Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Issue 16, Spring 2010: Article 4


Issue 16, Spring 2010: Article 4

U.S Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal

‘Hail to the King, baby’: Bruce Campbell and the Representation of US Masculine Heroism

Michael Goodrum

© Michael Goodrum. All Rights Reserved.


When I’m in despair, I adjust my hair and make evil pay… When danger calls, you must have the balls of an ox or a bear or any large mammal!

‘It’s Time’, from Evil Dead: The Musical (2007), lyrics by George Reinblatt.

Taken from the non-canon Evil Dead: The Musical, this quote offers an excellent introductory framework to the Evil Dead trilogy and its parodic relationship with conventions of heroism and masculinity as perpetuated through Hollywood film. Effectively a parody of a parody, Evil Dead: The Musical highlights the equation of heroism with potent masculinity towards the end of the Evil Dead franchise, a long-standing Hollywood convention that, in my interpretation, the Evil Dead trilogy seeks to undermine.  Nowhere is the construction of heroic masculinity more clearly ridiculed than in the quote above, with the hero adjusting his hair and reflecting on his suggested sexual potency while battling the forces of evil. Although fictitious, such a construction of overstated masculinity has the potential to offer insights into a repertoire of more widely accepted constructions. Offering a rigid definition of masculinity, Antony Easthope writes of ‘the young male body [being] used to present not just the self as it is but as he would like to be, not just the ego but the ego ideal’, something that seems easily applicable to action stars of the 1980s such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude Van Damme, among others.[1] Taking heterosexual masculinity to its logical conclusion, these ideal figures invite acceptance rather than criticism, directing the audience to view them as natural. Likewise, blockbuster film as a whole invites an uncritical attitude towards the forms of heroism being represented.

Offering the possibility of a more nuanced and flexible understanding of both masculinity and heroism, Max Jones contends that heroes can be regarded as either ‘blunt instruments for transmitting a simple ideological message’ or, more subtly, ‘screens onto which a range of meanings [can] be projected’; whether consciously or not, Bruce Campbell’s star persona works towards promoting the second approach as a viewing strategy, with his films undercutting conventional notions of both masculinity and heroism in order to expose them as constructions.[2] This paper will explore Campbell’s films as a reflexive metacommentary on the masculine and heroic norms offered by Hollywood through an analysis of the Evil Dead trilogy (1981-1992), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and My Name Is Bruce (2007), exploring the way Campbell’s characters initially reject and then parody notions of Hollywood heroism.

Spanning 11 years, the Evil Dead trilogy showcases a distinct representational shift with regard to its central character, Ashley Williams. Debuting in 1981, The Evil Dead appeared just as Hollywood was beginning to promote what Yvonne Tasker defines as a ‘muscular cinema’, an idealisation of the built white male body.[3] More or less coinciding with the beginnings of muscular cinema, The Evil Dead had a very different approach to the male body than that witnessed in, for example, either of the two Rocky films released by 1981 (1976 and 1979) or Conan The Barbarian, seen in figure 1, released in 1982. As a set of representational practices, muscular cinema idealised and glorified the male hero who became able to achieve increasingly outlandish feats as the 1980s progressed. Rather than judging the morality of this development, Tasker views the increasing visibility of the powerful male body as mediating the rise of masculinity as a ‘visible category within the criticism of the day’, suggestive of anxiety around masculine roles in the 1980s.[4] For the New Right of the 1980s the Equal Rights Amendment passed by Congress in 1972 was directly responsible for ‘America’s rapid decline as a world power’ due to it being an apparent attempt to transfer control of the US to women.[5] Given this context, the all-conquering male heroes of muscular cinema could be seen to take on a different function, operating as a fantasy response to the threat of a shift in gender power and a mounting a call for a return to more traditional masculine ideals. However, some significant differences separate The Evil Dead from muscular cinema; rather than offering ‘a counterpoint to the experience of oppression and powerlessness’ identified by Walkerdine in action cinema, The Evil Dead exploits precisely these fears to unsettle rather than reassure its audience.[6]

With Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) effectively a remake of the first film, it is possible to provide a brief synopsis of both plots. Ash (Campbell) and his friends visit a log cabin in the woods where they are systematically possessed by the spirits of the evil dead and killed. Only Ash survives the night but an ambiguous resolution leaves his fate uncertain. Despite their narrative similarity, there are unique points in each that warrant closer analysis. In the first film, Ash emerges as a potential survivor rather than a hero, problematic for his masculine status in that the survivor’s role is generally adopted by women in horror films such as Halloween (1978), Alien (1979) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Characterising Ash as the hysterically inarticulate survivor reinforces his status as a non-hero as he owes his survival to avoiding that which threatens him rather than defeating it. Whereas muscular cinema demands the representation of a hero transcending his limits in physical confrontation to bring about victory and reinforce faith in the masculine ego, The Evil Dead refuses to engage with such narratives of redemption. Instead, the very concept of masculine heroism is called into question by the terror-stricken Ash; even the androgynous nature of Ashley’s name problematises his occupation of a heroic masculine role. In fact, Ash’s occupation of the survivor role could be interpreted as an acknowledgment of the transfer of gender power feared by the New Right, his feminine status mediating the decline of US masculinity apparently brought about through the Equal Rights Amendment.

It is, however, still possible to draw a parallel between Ash and the inarticulate hero figures of muscular cinema. Privileging the body over the voice, muscular cinema offers the body as active spectacle, reinforcing the status of the muscular hero as an agent privileging actions over words. Ash’s inarticulate hysterics highlight a clear division between the inarticulate built male body as active, and therefore masculine, while the slender body and hysterical voice of Ash mark him as passive and therefore feminine. Such a division emphasises the problem of control; heroes may choose to act rather than speak when confronted with their enemies but Ash is seemingly robbed of his agency by the evil dead, becoming a purely reactive figure. As Ash’s hysterics suggest, he is unable to take control of himself or the situation. Powerless to act and failing to offer visual spectacle, Ash has no choice but to scream. It is difficult to imagine a more stark contrast to the taciturn yet massively powerful Rambo, first appearing in 1982, and it is this combination of powerlessness, or impotence, and hysterics that most clearly separates Ash from conventional muscular heroes.

Evil Dead 2 begins to transform the character of Ash. Once again visiting a cabin in the woods, though this time only with his girlfriend, Linda, evil spirits are accidentally summoned and Linda is possessed. Demonstrating his new-found heroic potential, Ash dismembers the corpse of the possessed Linda, though he is unable to prevent her from biting his hand. As a result of this bite, Ash succumbs to possession on three different occasions, indicating that Ash’s transformation into a hero is not straightforward. Blurring the boundary of the body, possession calls into question the integrity of the hero’s masculinity. According to Easthope, ideal representations of the male body emphasise ‘hard, clear outline[s]’ that prevent ‘leakages across the edges between the inner and outer worlds’, an ideal to which Ash is unable to conform.[7] Such rigid boundaries are generally maintained in Hollywood action films, but rather than offering a clear division between hero and enemy, Ash’s possession introduces an element of fluidity to the character. Now capable of demonstrating physical prowess, Ash is still unable to control his body, as evidenced in the longest possession sequence where Ash is fighting his own right hand after it turns against him.

Often cited as representative of male power, as in ‘right hand man’, this loss of bodily control problematises notions of male heroism. Eventually forced to remove his hand with a chainsaw, Ash simultaneously acknowledges both his active status but also the questionable nature of the position he occupies. The act of removing his hand, potentially reflecting a loss of power, actually facilitates Ash accessing another trope implicit in muscular cinema: the body as weapon. Having sawn off his hand at the wrist, Ash replaces it with a chainsaw, demonstrating his intent to fully occupy the heroic role and overcome the threat he faces. Similarly, the increasingly articulate manner adopted by Ash throughout Evil Dead 2 and moving into Evil Dead 3 demonstrates a move towards a more conventional heroic stance. Engaging with more widespread representations of masculine heroism, Ash’s badinage, indicative of masculine confidence, has become a central part of the fan culture connected to these films. Previously only capable of screaming in terror, Ash now trades quips with the spirits of the evil dead. For instance, when confronted with a demon shouting ‘I’ll swallow your soul!’ Ash responds by pointing a shotgun in its face and saying ‘swallow this’.[8] Combining humour and sexual imagery, lines such as this emphasise the artificiality of the film, provoking a laugh from the audience when the hero should be at his point of maximum effort. As a result, Ash is both elevated as a hero and also undermined by the film, with comic elements deployed to work against his acceptance as an unproblematic hero. Ash’s final triumph in Evil Dead 2 is also questionable as in banishing the Deadites, Ash manages to also banish himself. Returning to the theme of a lack of control, the banishment of Ash may also suggest that he is part of the problem rather than the solution, hardly a heroic conclusion.

