It’s time for another installment of Woeful Tales wherein I relay personal stories of anguish and defeat at the hands of well-known genre movie icons. While my encounter with Bruce Cambell was a far cry from the heart breaking meeting with Tom Savini, it still marks another moment of disappointment and the sudden realization that maybe Fango was wrong and that these high profile personalities aren’t as fan friendly as they make them seem. I suppose you have to keep in mind that when a periodical or website interviews people like Tom and Bruce, they’re often doing it to promote a project or themselves, so there is something to be gained from being a nice guy, posing for photos and palling around with writers. Apparently, the rules of the game change when you’re facing your public.
In Bruce’s case, we could all get fucked.
If you’ve ever checked out my About page one of the movies that I credit to shaping the person that I am today is Evil Dead 2. That’s no big deal. My mom has probably seen Evil Dead 2. Everyone who is into horror movies likes it. It’s completely silly, bloody as all get out and is a one man show carried entirely on the presence and charisma of its star, Bruce Campbell. Thanks to Evil Dead, Bruce has carved a considerable niche for himself and the fans fall all over themselves to one up each other in terms of who is the bigger Bruce fan.
The opportunity arose back in 2004 to see Bruce do a talking show over at the University of New Hampshire. The topic of his discussion was a mysterious one. Bruce didn’t have anything coming out at the time, it wasn’t any kind of anniversary for one of his bigger roles, it was just Bruce, on tour, picking up some duckets, I guess. Tickets cost $10, which I was more than happy to hand over. On the night of the show, I walked up with my friend Wes. I had been preparing for this night. I hit up some interwebs friends for questions to ask Bruce in the impending Q&A section.
I’m a huge fan of Phantasm and in the wake of Bubba Ho-Tep several websites reported that the final Phantasm movie, Phantasm’s End was in preproduction with Bruce Campbell to play a major character. The IMDB entry for the movie even featured Bruce’s name. Sure, it’s the internet but when your sources are Ain’t It Cool News and Creature Corner (now Dread Central), it’s a reasonable bet that there is at least some substance to it.
Bruce was late getting to the show. He looked different when he hit the stage. Many of these people do. They never look like they do in person like they do in the movies (Michael Rooker is my favorite example of this). He looked, I don’t know, heavy. Once on the mic, Bruce did the usual opening rap. Thank’s for coming out, how’s everyone doing tonight? That sort of thing. He then produced a binder, presumably with some notes in it and announced that he would be reading to us from the book of Durham town ordinances. For forty five minutes, Bruce stood on the mic and read about town law. When that was over, he put the book away and proceeded to rant and rave about how modern television and movies suck. His primary points of reference were sequels and the remake machine which was still going strong in 2004. Finally, spit and vitriol depleted, Bruce took a deep breath and announced that he would now be taking questions from the audience.
I never get called on for this sort of thing, but I was excited about the Phantasm prospect so I figured there would be no harm in raising my hand. Bruce was a nice guy about the worst questions. For nearly 90 minutes he had bombarded us with the depths of boredom and then pointless anger about the state of modern entertainment but now he was answering questions like:
“If you were forced to choose toppings on a pizza, what would you pick?”
“Who would win in a fight? You or Ted Raimi?”
and from a very confused, very stoned kid, “What was it like working with Steven Spielberg?”
For another 45 minutes, Bruce answered all of these questions calmly, with a smile, like it was no big deal. Yet in the middle of it, he found it in himself to call on me, and deny me the courtesy that he gave to the guy asking about his favorite pizza toppings. My hand was up, Bruce called on me. I stood up.
“There are rumors going around that you’re involved in the next Phantasm movie. Is this true?”
This was not an unreasonable question to ask. Bruce had just worked with Don Coscarelli who had been talking about following up Bubba Ho-Tep with another Phantasm movie. Roger Avery’s draft of the script had long been known to have a part written for Bruce. I thought I had some ground to stand on. Bruce didn’t.
“This wouldn’t happen to be an internet rumor, would it?” He asked, looking over the rims of his glasses at me.
I immediately became nervous, as if I knew what was coming next, “Well I, I read it on the internet.”
Before sitting down and riding the shame, I took stock of the situation. A quick look around the room revealed that, yes, all 500 of the people in attendance were looking at me and every one of them had seen me get burned. I swallowed hard and planted my ass back into the metal folder chair, still feeling their eyes on me. Silently, I seethed with rage. I considered grabbing my shit and leaving, but I figured that was really infantile plus I had that ticket that entitled me to one free Bruce Campbell signature on the article of my choosing. Once the talk had ended, they sat Bruce down at a table and the lengthy autograph process began. I had resolved to have him sign my copy of If Chins Could Kill and once that was in place, I was going to give him what for. It was a stupid question, but that was a shitty thing to do. Lessons had been learned from prior encounters. I watched Bruce make nice with all the fans that he had just stolen ten bucks from. He posed, smiled, shook hands and all that shit. He signed their stuff with a variety of greetings. To so and so, avoid the clap, Bruce Campbell. When I got there he reeled back as if he remembered me as that guy and waved me over as if to say “Let’s get this over with.” I put the book down and he simply put his name in it. Nothing else. Then I leaned in and told him that my sources were solid and he replied that they were still wrong. I was about to let him have it how everyone paid ten bucks to see him and all we got was this lousy encounter but I chickened out, angrily threw the book in my bag and left.
I have nothing but bad luck with these people. Things would eventually turn up and I’d find some celebrity types that knew how to play the game. Whether or not they wanted to be there, these people were always good with the fans, but Bruce was the second time a respected horror icon had given it to me, so to speak.
Later on, I’d tell this story to Reggie Bannister, star of the Phantasm series and he would tell me that he didn’t understand why Bruce would say such a thing because the last script he had read contained a major character written with Bruce in mind and that he had seen the script and there had been talks about being in the movie. That movie still has yet to surface and it looks like there will be another Bubba sequel before there’s a Phantasm sequel, but still… What the hell?