Right on the Chin: Bruce Campbell on B movies, "Evil Dead," and hosting a game show

Bruce Campbell, Hail to the Chin

Bruce Campbell wants the "savages" to show up at his Michigan Theater appearance on Wednesday, August 30.

Actor Bruce Campbell has had some iconic roles in his life, but at age 65 he seems to have finally landed on the role he was truly born to play: that of a game show host.

The Royal Oak native is best known as the cocky zombie-dismemberer Ash Williams in the three original Evil Dead movies and the more recent Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead, and as the washed-up military man Sam Axe on Burn Notice. But after hosting a charity game show for the military in 2015, Campbell was inspired to start pitching what he calls "a game show for geeks": Last Fan Standing. The comic con-themed streaming platform CONtv produced 10 episodes of the show, which may now be viewed online. Campbell is clearly in his element on the show, mercilessly razzing his contestants, handing out dollar bills from his own pocket to those who do well, and generally reveling in his role as an elder statesman -- or perhaps just a dorky old dad -- of nerd culture.

Campbell has continued Last Fan Standing in select promotional appearances for his newly released second autobiography, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor. Following up on his 2001 New York Times bestseller, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, Campbell's latest tell-all proves that he's still just as willing to turn his smart-aleck sense of humor on himself. From his tale of wrecking a tank while on a USO tour in Iraq to his epic story of almost getting cut from his minuscule role in Evil Dead director Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful, Campbell maintains a level head, a sense of humor, and a true passion for his business.

Campbell will appear at the Michigan Theater on Wednesday, August 30, to host Last Fan Standing and talk about his latest autobiographical book. We chatted with him about game shows, changing perceptions of B movies, and whether he really cares about reviews.

Q: So we're excited that you're doing Last Fan Standing here in Ann Arbor.
A: Heck yeah. It's at the Michigan Theater.

Q: Are you excited about that?
A: We want to get the word out. We want the savages to show up. It's a fun show. One of the best parts about it that people need to know is nobody special gets to go up on stage. Anybody who walks in that theater gets a clicker, so anybody who walks in could take it all. It's really fun. We've done the show enough now that we know you can have come-from-behind victories, neck-and-neck finishes. The audience tends to pick someone that they like or sympathize with, especially if they're losing. So they'll get -- not physical, but they'll get involved. It can be a lot of fun, where some schmo not thinking really much of anything was going to happen winds up winning it all. And they're going to get an amazing certificate. I mean, this thing is so worth 10 cents that they're going to love it.

Q: How do you actually pick the four contestants who will be on stage?
A: You do some preliminary rounds, and then you pick the best four, and they come up. So the ones who come up are the ones who are the best in the building.

Q: The whole Last Fan Standing concept is still pretty new. It just got started a few years ago. But you've been such a natural at the whole game-show host role right from the start.
A: Well, I'm ready for it now. You've got to get to that Wink Martindale phase in your life. I wear the dumb outfits. I'm a middle-aged man now. It's time to torment younger people. It's just fun to do that. It's fun to mess with fans. And honestly, it's a very fan-friendly game show. We ask questions like, "How much does Thor's hammer weigh?" You're not going to find that question on Jeopardy! -- that boring old loser show that didn't do anything for anybody. Kidding, kidding.

Q: So are you doing Last Fan Standing on other dates this tour or is this a one-off?
A: Seventeen out of 35 cities. LFSlive.com. Come and see it. It's fun. We're trying to give people another little fun activity to do, rather than watch me sign some smelly old book. They can get a smelly old book and they can play this wonderful new show.

Q: As we can tell from the stories you tell in your books and your personality on Last Fan Standing, you have such a penchant for practical jokes and just generally making fun of people. Where does that sense of humor originate from? Does that come from your family?
A: My dad was kind of like that. My dad was an ad guy, so he was kind of a glad-hander. He worked for an ad agency called Campbell Ewald, but it was no relation to him or any of us. But my dad took every advantage of that. [affects old man's voice] "Chuck Campbell! Campbell Ewald!" You'd think that he owned the company. So he was always that kind of guy. He collected joke books. Bennett Cerf wrote tons of joke books and my dad had them all, so I would just sit and read these silly joke books. I was a big fan of Bob Hope and some of the old-time comedians. I liked their simple, bawdy humor. The Three Stooges have always been watched by me and all my peers. Why not? Life sucks if you ain't laughing. You could be in politics right now. Worst job in the country.

