If you are a B-movie fanatic, chances are you’ve run into Bruce Campbell at least once in your movie-renting career. The 47-year-old actor, who is best known as Ashley J. “Ash” Williams from the Evil Dead trilogy, has appeared in over 50 films, including such classics as Maniac Cop, Lunatics: A Love Story and the 2002 cult favourite Bubba Ho-Tep. He might not be a leading man in major motion blockbusters (though he has made bit appearances in both Spider-Man films and was third lead in the Matthew Perry snoozer Serving Sara), but if you’re looking for high-quality low-budget entertainment, Campbell is your man.
A man with a dream, apparently. For the last 18 years, Campbell has been writing, pitching, producing and directing his project Man With the Screaming Brain, a gleefully ridiculous sci-fi tale about wealthy American industrialist William Cole (Campbell also stars in the film), who shares his body with a Russian cab driver (Vladimir Kolev) after having their brains fused together by a mad scientist (Stacy Keach). After years of rejection and futility, Campbell finally patched together the funds to bring the film to life, and Brain made its long-awaited debut on the Sci-Fi channel September 10. Now on DVD, Campbell is happy to see Brain’s release get to the masses.
“I had 18 years of hurdles, mostly monetary,” he says via email, “But I’m glad to download that information out of my head. I’m happy with the results, but like all low-budget movies, there was a lot of tap-dancing in order to make it work.”
Like relocating to Bulgaria. Campbell chose the location because of the lower labour costs, but the move resulted in a script rewrite and a whole other host of problems. He called the experience “a pain in the ass” on brucecampbell.com, but has slightly better memories of it now.
“I enjoyed the country of Bulgaria, so let’s make no mistake about that,” he explains. “What didn’t make sense, however, was shooting Brain there. We were there because of the huge cost savings, but the film had to be altered greatly to conform to a Bulgarian landscape.”
And even in Bulgaria, Brain’s budget (an estimated $2 million, or one percent of what Titanic cost to make) was quickly stretched thin. Luckily, Campbell is an old pro when it comes to miniscule budgets, and was able to roll with the punches. “Doing low-budget films forces you to make critical decisions and then stick with them, unless you can think of a cheaper way to do something,” he says. “It demands discipline, and I’m OK with that.”
The end result is a high concept TV movie that will satisfy Campbell loyalists and sci-fi fans alike. Brain has its problems—it takes too long to make it to the second act, and a few of the sets appear to be thrown together—but Campbell makes up for it with some classically cheesy moments. Some of the many highlights include Cole’s escape from the mad scientist’s laboratory, and a hilarious sequence where he fights for control of his own body. It’s not going to win any Oscars for acting or special effects, but for a B-movie, it’s pretty good.
Campbell says his directing work on such television shows Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys helped him juggle his many tasks at once.
“I can be more objective these days, because I’ve done the double duty before in television. Acting and writing and directing is a lot to keep track of, to be sure, but it makes the day go really fast.” He also credits co-writer and producer David Good-man for bringing the script to life. “Goodman is always an indispensable partner. He’s bright, funny and quick with ideas.”
When it comes right down to it, Brain’s inevitable success lies in Campbell’s marketability as a B-movie icon. His movies usually gross less than $10 million at the box office (his biggest lead vehicle, Army of Darkness, made a little more than its $11 million budget) but have generated dozens of merchandising spin-offs, and few actors outside of the Star Trek realm can claim such a rabid fan base. Campbell doesn’t know what to attribute his success to, but he’s not complaining about it.
“I’m not really sure how anything works,” he says. “Mostly, I do my thing in hopes of entertaining both myself and other people. My fans are pretty flexible.”
Man with the Screaming Brain is on DVD now.