- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Bruce Campbell remembers the moment as if it was yesterday.
The B horror movie icon was on set with director John Carpenter and Snake Plissken lead Kurt Russell to shoot his scene in 1996’s Escape from L.A. And, Bruce Campbell being Bruce Campbell, he was playing it cool; just waiting to be approached by Russell, the couth day one production move in Hollywood.
The Evil Dead franchise star had never met either one of the pair who made such as classics as The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and, of course, Escape from New York, but there Campbell was — under a mound of makeup to play the sadistic Surgeon General of Beverly Hills.
Then, the moment came. Russell approached. What happened next both shocked and delighted Campbell.
“Kurt comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Bruce, say workshed.’ And I go, ‘What?’ And he says, ‘Say workshed, it’s from Evil Dead 2. My son Wyatt saw Evil Dead 2, and he couldn’t get enough of that!'” Campbell says, still sounding amazed. The moment in the 1987 Sam Raimi sequel is a favorite among fans, occurring when Campbell’s Ash Williams says “workshed” awkwardly due to an edit. “Wyatt thought that was hilarious,” Campbell says, laughing, “So Kurt got to mock me right from the start.”
Escape from L.A. opened Aug. 9, 1996 in 2,312 theaters. Getting trounced by most critics (it holds a 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), the Paramount sequel to 1981’s popular Espace from New York was pretty much DOA. The movie bombed, making back only half of its $50 million budget. However, the film has gone to develop a cult audience, who argue it is actually a good movie due to scenes such as Campbell’s medical office from hell. Carpenter has said he believes it is superior to the first.
For Campbell, the picture was a blast. He did not spend that much time on the production, but it was a golden opportunity to work with his horror “kindred spirits” in Russell and Carpenter. And to this day, Russell remains one the most “chill” stars Campbell has ever worked with, he stresses. “Stars come in all kinds, and Kurt was so mellow since he had been around so long,” Campbell recalls. “A prop wouldn’t work or something would break and he’d go, ‘Whatever.’ It was fun.”
Campbell would spend five hours in the makeup chair to achieve the final look of the Surgeon General, which was a wrinkleless, capped-tooth, doll-haired, dimpled-chinned monster. “The idea we were going for there was Michael Jackson with the turned-up nose,” recalls Campbell. “That was the hardest part because it involved a piece of tape from the end of my nose up to my eyebrows in order to keep the nose tilted.”
As for his instructions from a “very serious” Carpenter, Campbell was told, basically, no Ash Williams. “He goes, ‘Bruce, I want this dead straight.’ He repeated twice, meaning no ad-libs, no winks to the camera,” Campbell remembers. “He wanted a creepy guy, and that direction helped a lot.”
The moment stands out in the film both due to Campbell’s performance, but also all the gross medical nightmares the Surgeon General created with his experiments. The doctor takes parts from the naturally attractive and crudely transfers them to the highest bidder who wants a better look. He is particularly taken with Snake’s blue eye, remarking that he is disappointed there is only one to harvest.
The moment, of course, was done to mock how popular and mainstream plastic surgery was becoming. And while he did not think about it at the time, Campbell is shocked by where elective surgery is today. So much so that he argues reality has somewhat taken the air out of the Escape from L.A. joke.
“What’s the show? Botched? It’s not so funny anymore,” Campbell remarks. “I am just struck by people doing such random stuff that is completely elective; people who are not related in any way to the arts or the public eye. I met a woman once who spent $10,000 to look like Xena, like Lucy Lawless. She even changed her name to Xena legally. She would go to cons as Xena. I think she was probably 70.”
Campbell makes sure to note he has never gone under the knife — that is all 100 percent pure BC.
And as for Espace from L.A. finding a cult following, the actor thinks that is wonderful because he knew after seeing the film for the first time, it might be an uphill battle for the picture to find success.
“I thought it was entertaining — and hokey,” says Campbell, noting the CGI was not up to snuff, making scenes like Snake and Peter Fonda’s character Pipeline surfing the L.A. River a bit cringeworthy. Campbell concludes, “Pulling that crap off is different than reading it in your script.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day