The low-budget, B movie conjures up images of dingy movie sets, questionable production methods, and inexperienced actors working for sub-par pay. It's the type of environment that would make any star turn of their cell phone and run for the hills.
Still, some actors relish this world. To them it's a world of indescribable freedom without the pretension and constraints of Hollywood, where money walks and bullshit doesn't make it through the door.
Bruce Campbell is one such man, having been involved with film projects that fly both high and low in the budgetary world. And in such a world where the big budgets and even bigger stars get all of the attention, Campbell remains loyal to the underdog; the B film where integrity, control, discipline and artistic vision stand tall in opposition to King Hollywood.
He's starred in over 15 films and numerous television shows of both the A and B variety. He's graced the small screen in The Legend of Brisco County, Jr., Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess and the silver screen in The Hudsucker Proxy, Congo, and the cult horror films Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
Campbell's new memoir If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor — referencing his own sizable chin, which has become a calling card of sorts — chronicles this life. The book is not your typical Hollywood, he-said/she-said, tell-all memoir.
Instead, Campbell has written a very funny and touching book dedicated to the working class of the film world.
"People have the wrong information," Campbell says from his home far from Hollywood in Oregon, when asked why he decided to write the book. "Mainly what you hear about are the Steven Speilbergs' and the Bruce Willis' of the industry. Entertainment Tonight shows an actor on a set leaning back in his director's chair cracking jokes and that doesn't really happen. That's only five minutes out of his otherwise very different day."
Campbell's book documents many different days, from his youth in Michigan making low-budget films with high school chums, including director Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan, The Gift, Darkman), to his successful role as Autolycus in the Hercules syndicated series.
"There was a group of us that really got into filmmaking for some strange reason. I don't know if it was the water in Michigan or what," says Campbell of his early years. "We never really had any guide books when we were growing up and getting into this stuff."
The lack of any guidance didn't hinder the young filmmakers, though, when they made Evil Dead, the legendary low-budget gore splatter-fest that spawned two sequels.
Campbell devotes a large portion of If Chins Could Kill to the years leading up to Evil Dead and the tribulations of the film's production. "It was such an epic battle to get that movie made," Campbell remembers. "It was our first real film. The freshest, most intense, difficult experience, but it's what started the ball rolling."
The success of that film and its two sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness doesn't surprise Campbell. "Those are long-term kind of movies. They aren't attractive in the opening box office frenzy environment that exists now where it's all about a movie's opening weekend gross," Campbell says. "Evil Dead took six years to make a profit. But, if you talk about the old-Hollywood cliché of 'legs, or staying power,' then these movies have tremendous legs because they've never fallen into obscurity."
Campbell is aware that the film and the B genre have their naysayers. "To many people, Evil Dead is a crappy, offensive horror film. It was made for a buck and a half and it looks like it. The acting is poor. The writing is abysmal. It's a stupid story with bad special effects. But to other people, it's their favorite movie," he says.
The B movie world had a hold on Campbell after those series of films and it doesn't seem to bother him at all. "I'm actually glad to have grown up in the B world because I feel confident to do anything now. You learn to work within very tight economic parameters where many times no one knows what the hell they're doing. If something happens, you have to go to plan B and C. We were operating on plan D most of the time," Campbell says, laughing. "But, we actually have a reverse arrogance. It's like, 'Look what we can do will nothing. Look how disciplined we can be.' There are a lot of good lessons to be learned in the B movie world."
Working on low-budget films does not necessarily make you a B actor. Campbell, while having his feet firmly planted in the B movie world, does mingle with the enemy occasionally working in larger, big-budget, studio pictures. He's able to gracefully make the transition because of the lessons that the B movie world has taught him. However, his experiences in that other world only serve to solidify a belief in the underdog.
"You work on some of these big A movies and man, it's like working in the coal mine. Those folks are like 'whatever.' In B films, you find good people."
Bruce Campbell signs his memoir If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor at Books & Co. in Dayton on Monday.