concept, I know) which consisted of nothing more than showing a movie and having a host relay little quips and facts about the movie before and after commercials. One that I watched frequently was Monstervision on TNT with Joe Bob Briggs. A feature that undoubtedly grew my enthusiasm toward B-movies, but in October of 1996 AMC started running Monsterfest. An entire month of horror movies every night and every week had a theme. They had Rob Zombie as the host for the entire thing. Keep in mind this was when AMC showed UNCUT movies with limited commercials. During zombie week they showed classics like Night of the Living Dead & Carnival of Souls (not necessarily a zombie film, but it kinda has that vibe). On the last night of the week they were showing Evil Dead 2, or so I thought.

It was billed as Evil Dead 2 and Rob Zombie even talked about Evil Dead 2 introducing it as such. I found out much later that the station actually played The Evil Dead. So you can imagine my confusion later when I go to rent Evil Dead…. It’s kind of funny since the first 5 minutes or so of Evil Dead 2 is a fast forward rehash of the entire first film. Ash (Bruce Campbell) takes his girlfriend to the old cabin in the woods, they play the tape with the translated passages from the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) and crazy shit start happening. People become possessed, voices call out in the night “JOIN US”, the woods are alive and feel like raping people, you know…..crazy shit. This movie hits the ground running and doesn’t look back, the pace is wicked fast and that’s a big reason why its so much fun to watch. The pacing is the polar opposite of the first film which builds slowly and blows the bloody doors off for the last half. As for the plot, the long dead researcher who worked on the translation has a daughter who shows up looking for him along with her boyfriend and a redneck couple they paid to take them to the cabin. When they get there they run into Ash and end up trying to stay alive and destroy the demons possessing everything around them. One by one the trapped party are possessed and dispatched by their cohorts in various grisly methods.

The first half hour to 45 minutes of the film is basically the Bruce Campbell show. In the first film Ash was kind of a wuss, but the longer he survives, the tougher he gets. Unable to escape the woods and with the bridge out to the only road, Ash is forced to hold up in the cabin, his only shelter. But after watching all his friends and girlfriend become possessed and hacked to pieces or burned to death, you might say the poor guy is on edge a bit. As the spirits in the house plays games with him, Ash starts to go crazy. This normally wouldn’t be funny, but Campbell’s over the top facial expressions and reactions are priceless and will have you at least smiling at his characters madness at some point. One of my favorite shots in the film involves Ash talking himself down in a mirror:

Unfortunately for Ash the evil spirit possesses his right hand (right, like that’s never happened to anyone else….) The battle that ensues is nothing short of horror comedy gold:

Whenever somebody beats themselves up in a movie whether it’s Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar or Edward Norton in Fight Club, the Evil Dead 2 scene pops into my head. Campbell is equal parts Three Stooges and Leatherface here. So with no right hand and evil everywhere he looks, Ash does what every great hero would do. Improvise:

With that word a B-Movie horror icon is born. Wielding a sawed off shotgun (or boomstick as it will later be known), a plethora of snappy smart-ass one-liners and a chainsaw for a hand, Ash is one of the most ridiculously bad-ass characters I’ve ever seen put to film. Constantly copied and emulated in other films both in persona and design, Ash represents an anomaly in horror movies. In horror films, the villain is the star. Everyone associates Friday the 13th with Jason, not the campers trying to stay alive, Halloween with Michael Myers, not his sister or psychologist, A Nightmare on Elm Street with Freddy Krueger, not the people who have their dreams invaded, Spice World with the Spice Girls, not….well I don’t know the point of that movie but you get the idea. In the only genre of film that truly celebrates villains and monsters, Ash stands out as a celebrated hero. A selfish, sarcastic hero who is out to save himself and only wants everyone to get the fuck out of his way, but a celebrated hero nonetheless.

Campbell starts up with the one-liners in Evil Dead 2 and hasn’t stopped to this day. His career took off after this movie, landing major parts in feature films. He even got his own prime time TV show on Fox in the early 90s, a western called The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Unfortunately it was on Fox and got canceled after one season because it was completely overshadowed by this other little show that debuted the same night called The X-Files. Regardless, Campbell has never been out of work since Evil Dead 2 and for good reason. His onscreen persona, no matter what he’s in, is incredibly entertaining as he always seems cooler than everyone else in the room.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention director Sam Raimi in all of this. Raimi, like so many other directors, cut his teeth on horror films when breaking into the business. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron & Peter Jackson all started out showing off their talent behind the camera with horror. Raimi did not work his way up the ladder in Hollywood starting out as a production assistant. His work was on the screen. It took a bunch of broke college kids more than a year to shoot The Evil Dead, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. Raimi piled on the gore in The Evil Dead and fans ate it up. Just putting his name on a horror movie as a producer is usually enough to bring fans out to the theaters even now 30 years later. Raimi’s visual style is unique, yet hard to describe. He uses overhead shots, forced perspectives and high speed POV shots frequently always keeping you on your toes as a viewer. Honestly, I’ve never seen a bad movie that he has directed.

