Book Review – If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor

By: Randolph Giudice
Oahu Island News

“For every Bruce Willis and Steven Spielberg, there are a hundred no-name slobs scraping out a living in this shockingly difficult profession,” Bruce Campbell writes in the introduction to his hilarious biography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. The book leads the reader on a rip-roaring tour through the underbelly of blue collar Hollywood, and gives the skinny on enough dream factory misadventures to choke a room full of studio executives.

For those of you who are not male, ages 13-45, and proud owners of the Necronomicon, or don’t consider “Gimme some sugar, baby!” the perfect pickup line, you may be wondering just who the hell is Bruce Campbell. Star of on-screen atrocities such as Mindwarp and Maniac Cop, Campbell earned cult status one night at the Redford Theater in 1981 with the release of zombie classic, Evil Dead.

Sporting the simple location of “a cabin in a feral, isolated valley,” Evil Dead was the product of the homegrown, Mid-Western sensibilities of director Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and other members of the “Detroit Mafia.” The “Mafia” (Campbell’s affectionate moniker for his grass roots film collective) got together for twelve grueling weeks in rural Tennessee to film the “comedy of terrors” that would become the horror phenomenon of the decade.

 Campbell is the perfect narrator, recounting episodes of on-set mayhem with the enthusiasm of a man truly in love with his job. From charging bulls, to near lethal run-ins with craft service cuisine, Campbell gleefully chronicles the obstacles cast and crew endured getting Evil Dead in the can. While aspiring actors may find themselves running to their career counselor to choose another profession, film enthusiasts will be wiping drool off the pages, as Campbell showcases low budget camera rigs like the unforgettable, “Vas-O-Cam”, a makeshift dolly consisting of camera, saw horse, duct tape, two-by-fours, and - you guessed it - generous amounts of Vaseline.

Alas, even with the success of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness, Campbell found A-list status elusive, not to mention costly. In a chapter called “Anatomy of a Paycheck”, Campbell breaks down his salary for the two years spent shooting Army of Darkness. What starts out as a half a million dollar payday ends up - after a sinuous journey past agents, managers, and an ex-wife - the annual salary for a manager in a retail bookstore chain.

Decrying the standard entries of your typical memoir, Campbell screens his colorful life like a slide show, plastering the early chapters of his book with nostalgic pictures and memorabilia. The most interesting childhood articles include battle plans, a design for an armed wooden tank, and an instructional diagram on how to “fake-flush” a sibling’s sock down the toilet, (ample proof that Campbell is profoundly in touch with his inner child).

Recently there was an ominous blip on the B-status radar with rumors that Campbell had been offered the role of the Lizard in the next installment of the Spiderman series. Mercifully, the information proved false. As protectors of Campbell’s artistic reputation, one could hear sighs of relief from Duluth, Minnesota to Newark, New Jersey. Indeed, cult heroes like Campbell are held up as national treasures to a certain demographic - see paragraph
two - not to be sullied by mainstream success.

Campbell also proves he has a self-deprecating sense of humor, loyally including emails in his book from the fans that have made him the icon he is today. Ranging from the normal to the surreal, one fan boldly suggests an alternative title for the actor’s biography: How To Sorta Succeed in Hollywood. High praise indeed.

If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell
L.A. Weekly Books, Paperback (344 pages).