Bruce Campbell

Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

There are good things about Maniac Cop. Not many and director Lustig doesn’t know what to do with them, but there are good things about it.

James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe’s photography is excellent. Lustig never asks them to do anything interesting, but they’re clearly capable of it. The stunts are also pretty good. They’re ambitious, which is strange, because nothing else about the movie is ambitious.

Lustig, as a director, can’t work with actors–the most annoying thing about Maniac Cop is it should be all right. Lots of elements should be good. Lustig can’t get acceptable performances out of actors like Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree. If you can’t get acceptable performances out of character actors, there’s something seriously wrong with your approach.

Larry Cohen’s script isn’t great–it’s similarly unambitious after a layered first act–but had Lustig kept the film interesting until the last act, it would’ve been better. The revelation of the evil spree killing cop is a dumb twist, but Cohen’s plotting of it is inept. It’s so inept, Lustig can’t even impair it.

Inordinately bad music from Jay Chattaway doesn’t help things. David Kern’s editing isn’t scary or exciting; Maniac Cop has this ornate, incompetent chase sequence where there’s clearly time put into it, but without good result.

Eventual lead Bruce Campbell’s okay. He manages to make a dip of a character likable and he has some fun playing the damsel in distress for a bit, but Lustig wastes him. Cohen writes a good character for Laurene Landon and Landon has some decent moments. Not enough, thanks to Lustig’s inability to direct his actors.

Maniac Cop plays like it is going to get markedly better at any moment. It never does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Lustig; written and produced by Larry Cohen; directors of photography, James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe; edited by David Kern; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Jonathan R. Hodges; released by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment.

Starring Tom Atkins (Frank McCrae), Bruce Campbell (Jack Forrest), Laurene Landon (Theresa Mallory), Richard Roundtree (Commissioner Pike), William Smith (Captain Ripley), Robert Z’Dar (Matt Cordell) and Sheree North (Sally Noland).


Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)

Bruce Campbell carries Army of Darkness. Not because there’s anything wrong with the movie–well, not so wrong it needs carrying–but because he’s got such a difficult role. His protagonist has to be sympathetic and stupid, a hero and a jerk. The audience can never stop to wonder if they should be rooting for Campbell, even when he’s wrong. The way the film presents him is probably the most significant thing about Army of Darkness.

The film’s short, fast, funny. Even though it’s set in a medieval castle, full of people, director Raimi quickly establishes who’s important, who needs to be remembered for later. It’s a very practical film–Embeth Davidtz goes from being Campbell’s antagonist to his love interest. It serves no narrative purpose (she loses all personality once they’re romantic) other than the efficiency of not having to establish another character.

There’s a lot of effects work. Lots and lots of rear screen projection and photographer Bill Pope never matches any of it. There are a bunch of great concepts, but the obvious artiface makes them more interesting technically than narratively. It’s too bad–especially since the deficiencies just intensify through the run time.

But there’s so much enthusiasm from Raimi, such an odd reverence to the swashbuckler genre–and all the Harryhausen nods–the film is infectious. Campbell isn’t just always good, he’s always amusing; he makes the film entertaining, regardless of technical issues or narrative bumps.

It’s self-aware and smartly stupid. Darkness works out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski and Sam Raimi; music by Joseph LoDuca; production designer, Anthony Tremblay; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ash), Embeth Davidtz (Sheila), Marcus Gilbert (Lord Arthur), Ian Abercrombie (Wiseman), Richard Grove (Duke Henry the Red), Timothy Patrick Quill (Blacksmith), Michael Earl Reid (Gold Tooth) and Bridget Fonda (Linda).


Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi)

Instead of establishing Evil Dead II’s tone at the start of the film, director Raimi waits a while, veering between horror and comedy–pushing each to their absurdist extremes–until they meet. And, by then, the viewer is fully comfortable in the world of Evil Dead II. Bruce Campbell can be simultaneously sympathetic, hilarious, horrifying.