Ash is similarly both elevated and undermined in Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness.[9] Finding himself in mediaeval England, Ash now has to defeat an entire army of the undead in order to return to his own time. In the first of a series of transformations, Ash’s body is now rather more built, his physicality emphasised through his ripped shirt. The badinage that came to represent Ash’s heroic identity in the previous film has also escalated, with quips now a constant feature. Banter has been analysed by Easthope, who concludes that while appearing genial due to its emphasis on humour, banter actually supports the ‘aggression of the masculine ego’ through its use of targeted, aggressive jokes.[10] Used between friends to disguise their love for one another, Ash’s use of banter here could be a mask for both his fear of defeat and also his concern for those around him, most notably Sheila, his love interest. In addition to these issues regarding the meaning of banter, a more obvious point is that the increased role of humour means that Ash’s most complete physical embodiment of the hero is also the one subject to the greatest ridicule, with action sequences played largely for comic effect. A narrative strategy such as this undermines models of heroism and masculinity as perpetuated through Hollywood cinema by using their own devices against them, exposing heroism and masculinity as constructs. Publicity images for the film emphasised the constructed nature of heroism and masculinity, depicting a stylised Ash posing heroically while surrounded by evil; the woman gripping his leg implies the sexual reward for successfully negotiating these threats. Effectively, this poster establishes the heroic construct that the film will undermine through depicting Ash as cowardly, arrogant and, on occasion, incompetent.

Despite the loving rendition of Ash in the poster, an impregnable masculinity is far from assured in Army of Darkness. Returning to themes of penetration and loss of bodily control raised in both previous films, one particular scene depicts Ash being forced to swallow a smaller version of himself, effectively impregnating him. A monstrous birth then follows, where a full-size evil version of Ash grows out of the original Ash’s body and begins to taunt him. Not yet able to prevent ‘leakages across the edges between the inner and outer worlds’, Ash is now able to avenge transgressions of his bodily boundaries.[11] Taunting him for his commitment to good, the evil Ash is silenced when the original Ash shoots him in the face, quipping ‘good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun’ or ‘I ain’t that good’, depending on whether it is the theatrical release or director’s cut of the film.[12]

With neither of these a conventionally heroic statement, this scene indicates the willingness to applaud acts of violence by those invested with heroic status while simultaneously playing the scene for laughs. As a result, this scene not only questions Ash’s masculinity through the violation of his bodily integrity but also his right to occupy a heroic role. Through the application of comedy and the raising of relevant concerns regarding his suitability as a hero, Ash’s triumph over his evil other self is rather less triumphant than it may have initially appeared. Anxieties over Ash’s heroic qualities are reinforced through his subsequent actions. Sent on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon, a magical book with the power to banish the Deadites once and for all, Ash reveals the true depths of his incompetence. Failing to correctly recite the passages necessary for safe retrieval of the Necronomicon, Ash ultimately summons a greater army of the undead before managing to escape with the book. Despite having clearly failed in his quest, Ash demands the reward he was promised for its successful completion: passage back to his own time. Those who had looked up to him as their hero, the chosen one sent to deliver them from the Deadites, are disgusted and openly accuse him of cowardice. Such a scene builds on the previous problematisation of Ash’s heroism, though a chance of redemption is offered when he elects to stay and fight following the kidnap of Sheila. Ultimately proving successful in defeating the Deadite army, Ash even manages to unite the warring factions of mediaeval England, demonstrating his ability to transcend the limits placed upon normal men.