While I love the gore and creepiness of the first film and the ridiculous slapstick and one-liners of the third, the second Evil Dead film is a dizzying mix of horror and comedy. And despite some nice stop-motion animation with some of the creatures in this, ED2 still has that ultra-low budget feel that make the atmosphere better for a “cabin in the woods” type film. Evil Dead 2 is the strongest film of the trilogy, in my opinion, pleasing even the most hardcore horror fans plus adding in all the laughs as well. If you haven’t seen these movies yet, then what the hell are you waiting for??!!

-Wes Kelly

The Evil Dead (1981)

For me, The Evil Dead stands as a defining film in the history of horror films. The same sentiment has been said a million times by cinephiles and film reviewers who have said it better than me, and that’s because this campy, gory, rollercoaster of a movie deserves all the praise it receives. Sam Raimi’s first feature film about a man fighting off the demon-possessed corpses of his former friends in a remote cabin not only spawned a devoted cult following that persists today, but also is responsible for countless imitators, both thematically and stylistically.

The Evil Dead starts off with Ashley “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), Scott (Richard DeManincor credited as Hal Delrich), Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and Shelly (Theresa Tilly credited as Sarah York) all piled into a yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta and headed to a run-down cabin in the Tennessee wilderness. After crossing a dangerously unstable bridge, they settle in and eventually discover a flesh-bound book and tape recorder in the cellar (along with a movie poster for The Hills Have Eyes (1977), to which Wes Craven responded to by having The Evil Dead playing on a TV in the background of A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984)). They decide to gather around and play the recording for kicks, and the words spoken by the recording (the voice of the late Bob Dorian) are translated passages from the “Book of the Dead” that they hold in their hands.

This awakens an ancient evil in the woods, which is represented by a POV camera racing through the woods with ominous sound effects to back it, and this kind of shot is one of Raimi’s trademarks. I think it might have been said before on this blog, or maybe just in passing conversation with my fellow editors, but it seems to me that the most memorable directors, those that really elevate film to an art form, all have their trademarks; you could be watching one of their films without knowing they had directed it and it would still be fairly obvious. The rest of the camera work is equally impressive, it wouldn’t surprise me if Raimi’s flair for camerawork and editing is what convinced studio executives to hand him 2002’s Spider-Man.

Afterwards, Cheryl wanders out into the woods, where she is summarily attacked and raped by tree branches and vines. This infamous scene was banned in several countries* and caused enough controversy for Sam Raimi to have said he regrets having put it in the film. When she returns, she insists on leaving and enlists Ash to drive her back to town. They discover the bridge has been destroyed and the metal support beams bent backwards into the air, giving it a clawed-hand-like appearance. This is a genuinely creepy shot, as Cheryl and Ash both realize they are trapped and that there is definitely something out in the darkness that doesn’t want them to leave.

When they arrive back at the cabin, Cheryl transforms into a “Deadite,” a possessed corpse intent on making her friends join her in her newfound state. The next half of the film consists of Ash fighting off his former friends, trying to keep Cheryl down in the cellar while she mercilessly taunts him, and finding the resolve to “bodily dismember” his girlfriend once she has been taken by the Deadites. While the first half of the film is mostly a tension-building affair, the second half is a no-holds barred cornucopia of body parts, white-eyed Deadites cackling maniacally as they assault Ash with fire-pokers and knives, and literal gallons of blood coming from all directions. The violence is so absurd and over-the-top it verges on comedy at times, something that is taken to its logical zenith in the remake / sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987).

On that note, given its exceedingly meager $350,000 budget and the myriad of production troubles that Raimi and co. had getting this film made, the special effects are quite impressive, especially the stop-motion that is used for some of the later scenes. Of note is that all that blood and gore (a mixture of Karo syrup, food coloring and non-dairy creamer) took its toll, and the shirt Bruce Campbell was wearing became so saturated that once it dried, his attempt to put it back on caused it to break into pieces. That’s a lot of blood.

The performances in The Evil Dead are somewhat lacking, but truth be told, the whole affair is so campy that it doesn’t really detract from the film, and Bruce Campbell has noticeably improved his acting chops in the sequel. Really, all that is required from the actors is to be suitably terrified at their situation and then sadistically deranged when they portray Deadites, and they’re perfectly sufficient in this regard. It’s hard not to be caught up in the mayhem and chaos that is The Evil Dead, and this is truly its greatest strength, it really is the cinematic equivalent of a horrific carnival ride.

And, at the risk of sounding like a film snob, those who don’t like The Evil Dead 9 times out of 10 don’t get it. Maybe they’re put off by the obvious low budget, or the somewhat stiff acting. Maybe they can’t appreciate the absurdity of the violence, or maybe they simply dismiss any movie that’s too gory for their tastes. In any case, this film, which is truly a labor of love from its creators, is a true modern classic of the horror genre.

Hail to the king, baby.

-Adam

*Coincidentally, The Evil Dead was listed in Britain as one of the “Video Nasties,” and was shown in court to demonstrate the idea of what was considered a “Video Nasty.” A cut version was released with an X rating on video, and though The Evil Dead was listed many times, it was never prosecuted successfully in court.