Campbell spends a good portion of the first third alone. He’s either running from an unseen evil, fighting–usually in a ludicrous fashion–the evil or he’s just going crazier and crazier. Something strange about Raimi and Scott Spiegel’s script is how it frequently invites consideration from the viewer. Not so much about the back story of the unseen evil, though there’s some very genre sympathetic exposition, but in the reality of the characters’ experiences.

The film is so unbelievable in its horrors, as the characters contend with possessed and disremembered mothers and significant others, the viewer sympathizes and imagines being in the characters’ shoes. Raimi and Campbell are so committed, just watching the film commits the viewer as well.

There’s a lot of good filmmaking going on too. Raimi expertly combines various special effects–make-up, stop motion, projection screens–with he and cinematographer Peter Deming’s tilted, distorted camera angles. Even when Evil Dead II is obvious, it works; Raimi wants to show how important his execution of the film is to the experience of viewing the film.

Excellent score from Joseph LoDuca, great performance from Campbell.

It’s crazy, silly, gross and smart.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Raimi and Scott Spiegel; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Kaye Davis; music by Joseph LoDuca; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by Rosebud Releasing Corporation.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ashley ‘Ash’ J. Williams), Sarah Berry (Annie Knowby), Dan Hicks (Jake), Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Joe), Denise Bixler (Linda), Richard Domeier (Ed Getley), John Peakes (Professor Raymond Knowby), Lou Hancock (Henrietta Knowby) and Ted Raimi (Possessed Henrietta).


Escape from L.A. (1996, John Carpenter)

Escape from L.A. is an action movie without any real action until the final set piece. And that final set piece is excellent–lots of hang gliders and practical effects. But the rest of the action? It’s terrible CG. Instead of imagining real set pieces, director Carpenter (and co-writers Kurt Russell and Debra Hill) fall back on digital effects.

As a result, there’s almost nothing distinctive about L.A. Until the finish, anyway. The last ten minutes or so are really good.

The film has a number of big problems, but the primary ones are the setup and the geography. As a delayed sequel to Escape from New York, L.A. is a disaster. The opening establishes almost the exact same situation as the first film, which seems unlikely but also reeks of a lack of imagination.

Then there’s the geography. The film’s setting is so big and so varied, it’s hard to imagine Russell’s anti-hero having any trouble escaping from it. So the script has to confine him with a rapidly decreasing countdown.

There aren’t any good supporting characters–though a lot of the supporting performances are good–because L.A. never takes time to enjoy itself. It feels like a chore for the filmmakers.

The best supporting turns are from Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Stacy Keach and Georges Corraface. Corraface and Golino are shockingly good; Fonda has lots of fun.

Also unimaginative is Lawrence G. Paull’s production design.

L.A. is a pointless, disappointing but vaguely inoffensive trip.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, based on characters created by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Shirley Walker and Carpenter; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Hill and Russell; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Stacy Keach (Cmdr. Malloy), Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie), Valeria Golino (Taslima), Peter Fonda (Pipeline), Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas), Michelle Forbes (Brazen), Georges Corraface (Cuervo Jones), Bruce Campbell (The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills), A.J. Langer (Utopia), Leland Orser (Test Tube) and Cliff Robertson (The President).


Within the Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

While Within the Woods is well-known as a precursor to The Evil Dead—Raimi has a number of sequences he uses again, once he’s got a budget—it’s more significant for its differences. First, it’s a monster movie. While gory, it has more in common with an old Universal horror picture than it does Evil Dead. Second (and related to the first), it’s Raimi’s only film for many years with a female protagonist. Bruce Campbell’s not the lead here, it’s Ellen Sandweiss.

As a director, some of Raimi’s shots work and some don’t. Once he gets to the horror sequences, he’s more in his element, but he does have some strong material before.

Sandweiss is excellent—even if her last ten minutes is constant screaming—as is Campbell. Mary Valenti’s good, Scott Spiegel isn’t.