Far from finally establishing Ash as a model of heroism, his return to the late twentieth century instantly undermines his heroic credentials. Jones effectively argues that heroes cannot be considered as heroes unless they are acknowledged as such and exist in a relationship of emotional involvement with a wider public who invest them with heroic status.[13] Having returned as effectively the saviour of the world, Ash returns to his rather unheroic job in the housewares department at S-Mart, a large department store. Relating his story to his colleagues, Ash is met with a mixture of boredom and scepticism, adding an additional layer to the questioning of Ash’s heroism implicit in his rather mundane occupation. Just when it appears that the film will end on a critical note, however, Ash’s story is legitimised through the appearance of a Deadite that he swiftly dispatches, though once again in comic fashion.

In applying comedy to established heroic ideas they are revealed as ridiculous and incapable of existence in reality–for instance, a serious action star would certainly not consider a trolley a suitable mode of transport for his final confrontation with evil. Perhaps the film is summed up best by its final lines, spoken by Ash: ‘Sure, I could have stayed in the past. I could have even been king. But in my own way, I am king’. Grabbing a girl who had described his story as ‘kind of cute’, Ash says ‘hail to the king, baby’, before kissing her.[14] These final lines offer a framework within which to interpret the film, declaring Ash to be a different kind of hero, one that both explores and explodes Hollywood notions of heroism and masculinity. Rather than seeking wholesale changes to Hollywood conceptions of heroism, however, the character of Ash is perhaps working towards an extension of Hollywood’s repertoire rather than its complete subversion–perhaps some acknowledgment that heroism is more complex than simply shooting something and rescuing an attractive woman.

These narrative strategies that simultaneously elevate and question Campbell as a hero are also explored in Bubba Ho-Tep.  Campbell plays Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator residing in a rest home in the Deep South. However, Haff claims to be the real Elvis Presley, having traded identities with an impersonator named Haff in order to escape the pressures of fame. Haff/Elvis is unfortunately unable to prove this as he lost the contract clarifying the matter in a barbecue accident. Bubba Ho-Tep therefore simultaneously accesses and problematises notions of heroism. Despite the tragic decline and virtual self-parody of his later life, Elvis is still regarded as a hero throughout the world with a highly profitable industry devoted to his work. Bubba Ho-Tep, however, attempts to write off Elvis’s decline by attributing it to someone else, therefore removing a potential barrier to viewing Elvis as heroic. Another obstacle instantly takes its place, though, as the audience is confronted with the sight of an elderly and infirm Elvis. No longer the spectacular body of the 1950s and ‘60s, Haff/Elvis is a pensioner with a dodgy hip and a ‘growth on [his] pecker’, hardly an ideal to which the audience could aspire.[15] While accessing Elvis’s brand identity instantly creates a heroic framework in the mind of the audience, highlighted through a trailer for an Elvis movie marathon on television that explicitly acknowledges the various aspects of Elvis’s apparent heroism, Bubba Ho-Tep is not afraid to call elements of this framework into question. Rather than a screen for the projection of meanings and desires, Haff/Elvis initially seems to reject a heroic identity, turning off the trailer in disgust with that which he had pretended to be. As the film begins, then, the audience is presented with the problematic shell of a former hero that provides more questions than answers.

If the identity of Haff/Elvis is confused, so is the identity of his fellow rest home resident Jack, an elderly African American claiming to be JFK. When Haff/Elvis protests that JFK was white, Jack retorts that the CIA ‘dyed me this colour’ so as to render his story incredible.[16] While it is possible that neither Elvis nor Jack are who they claim to be, the film’s narrative strategy is to provide evidence for Haff’s claims in the form of lengthy flashbacks that corroborate his story.[17] Jack’s story is not supported to the same extent, and as such it seems likely that his story is precisely that—a story. As such, the film could be interpreted as depicting another way for audiences to involve themselves in heroic narratives. Rather than being JFK, Jack is accessing his heroic identity and drawing on its narrative power, allowing him to transcend limits he would otherwise not be able to overcome. Whereas Elvis rejected his heroic identity, Jack has potentially escaped his mundane existence by wholeheartedly embracing the heroic identity of another. With each character now at least indirectly connected to a heroic identity, albeit shakily, the film introduces the quest that offers these characters a redemptive trope, a chance to test or reclaim their right to heroic status: a mummy begins feeding on the souls of the residents of their rest home.

