Halloween is that time of year to sit down and watch scary movies, spooky movies or just downright zany movies. If you’re like me everyday is Halloween, and you can watch these movies anytime, but October gets the nod for a reason.
While there’s the more A-list level of films like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween or Hellraiser, there’s nothing wrong with a B-movie or 5 now and then, and no one epitomizes B-movies to me like Bruce Campbell.
Collaborating with Sam Raimi in 1981 for a small indie horror film on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell has been in the schlock business for over three decades and Evil Dead helped put him on the cinematic map, but we’re going to keep the Halloween spirit alive and countdown 5 films not named Evil Dead.
5) Man with the Screaming Brain
Where does one begin with this over the top film from 2005?
Campbell’s directorial debut; he also co-wrote and produced the film, sees Bruce’s American CEO character William Cole travel to Bulgaria on business with his wife Jackie. While there, she cheats on him with their cab driver Yegor Stragov after he gives her a ring. Man, I know Bruce’s characters in his films don’t normally have the best of luck with the ladies, but a ring from a cab driver is all it took? Probably should have paid more attention at home there, chief.
While this is happening, Cole bumps into the hotel maid and when his wife catches the two of them kissing, Cole’s wife splits but William gives chase to the maid Tatoya who has stolen Cole’s money and the ring that Yegor gave Jackie. It turns out this was Tatoya’s ring.
Cole is hit over the head with a pipe putting him on life support, Tatoya kills Yegor and then Jackie has William’s life support pulled on him. That’s one hell of a ring, how many karats were in that sucker?! The audience is then treated to William being re-animated Frankenstein style with pieces of Yegor’s brain implanted in his body, to replace the damaged parts of Cole’s brain. Meanwhile the doctor performing these experiments also finds Jackie and makes her into a robot after Tatoya threw her down a flight of stairs killing her, and the chase is on across Bulgaria with William/Yegor and RoboJackie looking to get revenge on Tatoya.
The whole film is over the top and ridiculous as you’d probably suspect with Bruce Campbell. It’s not a scary movie; the scariest part comes with listening to Bruce go into detail on the DVD special features about how it took over a decade to get the film made, and all of the red tape and loopholes involved. It’s number 5 on this list for a reason, but it’s a fun 90 minute piece of schlock and sci-fi nonetheless
4) Maniac Cop
It’s rare for Bruce Campbell to play a character completely straight, but he does it here in Maniac Cop which tells the story of a former police officer incarcerated in New York’s Sing Sing prison for police brutality that resulted in him being mutilated and believed to be beaten to death by his inmates. Now, back from the dead and more insane than when he was alive, Officer Cordell stalks the streets of New York killing all who get in his way.
Cordell is played by Robert Z’Dar. That name may not be the most well known to moviegoers, but MSTie’s will recognize him as soon as they see that unmistakable jawline, as Z’Dar was featured in both Future War and Soultaker.
Bruce plays New York City cop Jack W. Forrest, Jr. and is suspected of being the Maniac Cop by his wife, who follows him to a nearby motel only to find Jack has been cheating on her behind her back with a fellow officer. Two movies with infidelity in them? I know being a CEO and a police officer are high pressure jobs, but I doubt adultery is the answer. Distraught she flees from the motel, is killed by Cordell and Jack is arrested on suspicion of murder and spends the rest of the film trying to clear his name and take out Cordell once and for all.
Bruce has said in retrospect that Maniac Cop was not a good movie, but seemed perfectly legit at the time. Whether that’s due to the low half million dollar budget, or the overall story itself is up to interpretation. Maniac Cop is one of those 80’s gore fests that many of us grew up watching, and while this cult movie has some flaws it’s certainly something different for your Halloween viewing.
3) Bubba Ho-Tep
Elvis, JFK and an Egyptian mummy walk into a nursing home.
That sounds like one of those old vaudeville jokes like “take my wife, please” doesn’t it?