It’s an interesting, moderately successful film. It deserves a real release, for Sandweiss’s performance alone.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sam Raimi; director of photography, Tim Philo; produced by Robert G. Talpert.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Bruce), Ellen Sandweiss (Ellen), Mary Valenti (Shelly) and Scott Spiegel (Scotty).


Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

After having two decent Danny Elfman scores similar to his two Batman scores, Raimi brought in composer Christopher Young, who does a terrible job, sure, but also mimics the (non-Elfman) score to Batman Forever. The music in this film makes the ears bleed.

In theory, following the great financial and critical success of Spider-Man 2, Raimi should have been able to do whatever he wanted with this entry. And maybe he did. But if he did, his truest intent for a Spider-Man movie was to make an unbearable one.

It’s real bad. The only thing the film has going for it is James Franco. It ought to have Thomas Haden Church in the plus column too, but the handling of his character is exceptionally bad. Haden Church barely gets any screen time and the film ends without resolving whether his innocent, sickly daughter is going to die or not.

Topher Grace’s villain, the evil Spider-Man, is exceptionally lame. Have I already used exceptionally in this response? I’ll use it again. Just awful, awful writing. Grace is almost mediocre, but can’t essay the character properly; he instills too much sitcom charm.

Tobey Maguire apparently didn’t even bother getting in shape for this one. Raimi gives him an evil mop haircut at one point, for his evil scenes, so the viewer knows he’s bad.

J.K. Simmons is good and Elizabeth Banks finally gets some decent lines.

So it’s not a completely awful film, just extremely close to one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, from the screen story by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi and based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Christopher Young and Danny Elfman; production designers, Neil Spisak and J. Michael Riva; produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman), Topher Grace (Eddie Brock), Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy), James Cromwell (Captain Stacy), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Theresa Russell (Emma Marko), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Perla Haney-Jardine (Penny Marko), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker) and Bruce Campbell (Maître d’).


Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)

I wonder what kind of movie Spider-Man would have been if the filmmakers hadn’t been so concerned with a “proper” film post-9/11. I know they added the New Yorkers attacking the Goblin to defend Spider-man and I’m wondering if that American flag ending was another addition… this kind of inane jingoistic nonsense ruins movies, but it can’t ruin Spider-Man. You can’t ruin a picture something else has already fouled.

The big problem isn’t the special effects; it’s the mediocre writing. Besides the atrocious narration, there isn’t a single distinctive bit of writing. Willem Dafoe’s villain arc is terrible, as is Dafoe’s performance.

Another problem is Danny Elfman’s score, which is for a Batman movie.

But there’s not much chance of this film being good with Laura Ziskin producing. She lets Raimi do some Raimi-esque stuff, but not really. All the quirkiness is lip service and there are some really lame conceptual decisions (the Flatiron Building and the Goblin costume come immediately to mind).

Besides Dafoe, the acting is indistinct. Either good, okay or dreadful. Wait, J.K. Simmons is fantastic.

Raimi’s New York is completely absent personality–combined with Don Burgress’s way too crisp cinematography, the film looks like the biggest budgeted Mentos commercial ever.

The CG special effects are often terrible, but a lot of the action set pieces are at least well-composed (the bridge sequence, for example).

While it’s not a complete waste of time, but Spider-Man is a definite failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Bob Murawski and Arthur Coburn; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Laura Ziskin and Ian Bryce; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Gerry Becker (Maximilian Fargas), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Jack Betts (Henry Balkan), Stanley Anderson (General Slocum), Ron Perkins (Dr. Mendel Stromm), Michael Papajohn (Carjacker), K.K. Dodds (Simkins), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brant) and Bruce Campbell (Ring Announcer).


The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

For whatever reason, Sam Raimi now has The Evil Dead released in a matted version (to 1.85:1 from 1.37:1). It looks awful.