Prior to this revelation, both Elvis and Jack had been immersed in the rhythm of the rest home, discontentedly living out their final years reflecting on past glories and the failure to fulfil what they deemed to be their true potential. Seizing the opportunity to ‘ask not what your rest home can do for you, but what you can do for your rest home’, Elvis and Jack are rejuvenated through their struggle with the mummy.[18] This is most prominently displayed through Elvis’s masculinity. A constant point of reference throughout the film, attention is particularly directed towards Elvis’s inability to get an erection.  Once the attack on the mummy is planned, Elvis rediscovers some of his potency, represented in figure 8 through a change in costume. While this is a more explicit acknowledgment of Elvis’s heroic identity, it is only made possible through an equally explicit reference to masculine potency. Part of the treatment for Elvis’s penile growth is an ointment that has to be administered by a young female nurse; following discussions with Jack on potential strategies for defeating the mummy, the application of ointment results in Elvis having an erection, despite the fact that he ‘hadn’t had a hard-on in years’, something that suggests a reclamation of masculine potency through the heroic acts that lay ahead.[19] Elvis then propositions the nurse and, while she declines, his rediscovery of sexuality reinforces the fact that the attack on the mummy offers not only a chance to reclaim a heroic identity but also a potent masculine one. Despite the problems with the ageing bodies on display, Bubba Ho-Tep establishes a parallel with muscular cinema through equating heroism with masculine potency. In this instance, however, ‘its workings show’ and through the ensuing comic effect undermine more serious attempts to naturalise links between sexual potency and heroism.[20]

In terms of a relationship to Hollywood norms, Bubba Ho-Tep is problematic. Audiences cannot be convinced that the lead characters are who they claim to be and they may also be unsettled by the prominent role given to Elvis’s sexual dysfunction. Although the mummy is defeated, both Jack and Elvis die as a result of wounds obtained in the battle; in keeping with his rediscovered heroism, Elvis manages to administer the final blow as he lies dying, both saving those remaining in the rest home and avenging the death of Jack. Given the problematic relationship established between these characters and conventions of heroism, perhaps death is the only option that makes narrative sense; while Elvis’s story is believable, Jack’s is ridiculous. More importantly, it would be impossible for Elvis and Jack to return to the banal life of the rest home given their rejuvenation and rejection of their stagnant environment, yet there are few other options open to the elderly, infirm and potentially insane. Although JFK and Elvis may continue to operate as tremendously powerful ideological apparatus outside this film, within it these characters question the perpetuation of heroic myths and their function in society, while contributing to a critique of the connections between sexual potency and masculine heroism so prominently advocated by muscular cinema and action films as a whole.

Continuing in this vein, My Name Is Bruce also questions the power of heroic frameworks. Effectively a riff on other comedies such as The Three Amigos (1986) and Galaxy Quest (1999) where actors are confused with their characters, My Name Is Bruce sees Campbell playing a version of himself kidnapped by a fan, Jeff, in order to fight Guan-Di, the Chinese god of war and protector of bean curd. Mistakenly assuming the kidnap is an elaborate birthday present, Campbell falls into playing an amalgamation of several of his characters, simultaneously feeding his own ego and effectively living up to Jeff’s desires. Until, that is, Guan-Di turns out to be real, at which point Campbell flees, exposing the cowardly actor behind the bold façade of the character. Despite evidence of Campbell’s cowardice, Jeff continues to access the heroic framework Campbell has established through a range of largely parodic action films. Kitting himself out in Bruce Campbell memorabilia, Jeff heads out to face Guan-Di alone. It is only then, shamed by the actions of a teenage boy, that Campbell returns to play the heroic role expected of him.

