The ratio of heroes and protagonists in horror tends to favor women by a wide margin. We celebrate final girls like Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, Ellen Ripley, and more on the regular, but not nearly as many men reach the end credits of a horror film; even less often are they the ones who save the day. Beloved actor Bruce Campbell is a pioneer in that respect.
The definitive scream king, Bruce Campbell has played so many characters that have been put through the ringer in horror, saving the world time and time again from demonic armies, ancient mummies, vengeful dead, witches, and various other creatures. It’s difficult to think of any other actor working in horror who has been consistently dealt such physically demanding roles, and Campbell manages to make it all look effortless every time. His talent for physical comedy surely helps.
Campbell has reached a major milestone, turning 60 today, so in honor of his birthday we look back at 6 of his greatest contributions to the genre.
Joe Fasulo – The Woods
Lucky McKee’s 2006 supernatural film isn’t as celebrated as it should be. Starring Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, and Rachel Nichols, this is primarily a female driven horror film set in an isolated all-girls boarding school in 1965. Agnes Bruckner plays lead Heather, a rebellious teen sent to Falburn Academy when her parents no longer can deal with her destructive ways. Falburn Academy, however, is a front for a coven of witches that intend to use the students for their nefarious plans. Campbell plays Heather’s father, Joe. Truthfully, he isn’t in it very much, but his role is crucial to Heather’s story and his scenes important. It’s also a different side to Campbell than what we’ve seen from the actor’s work before; his portrayal of a devoted but broken dad is great.
John Loftmore – Waxwork II: Lost in Time
This underappreciated sequel once again finds protagonists Mark Loftmore (Zach Galligan) and Sarah Brightman travelling through alternate worlds, each a self-contained horror film inspired segment. Campbell appears in a black and white segment that’s an homage to The Haunting. Or rather, if The Haunting was a comedy thanks to the comedic chops of Campbell. His character, John Loftmore, is the lead of the investigation team sent into the haunted house, and to say that the poltergeist activity gets dangerous would be an understatement. Especially for poor John Loftmore. Fans of Campbell’s humor should not miss this one.
Elvis Presley – Bubba Ho-Tep
I’m not sure really anything else needs to be said other than Campbell plays an elderly man living in a retirement home in Texas, claiming to be Elvis Presley. If you need more than that, then just know that it was written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm series), and that Elvis Presley teams up with President John F. Kennedy to save the residents of the retirement home from an ancient Egyptian mummy. Their battle is far tougher than it sounds considering they need motorized wheelchairs to get around. It’s also as hilarious as it sounds.
Himself – My Name is Bruce
A horror comedy that stars Campbell and directed by Campbell, My Name is Bruce features the actor playing himself. While “Bruce Campbell” is on set filming a B-horror movie, he’s mistaken for the character Ash and forced to fight a real monster invasion. In other words, this is a movie made specifically for Bruce Campbell fans by Bruce Campbell himself, filmed in his hometown. There’s an added level of humor to an already goofy horror comedy with in jokes aimed squarely at Campbell fans. Example: Ellen Sandweiss plays a character named Cheryl, a wink to the Evil Dead.
Jack Forrest – Maniac Cop
This action horror film written by Larry Cohen and directed by William Lustig is fun for a lot of reasons, but foremost for bringing horror’s two best scream kings together in one film: Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell. When a killer dressed as a cop begins slaying people in New York City, Officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) becomes the number one suspect. By his own wife, no less. Granted, his suspicious behavior is because he’s having an affair with another officer. Campbell gets to play both the suspect seeking to clear his name and one of the lead protagonists going toe to toe with the real killer.
Ashley J. Williams – The Evil Dead series
One of horror’s most beloved characters, and one that fans have refused to let go of since the release of the 1981 film that started the journey, Ashley J. Williams is a true horror icon. From the DIY spook fest of The Evil Dead to the third season’s conclusion of Ash vs Evil Dead, Campbell has evolved Ash from a quiet university student with romance in mind on that fateful weekend away in the woods to a wise-cracking screw up discovering he’s a dad. He also happens to be the prophesied hero that falls from the sky to save the world from the deadites, time and time again. From barely surviving his youth to an older, wiser(ish) antihero, Campbell made every step of Ash’s journey memorable. More importantly, he made it a blast to watch. After three films and three seasons of a television series, Campbell has officially retired from the role. Considering all that Ash has been through over the decades, Campbell has earned his rest.