March 29, 2023
Bruce Campbell is holding up his iPhone. The glowing lockscreen shows a lush, woodsy path flanked by green trees, with sunlight streaming across the stones and grass. It looks like a postcard, or maybe a national parks poster — but it's just steps away from the rural Tennessee set of the horror movie that made Campbell famous, "The Evil Dead."
"It's such a benign, pleasant photo," he said. "But people have no idea, and that's what makes me happy."
Campbell has starred in three "Evil Dead" movies and a TV show, and he's been producing the newest films in the franchise, including "Evil Dead Rise," out April 21. A familiar face at fan conventions, the actor is a fixture in the films of Sam Raimi, the director of not just "Evil Dead" but "Spider-Man," "Spider-Man 2" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." (You might have caught Campbell in the latter as Pizza Poppa, the street cart vendor who always gets paid.)
He's now stepped into a role as the host of a touring game show and movie night called "Bruce-O-Rama," stopping at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading and the Keswick Theatre in Glenside in mid-April. "Bruce-O-Rama" combines a special screening of one of Campbell's films with "Last Fan Standing," an elimination-style pop culture trivia competition the actor has hosted in some form since 2015.
"I'm always impressed that anybody can play this game," he said. "That's the beauty of it to me. We don't vet these people, there's no one with any special knowledge of whatever.
"I would flame out in this game so fast."
It's been a year on the road for Campbell, who will hit 18 states in April for "Bruce-O-Rama" after having just visited Austin's SXSW Festival in mid-March in support of "Evil Dead Rise." The festival screening was largely a success, minus one vocal heckler whom Campbell shouted down himself in a well-publicized incident.
"You've got to be a little rowdier and a little ruder," he said, of dealing with hecklers. "You try to fold it into the act and look, it can backfire. And if you really have a problem, there is a reason why they have security at these things. You can be removed."
Not that Campbell would know anything about that.
"Well, yes, I caused what you would call a donnybrook up in Michigan State University," he remembered.
The year was roughly 1978, and Campbell was working on an amateur film with Raimi, then a student at MSU. After they broke for the day, the crew went to catch midnight movies at a local theater. Everyone was shouting jokes at the screen, Campbell said, but one man would not stop repeating "a really offensive phrase," even after the rest of the crowd quieted down.
"Normally, today, I'd get up, I'd walk out, and I would leave," he said. "Back then, I stood up and I pointed at him, like, 'C'mon, I'm calling you out!'"
He was buoyed by the crowd, but soon deflated as he saw the man's three friends stand up to fight. Campbell's buddies were less eager to scrap.
"So I just hit the first guy who was closest and I punched the wrong guy," he said. "But ... as I punched the first guy, it was the craziest thing I've ever seen. The entire theater erupted in punches. Everyone just started punching each other. For no reason! It was a donnybrook. A buddy of mine got punched in the face, another guy lost his wallet. I got buried just under a pile of guys. Lights came on, movie stopped, and I got kicked out.
"So yes, I have been kicked out of one event. I feel I was justified. I would not handle it the same way today. I'm much more mature."
With that maturity comes an openness to new experiences, including starring in the often ridiculed but incredibly popular Hallmark Channel holiday movies. Campbell made his debut in 2021's "One December Night" and returned last year in "My Southern Family Christmas," as a Louisiana town's resident Santa Claus (in this case, Père Noël) reconnecting with his long-lost daughter.
"I was very hesitant to tell a jaded filmmaker friend of mine that I was going to do a Hallmark movie," Campbell said. "And his reaction was actually very interesting. He goes, 'You know what? Hallmark plays by the rules.'"
By "rules," he means a traditional three-part story structure — or as Campbell put it, "the lead character has a problem, so you create the problem, you confront the problem and you resolve the problem." Laugh all you want at the predictable story beats, but they're part of the appeal. By the end of a Hallmark Channel original, one can rest assured that the struggling single dad is solvent, his kid has a new mom and everyone got a fresh batch of Christmas cookies.
In Campbell's estimation, these movies have just as much of a place in pop culture as horror, the once similarly-maligned genre he came up in.
"In the old days, horror was just above porno," he joked. "These days, it's just a genre now."
"They (Hallmark movies and horror) both have their place in entertainment."
He does have a few words of caution for Hallmark fans, though: don't play the drinking games.
"Don't. No, oh my god," he said. "Because if you trim a tree in a scene, for example, bam, you've gotta drink. If there's any Santas anywhere, bam, you've gotta take a drink. If the actor Dean Cain is in it, because I guess he's been in like 15 of these things, you have to drink your whole drink.
"Don't ever do a Hallmark drinking game. You'll never make it to the end."
Tickets to the "Bruce-O-Rama" shows in Reading and Glenside are available online or by calling the venues' box offices. The Reading show is at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12 and the Glenside show is at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 14.