Armies of darkness

Never have gone in for sci-fi cons, even as a little kid--save for that one time DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and the late Gene Roddenberry showed up with Star Trek blooper reels at the NorthPark Inn in 1976. Back then, during the pre-Internet glory days, sci-fi was a hobby, not a cult bred in chatrooms at 3 in the morning. It all seemed so innocent, back when Star Trek and Star Wars fans got along; nowadays, the fandom culture exudes an intangible sort of seediness. Doesn't anyone have anything better to do than line up to meet some guy named Neil Nadelman, who's listed in the Project A-Kon 10 press materials as a "translator?" Translator for what? The United Nations? Nope--some Japanese anime, looks like. All we're talking about is a little perspective here: It's called a hobby when you're 14, a nostalgic diversion when you're 24, scary when you're 34, and potentially actionable beyond that.

That's why Bruce Campbell, the con's "guest of honor," is bringing his own camera crew this weekend: to, as he puts it, "crack open the seamy underbelly of fans." If ever a man deserved such sweet revenge, it's the actor known to pale millions as Ash, star of Sam Raimi's three Evil Dead films, or as Brisco County Jr. How would you like to spend your free time reading e-mails from, ah, fans who can't tell the character from the actor, who believe he really is Hercules' pal or a guy with a chainsaw for an arm out to destroy the Army of Darkness? "I'm bringing a camera and shoving it in their faces for a change," Campbell says from his home in the woods of Oregon, talking about his proposed Fanalysis documentary. "I'm gonna go up to their room and ask them why they're dressed as Darth Vader. Let them be the deer in the headlights." You can hear the good-natured glee in his voice. Don't misunderstand him: Campbell's "made peace" with the fans who like Evil Dead 2 and Maniac Cop and Xena. They're just a bit too...sincere.

Maybe it's understandable, to a point: Campbell's the grandest, goofiest hero of the 1990s--Indiana Jones, as played by Shemp. Without him, Fox-TV's sagacious The Adventures of Brisco County would have been the mild, mild west; without him, the Evil Dead films would have felt far more sepulchral. Yet he's also as versatile as a reversible windbreaker; Campbell's far more than just a wink and a nod sitting atop a proud chin. His 1993 Homicide turn bested Steve Buscemi and Bruno Kirby's cameos, and 1997's Running Time (a real-time, black-and-white thriller) is underrated only because it remains underseen. And about that Love Bug TV movie..."Why would I want to run around with a shotgun and a chainsaw for the rest of my life?" Campbell says of the 1998 redux. "No way in hell."

On the surface, it seems too often as though Campbell is ill-used outside the world of Raimi: The Coen brothers reduced him to a prop in The Hudsucker Proxy, he's wasted in McHale's Navy, and he spends most of his time showing up in direct-to-Cinemax movies (Assault on Dome 4, anyone?). Campbell's the ultimate one-two punch--the rugged hero with a stand-up's timing--yet so far his career is made up mostly of Manic Cop and From Dusk Till Dawn sequels (the latter done as a favor) and Ellen cameos. He insists he doesn't want leading roles ("too boring") and that he prefers directing Hercules episodes, if only because it reminds him of the good old days of early American indie filmmaking, where directors act like producers and actors take on the roles of writers.

"I'm a professional who's handy at a lot of things," says Campbell, who's currently writing a book, Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. "If you want to hire me, give me a call. I'm like an oil rigger, going out for a month at a time then coming home. It's retirement on the installment plan." Which is fine, but he still deserves better--like, any role currently going to George Clooney. Tell him so this weekend, when he's signing autographs at Project A-Kon and you're busting his chops and calling him Autolycus or Jack Forrest or something besides his real name.

--Robert Wilonsky

Project A-Kon 10 will be held June 4-6 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (located at Terminal C). Admission is $32 for all three days, or $18 for Friday, $22 for Saturday, and $15 for Sunday. For more information, go to www.cyberramp.net/~phoenix.

 
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