Q: So, you're on your third book now. Do you enjoy the writing process?
A: I love it because, as an actor, the world treats you like you're a spoiled child, like you're kind of an idiot, like you can't really do anything, which is partially true. But if you're an author they actually treat you with more respect, and I kind of like it. And I like the creative process. There aren't as many chefs in the kitchen. It's kind of more of a personal event that takes place. If you really want something to stay, you can talk to your editor and work something out. A lot of times in a movie, if an executive has a woody for some scene or he has a bug up his butt, that scene is going to go. You'll never see it again. So there's a lot more control that funders exert when you're in movies, probably because it's more expensive. I think if a book costs $200 million to make, I'd have more people in this car that I'm traveling with. I'd have another car behind us full of nervous studio executives, making sure I didn't say something stupid at this book signing. The stakes are just different. I don't know. I just like it. It's a very pleasing process. And you know, movies can be an absolute pain in the ass to make. The writing is just not as gnarly.

Bruce Campbell, Last Fan Standing

Bruce Campbell has gone from B movie star to B gameshow host with Last Fan Standing.

Q: How long did it take you to assemble this latest book?
A: This was about three years. I knew we had to do a slightly different approach or I knew it was never going to get done. I hooked up with the guy who wrote the book with me, Craig Sanborn, and I said, "Craig, I'm afraid this book's not going to get done and I want to get it written. There's a lot of stuff I want to write about, but I need help." So I went up to Portland, Oregon, where he lives, and we just sat down for a week and recorded everything. All the stories, everything I could remember, I'd tell it in as much detail as I could. Then he transcribed it all and we'd each take a whack at a chapter and share them. It sped up the process tremendously and it was very helpful, so I'm tempted to do that again. I took that cue from Sammy Davis Jr., of all people. He wrote a book the first time, and he had other books he wanted to write, but he started to get really busy. He was like, "Crap! How do I do this?" So he found a married couple that were fans of his, and he could pitch his ideas to them and they would often do the first drafts and he would come in and give them notes and stuff. So I thought, "Hey, I could do that," because it was either that or not write the book. And I wanted to get this book out.

Q: You note with some irony in the book that the Evil Dead franchise has finally received critical acclaim as of Ash vs. Evil Dead, which premiered 23 years after the final Evil Dead movie. What do you think it is about the new series that finally has critics on your side after all this time?
A: It's not cheesy anymore. You can't make fun of the special effects because they're actually really good now. You can't make fun of the crappy photography because it's actually really good, really trained professionals. We're better actors than we were back then. We have more experience to bring. We're trying to work with good directors and good writers, trying to be very fan-friendly. But mercifully, the reviews have been much better than we normally get. Normally the Evil Dead movies, about half the reviews suck. It's just the law of averages. But this time I think we're about 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It's us and, like, House of Cards and Game of Thrones, crap like that. The response from the fans has been just great. I'm really grateful that they showed up because you just never know.

But television succeeds by being popular. Your show has to be popular. And we're coming up against what I think might be the limits of our fandom because, yeah, they're watching it. But how many fans are there, actually, of the Evil Dead movies? They've always been these little cult movies. Are they meant to be a mainstream thing? It remains to be seen. If they want to finish after [season] three, that's okay. We shot a great ending of the season. We're happy about that.

Q: What does critical acclaim actually mean to you at this point in your career? You've made a lot of movies that you've had a lot of fun with -- say, the Evil Dead movies -- but critics didn't respond to them. How much significance does it even have to you to get a positive critical response at this point?
A: Unlike some actors, I actually do read the reviews because I do want to hear what people say. But I've learned to temper my response to them much more now. I know that with a great review, I know that the show's not that great. And with a really crappy review, I know that it's not that bad. I always tend to find the truth somewhere in the middle. But over time you can figure out if reviews are going to be generally good or generally bad. Look, it's nice to have a good review.