Raimi’s strength as a director comes from his constantly agitated camera; his static shots are–well, I guess the shots of the sun setting and the moon rising in Evil Dead are cool–mediocre at best. With the improper matte and the utter lack of head room, his static shots become much, much worse.

I haven’t seen Evil Dead in about ten years (I still have the OAR DVD release around and feel like it deserves another look) and I think the ship’s sailed for me. I saw the unrated, NC-17, rated X version. I can’t figure out how the film, with it’s super-cheap special effects, deserves such a rating. It’s cartoon violence.

Things I noticed this time include Theresa Tilly’s terrible scream (wish there was a good synonym for scream starting with t, let me tell you) and Richard DeManincor’s character’s complete indifference to other people.

There’s a lot of other stuff to the picture, sure, but it’s basically all about seeing Raimi’s camera movements. Joseph LoDuca’s score might be the best thing about the film, just because it’s so good, compared to the roughness of everything else.

Campbell does an all right job–definitely the best performance–but everyone’s underwritten here. It’d be impossible to gauge acting talent from Evil Dead.

The last third is unbearably long though. Boring gore. Who knew?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sam Raimi; director of photography, Tim Philo; edited by Edna Ruth Paul; music by Joseph LoDuca; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ashley J. Williams), Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl Williams), Richard DeManincor (Scott), Betsy Baker (Linda) and Theresa Tilly (Shelly).


Bubba Ho-tep (2002, Don Coscarelli)

I wanted to see Bubba Ho-Tep back when I first read about it because it sounded weird–Bruce Campbell as an old Elvis versus a mummy with Ossie Davis as JFK as his sidekick. The pairing of Davis and Campbell is weird enough–they seem at odds, style-wise, not to mention Davis is actually old while Campbell’s covered in make-up. The mummy aspect is a bit of a joke but also a bit not. It comes down to what’s so surprising about Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s not really a horror movie. It’s about old Elvis Presley in a rest home. For the first twenty minutes, Campbell isn’t even getting out of bed. He just lays there and we get a look at this feeble old man, plagued with regret.

Bubba Ho-Tep is all about Campbell’s performance. It’s great–and it’s a complete surprise, given I never think of Campbell as a particularly clever actor. His Elvis captures a basic apprehensiveness (everyone thinks he’s just an Elvis impersonator who’s confused), an obscene grandiosity (it’s Elvis) and a sincere sadness (Elvis wishing he could see his daughter). I’m not sure if Bubba Ho-Tep takes advantage of the viewer’s knowledge–the daughter stuff is sad because we know it’s Lisa Marie–but it’s exploitative. I can imagine if she saw this film, she’d be incredibly uncomfortable; the line between a fictional representation of a person who died some time ago (but didn’t) and that real person disappears from Campbell’s first second on screen. His performance is wonderful.

As the sidekick, who thinks he’s JFK (Elvis thinks he’s nuts), Ossie Davis is great, but he’s basically Ossie Davis playing a guy who thinks he’s JFK. It’s his scenes with Campbell though, where it really feels like two old men with nothing but regret and a longing to have been better men.

Don Coscarelli’s direction is restrained for the most part (there are some fast cuts to illustrate Elvis’s impaired perception) and his eye for the scenes is great. He creates this world where Campbell can be old Elvis (and there can be a mummy, but the mummy isn’t as important).

Other great things include Ella Joyce as Elvis’s nurse. She and Campbell’s scenes together are really nice, especially with the mood Coscarelli gives them.

Bubba Ho-Tep‘s probably the only way to tell a story about Elvis Presley alive today and have it be a successful, meaningful story. It’s good stuff.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Coscarelli; screenplay by Coscarelli, based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale; director of photography, Adam Janiero; edited by Donald Milne and Scott J. Gill; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Daniel Vecchione; produced by Jason R. Savage and Coscarelli; released by American Cinematheque.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Elvis), Ossie Davis (Jack), Ella Joyce (The Nurse), Heidi Marnhout (Callie) and Bob Ivy (Bubba Ho-Tep).


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