Maintaining a critical relationship with Campbell’s star persona, his fans, and heroic frameworks, My Name Is Bruce also flags itself as a film breaking with the suspension of disbelief integral to most films. Actors from previous Campbell films appear and claim that they should have been chosen as heroes instead of Campbell and, when Jeff initially tells Campbell about Guan-Di, Campbell assumes that he is being pitched a film and describes it as awful while giving a knowing look to the camera. Also critiquing the power of Campbell’s heroic framework, so clearly bought into by Jeff, is the fact that several of the other characters in the film inform Campbell how dreadful many of his films have been.  Prior to his kidnap, Campbell is filming a sequel to the fictional Cave Alien where he plays a brash, sarcastic hero in a similar vein to Ash in Evil Dead 3. Demonstrating an element of self-parodic viewing pleasure that can be obtained from this film, such a narrative strategy highlights Campbell’s awareness of his star persona and his desire to call it into question.  Parodying many of the films in Campbell’s career, Cave Alien adds an additional layer of criticism to My Name Is Bruce. Such criticism is not only directed at Campbell, however; he also rounds on his fans at one stage, complaining about how they always criticise his films. Such criticism indicates that a dynamic relationship exists between Campbell fans and the heroic framework Campbell himself inhabits in his films. Jeff’s experience in this film is partly learning to separate reality from fiction, his confusion clearly demonstrated by his search for methods of defeating Guan-Di in horror scripts kept in his car. This confusion is never fully clarified, however, as having defeated Guan-Di Bruce tells Jeff that ‘next time you unleash an ancient demon, call that Buffy chick’, referring to the character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1997-2004).[21]

All of the criticism directed at Campbell, however, promotes an active viewing strategy. Breaking again from Hollywood convention, My Name Is Bruce positively encourages the audience to become involved with the film and to pick up on its intertextual references. Audiences are therefore assumed to be media-aware and well practised in criticising films themselves, most likely Campbell films. It is therefore logical that My Name Is Bruce should both parody and yet also conform to what is expected of both a Bruce Campbell film and a Hollywood action film, offering a ‘B’ movie alternative to Hollywood that refuses to take overblown heroes seriously. There is no more obvious exposure of heroism as a construction than when, in the film’s final battle, Campbell uses a cardboard cut-out of himself in an attempt to defeat Guan-Di. Created to market Campbell’s novel, Make Love! the Bruce Campbell Way, the cut-out depicts Campbell wearing 1950s playboy attire. As such, this scene exposes both heroism and a particular construction of masculinity as constructions, as performances that can be inhabited but cannot truly exist. Campbell also reprised this role for two Old Spice adverts, both of which engaged with particular constructions of masculinity. In the first, Campbell talks cryptically about something seemingly essential to masculinity that, in a caption, is revealed as experience; of what precisely is left open, though a sexual element is certainly implied. In the second, Campbell is shown playing a lounge version of Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran on a grand piano in a large house while scantily-clad young women of all races look on appreciatively. As the advert progresses, the implication is that Campbell is a Hugh Hefner figure, something that, like the cut-out for Make Love, continues to access discourses centred on consciously constructed masculinities.

Alongside their critique of Hollywood conventions, Bruce Campbell films seem to offer largely postmodern viewing pleasure. Targeting a knowing audience, the films discussed here operate on a number of levels. Despite working as straightforward narrative cinema, the proliferation of intertextuality and the parody of well-established heroic tropes allow these films to operate as a critique of Hollywood heroism and masculinity. For example, in My Name Is Bruce, when Campbell, or in fact Jeff, attempts to use a cinematic pick-up line, the results range from disgust to confusion. Following his kidnap, Campbell informs the gathered townsfolk of his anger until he spots Jeff’s attractive mother at which point he says ‘consider yourself officially exempt from my wrath, sweetcakes, and if you’re lucky a little later I’ll let you play with my boomstick’, a line that certainly provokes a reaction, though surely not the one that Campbell intended.[22] Instead of welcoming the cinematic version of masculine heroism played to the point of excess by Campbell, it is found to be uncomfortable and undesirable in what the film presents as reality. As a result, the hero is established as a problematic figure unworthy of unquestioned emotional involvement. Campbell’s films are therefore promoting the idea that heroes are to be questioned rather than blindly followed and that the overt masculinity witnessed on screen simply cannot exist in reality.