Q: How does it feel for you to be playing the character of Ash on a regular basis again, now 25 years after Army of Darkness came out? Did you ever expect you were going to be doing that?
A: Uhhh, weird. It feels weird. But what's great about it is I've got 25 more years under my belt to be able to work with that character. Now, after having a few more tricks in my bag, I can make Ash a better character. I feel like George Lucas going back to fix my stuff. I can go back and fix Ash.

Q: You did very briefly play Ash at the end of the 2013 Evil Dead remake. How did that come about? Was there a plan for bringing Ash into a sequel or did you just intend it as a fun Easter egg?
A: No, that was [director] Fede Alvarez being clever. He wanted to do it, and it's only one shot. I'm like, "Really?" I didn't really care one way or the other. But it turned out to be a fun little button for anybody who waits all the way through the credits.

Q: You talk in the book about how all movies are basically B movies now in the sense of subject material. But you also express this great fondness for the people who used to make B movies prior to that modern shift, the way they combined passion with sometimes a questionable level of competence. Now that you've got some of the most experienced people in the industry making material that would have once been considered B movies, how does that change the nature of those films?
A: It makes them more mainstream. When it looks like a quality piece -- when it looks good, sounds good, and the actors know what's going on, with decent writing -- even if it's cult-like in its material, it still makes it more mainstream. And we can thank shows like The Walking Dead. They have helped make horror mainstream. You know, horror used to be one rung above porno. If you were in a horror movie in the '70s, like I was, that's a pretty shitty place to start. And all the porn that I did, no one will ever see that. I brought all the negatives back. I destroyed it. So I won't have to worry about that.

But conventions used to be guys only. Now 50 percent of the clientele is women, so women have come literally out of the closet to support horror and sci-fi. Women didn't go to horror movies. Women didn't have tattoos. Now they're all sleeved. I've never seen more tattooed chicks. One chick has crossed shotguns right over her pubic region and it says, "Hail to the King," right above her pubes. I'm like, "When some guy is having sex with her, what the hell does that look like?" And he's got to know that he's not tattooed on her. I'm tattooed on her. I hope that I've screwed up some sex lives.

Q: Your friend Sam Raimi is one of those guys who went from being one of the original B-movie guys to being one of those top-of-the-line directors making B material on a big studio budget. How do you think his movies have changed as a result?
A: Well, they're not as crazy or offensive. When you start spending all that money, you're going to shave some of the edges off your movies. No one's going to die too horrible of a death. Nothing's going to be too ugly or too gross or too violent. When you get into the big leagues there's a lot more chefs. He's got to manage a lot more opinions. So it gets a little more tricky. There definitely are some downsides to that whole thing, being in the "A" world.

Q: Do you miss the crazier, more offensive nature that those movies used to have before they went more mainstream?
A: It's both. I miss them a little bit. What I miss is the people who made movies in the '70s, where it was all very physical and you physically spliced and edited. You had to rent the equipment. You couldn't buy it because it was too expensive and too difficult to operate. You had to have insurance and all that stuff. Now you go to frickin' KMart and make a movie. It's all digital. It's so much easier than it used to be. But what that used to do is it kept the riff-raff out. If you weren't really dedicated to making that movie, it wasn't going to happen. Now any schmo with a video camera can go out and make a movie, which is good. On one hand, it's very empowering. But on the other hand, now lazy bastards can make movies. And that pisses me off. It used to just be industrious, hard-working people. Now you can be a schmo and make a movie. Which is fine.

Q: Lastly, are you foreseeing a third autobiography to round out the Chin trilogy?
A: I am. Fifteen years from now I'll do the final one. It'll be called The Final Confessions of a B Movie Actor. When I'm an old gummer on the front porch I'll write that one.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and the managing editor of Concentrate.


Bruce Campbell will host "Last Fan Standing" at the Michigan Theater on Wednesday, August 30, at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices range from $35 to $65. All tickets include a signed hardcover copy of Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor. Campbell will sign books after the event. For more information, visit michtheater.org.