But, in reality it’s the premise of a Don Coscarelli horror comedy from 2002 based on a novella of the same name. Coscarelli I’ve mentioned before is one of my favorite directors having given audiences the Phantasm quintet of movies, Beastmaster and John Dies at the End, and Bubba Ho-Tep is no less…weird.
The King of Rock and Roll has grown tired of the fame and the constant attention, so while on the road he switches identities with an Elvis impersonator who is promptly killed in a freak propane explosion while the real Elvis lives out his life relatively anonymous as one of his own impersonators. If he did want to go back to his former lifestyle however, he unfortunately cannot because his identification which he gave to the fake Elvis went up in flames as well.
Living out his remaining days in a Texas nursing home, his only friend is a fellow patient who insists he is John F. Kennedy, despite being a POC. “JFK” claims he was patched up, had his pigmentation changed and was abandoned after that November day in Dallas four decades prior. Add that to your JFK assassination conspiracy theories! The King is hesitant to believe him, but is content to have a friend to spend his final days with.
Not long after, an Egyptian mummy decked out in cowboy gear (because Texas?!) that was stolen from a museum tour winds up at the nursing home and begins feeding on the inhabitants souls and it’s up to the King and our former “commander in chief” to save the day and end Bubba Ho-Tep’s reign of terror. Will our heroes be able to defeat this Devil in Disguise or will it be Heartbreak Hotel if Bubba Ho-Tep can lay claim to their souls? You’ll want to watch this bizarre tale unfold for yourself to find out.
2) My Name is Bruce
What’s that saying, art imitates life? Or, maybe life imitates art.
However you want to spin it, My Name is Bruce takes our favorite B-movie cult actor and places him in a mining town in Oregon where Bruce; playing himself is captured by his fans as they try and talk him into helping them combat a Chinese god of the dead by the name of Guan Di.
Bruce naturally thinks this is all part of an elaborate birthday surprise by his agent, anticipating the townsfolk to reveal themselves as part of a film crew, so he agrees to help them with their plight only the whole thing turns out to be very real, or is it?
My Name is Bruce winds up being a movie within a movie…sort of. It’s not quite Last Action Hero levels of confusing or convoluted, nor is it too absurdly meta, and thankfully doesn’t have an annoying sidekick by Bruce’s side. The fun, as is the case in most of Bruce Campbell’s films is to watch him poke fun at himself, while we and himself never take his surroundings too seriously. Maybe just choose your birthday gifts for him a little more wisely moving forward.
1) Army of Darkness
Alright, I’m sure some of you reading this are ready to protest. But, before you devolve into a bunch of primitive screwheads and start chasing me through the streets with pitchforks and torches, let me explain.
This article is about five films not named Evil Dead and Evil Dead appears nowhere in this title, so ah-ha! Loophole! Plus, it’s my list.
Yes, Army of Darkness picks up where Evil Dead 2 left off, with Ash being sucked into a vortex and unceremoniously dumped into the middle ages to continue to fight the Deadites who are terrorizing Lord Arthur and his kingdom.
Army of Darkness can arguably be called the greatest film of Bruce Campbell’s career. The first Evil Dead was straight ahead horror, albeit on a shoestring budget. Evil Dead 2 added some slapstick to its presentation, and was more comedy than horror. Army of Darkness keeps the humor on high, and is more action oriented but has plenty of horror elements, from the badass stop-motion skeletal army, Ash taking shelter in an old windmill and being pestered relentlessly by multiple miniatures of himself, to the final battle between Lord Arthur’s men led by Ash versus the Deadites, there’s so much to love here.
Ash wouldn’t be Ash without his ever present sense of bravado and swagger. What makes Ash an endearing character is that you cheer him along, but also laugh at him for being a bit of a buffoon at times. When he finds the Necronomicon but doesn’t quite remember the magic phrase exactly and half-asses his way over the final word of the incantation, we all know something isn’t going to go quite right, but then nothing ever really does for Ash. All the man wants is to get back home, and punch the clock at the S Mart. After losing his girlfriend, getting a chainsaw for a hand, hurtling through time and space, saving an entire kingdom and ending the Deadite curse (we think) he’s earned it.
Hail to the King, baby!