A Winter Weather Advisory would keep most people in their homes, and would likewise keep most out-of-towners from venturing into Madison. That was not the case on Wednesday night for fans of B-movie icon Bruce Campbell, nor for the man himself, as he hosted four spirited screenings of his new film at Sundance Cinemas.
The lobby in the Hilldale theater was unusually crowded for a mid-week evening, filled with fans of all ages. All were eager to see My Name is Bruce, a film that has been touted for some time by Campbell, who is now touring with the finished product across 24 cities this year.
I took my seat for the opening screening at 7 p.m., and was treated to a classic horror premise: lusty small town teenagers in a graveyard looking for trouble. An evil spirit is awoken, and before anyone can score, three of them are dead while a lone survivor named Jeff retreats to find aid. He can only think of one person who has ever fought monsters with any success -- Bruce Campbell -- who finds himself mired in his stardom both on and off the set of his latest B-flick. The kid kidnaps the star, who finds himself locked inside a trunk and declares, "Oh god, he's a fan, it finally happened!"
Bruce is treated with the utmost hospitality when arriving at the one-horse town of Gold Lick, though, and after a promise of a great birthday present by his agent (played by long time Bruce collaborator Ted Raimi), he is convinced the threat he's been asked to take down is merely a stunt. Campbell plays an over-the-top version of himself, incorporating the shameful and shameless qualities of many of his characters, including talking down to the folksy townspeople, hitting on Jeff's mom Kelly, and feigning expertise when he has none.
Bruce's machismo comes to an abrupt end when the monster -- Guan-Di, the Chinese god of war and protector of bean curd -- is revealed to him. The erstwhile hero calls retreat and skips town, but not before insulting and accidentally shooting a few of the people who had faith in him. Of course, Bruce returns to Gold Lick after seeing the error of his ways and saves the day, laying waste to the image of himself he created in the process. It's something of a Being John Malkovich for Fangoria subscribers.
Objectively, this movie is not good. The humor is broad, the effects are low-budget, and the plot twists are predictable. But it's the spirit of celebrating B-movies that lifts the whole of the material above those elements.
Bruce Campbell, as star and director, winks to the fans who have kept him working and supported his material when it has been good (Bubba Ho-Tep) and bad (Alien Apocalypse). Had this movie been shown to the kind of multiplex audiences that are currently watching Twilight, Quantum of Solace, or Bolt, most wouldn't make it 20 minutes before falling asleep, leaving, or breaking the no cell phone rule to tell friends how terrible it is. But going in with an appreciation for B-movies' silly humor and effects budget, the audience at the sold-out screening was laughing and cheering more than any I've sat with this year.
After the credits rolled, Bruce took to the front of the theater for a question and answer session, and the generosity fans have shown Bruce was returned. When someone asked about his series Jack Of All Trades, Bruce passed back a $5 bill, thanking him for being the only viewer of the show. Another asked about the recipe for fake blood in his book If Chins Could Kill not working, to which he was able to reference the recipe from another fan in the front row who brought a copy to the screening.
Perhaps no fan was more dedicated than Meredith Cook, who counted this night as her sixth time seeing Bruce. "I fell in love with his acting after seeing a butchered version of Army of Darkness on Comedy Central" she recalls. Shortly after a friend introduced her to his other movies, she notes, "it was all downhill from there."
The post-screening session opened with Cook producing a single white rose, a token she has always given Bruce at previous signings and events. "One of the reasons that I adore him so much is because of how good he is to his fans," she declares. Bruce was very grateful, joking about what was on the note for the crowd ("Room 235!") without divulging the actual contents.
A video clip of the complete Q&A session follows, starting with Cook's bestowal of the rose to Campbell.
Bruce thanked all in attendance, and reminded us that most movies are not big-budget, star-filled fare; they're B-movies like the ones he makes. "Even Hollywood makes B-movies now," affirmed Bruce. "A kid gets bitten a radioactive spider? A man dresses up like a bat to save Gotham? These are not A-movies!"
It's a shame that Sundance rarely plays host to such zany fare these days, rather than focusing on a few art house pictures and regular Hollywood movies, which don't necessarily benefit from an excited audience of dedicated movie fans. Bruce encouraged fans to support theaters that do play independent films, and the turnout and response at all four sold-out screenings on Wednesday show that we're willing.
My Name Is Bruce will find its larger audience on DVD in February, but I can only hope that audience finds each other, since a movie this bad is made great with a group setting.
Don't forget the bean curd.