Projecting an ideology of masculine heroism that imposes ‘without appearing to do so’, Hollywood films generally stand in stark contrast to those made by Bruce Campbell.[23] The emergence of muscular cinema in the 1980s can be interpreted as ‘indicative of a new conservatism in both national and sexual politics’, a political stance that fails to resonate with the Campbell films discussed, suggesting that their project is rather different.[24] Rather than offering ideals to which the audience should aspire, Campbell’s films critique more mainstream offerings, questioning models of masculinity and heroism and encouraging greater audience involvement through active viewing strategies. As such, through both performance and construction, the films discussed work to undercut the perpetuation of unrealistic versions of heroism and masculinity that Hollywood attempts to pass off as natural. Returning to Walkerdine’s suggestion that muscular cinema be seen as a route of escape for audiences occupying positions of inequality, Tasker argues that ‘many action narratives carefully orchestrate social problems… that will be overcome in fantasy form’, something that contributes to the imposition of ideological values.[25] Rather than campaigning for actual social change, muscular cinema poses problems and then recovers any potential dissent at the level of fantasy through depicting the triumph of a powerful male, potentially reinforcing politically conservative discourse.

Bruce Campbell films do not operate in the same way as conventional Hollywood action films. While The Evil Dead seems to completely reject the idea of the hero, doing little to reinforce masculinity against the perceived threat of second wave feminism emerging in the 1970s, later films work towards exposing the constructed nature of Hollywood masculinity. As such, the Campbell films discussed are not commenting on social problems but rather taking an ironic look at the commentary mounted in action films. Owing to their general status as ‘B’ movies, Campbell films can never hope to match the distribution of the Hollywood ‘A’ list but, given their project, it seems that such widespread circulation is not their intention. As previously discussed, these films appeal to a relatively culturally literate niche audience already appreciative of their parodic aims who actively seek out films starring Bruce Campbell. As a result, their impact on Hollywood conventions can be minimal at best. Despite this, their project continues to be worthwhile, and highlighting that screen heroes are not necessarily unproblematic has become something expected of Campbell films. While such critique is often implicit, Campbell is perhaps at his most forthcoming on the matter as Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep: ‘In the movies, I always played the heroic types. But when the stage lights went out, it was time for drugs, and stupidity, and the coveting of women’.[26] Perhaps the greatest achievement of Campbell’s films is their suggestion that some of the negative characteristics identified by Elvis exist in the character of the Hollywood hero and are ripe for parody. Certainly, Hollywood blockbusters will continue to be king at the box office, but in his own way, Bruce Campbell is king. Hail to the king, baby.

University of Essex


[1] Antony Easthope, What A Man’s Gotta Do: The Masculine Myth in Popular Culture (London, 1992), p. 53.

[2] Max Jones, The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Sacrifice (Oxford, 2003), p. 10.

[3] Yvonne Tasker, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, genre and the action cinema (London, 2000), p. 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Christian Voice, as cited in Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York, 1991), p.232.

[6] Valerie Walkerdine, from Burgin, V., Donald, J. and Caplan, C. (eds.), Formations of Fantasy (London, 1986), p. 172 as cited in Tasker, p. 71.

[7] Easthope, p. 52.

[8] Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987), directed by Sam Raimi.

[9] This mockery is heightened through the fact that Army of Darkness is known as Captain Supermarket in Japan. Such branding is hardly heroic.

[10] Easthope, p. 92.

[11] Ibid., p. 52.

[12] Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992) directed by Sam Raimi.

[13] This was a prominent feature of the paper presented by Jones at the ‘My Hero’ conference at King’s College London, 2009. It is also present in The Last Great Quest, particularly chapters 5-7.

[14] Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), directed by Sam Raimi.

[15] Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), directed by Don Coscarelli.

[16] Ibid.

[17] In press interviews to support the film’s release, Campbell stated that Haff actually was Elvis while Jack was senile.

[18] Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), directed by Don Coscarelli.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (London, 1992), p. 54.

[21] My Name Is Bruce (2007), directed by Bruce Campbell.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,’ in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London, 1971), pp. 171-2 as cited in Silverman, p. 17.

[24] Tasker, p. 1.

[25] Ibid., p. 72.

[26] Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), directed by Don Coscarelli.