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If Chins Could Kill – Book Review

If Chins Could Kill book cover art

Written by Bruce Campbell.
Published by St. Martin’s Press (LA Weekly Books).

Up front, I must confess that I’m not much of a (auto)biography reader. Sure, I’ll watch the occasional A&E special to find out about somebody famous and of interest, but to invest the time to read an entire book dedicated to some single individual. Not unless you’re talking about James Joyce, brother. Nobody who made their name in Hollywood gets that kind of credit and commitment from me.

Except Bruce Campbell. The man is a patron saint of mine, and I’ve seen just about everything he’s committed to celluloid (or thought I had before I read this). So when I got a chance to scope out his new autobiography, I was game. I knew, vaguely, the story of making the Evil Dead films with his buddy Sam Raimi, and was curious to hear the insider’s scoop on that process. And given Campbell’s well-documented wiseacre wit, it promised to be pretty amusing, too.

What followed was a whirlwind read of the 300-page tome, over the course of a day and a half. I didn’t read this book – I inhaled it. And it was all I had hoped for. Campbell glazes over his early life pretty quickly, and moves on to the fateful conjunction of Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and himself in a normal, Michigan high school. I knew, before reading the book, that these guys had hooked up early in life, but to think of how much history exists between them is a little staggering. He talks about their beginnings making Super-8 films, and their first couple of attempts to make something “bigger.” But the bulk of the book’s first half covers the creation of the cult-film legend, Evil Dead. Beating the streets for money, the neverending shoot from hell in the hills of Tennessee, all the way through the first screening and the movie’s eventual cult-blockbuster status, you can tell this story means a lot to Bruce, and it should. The sheer guts and determination are impressive.

[ad#longpost]But the book’s not all Evil Dead. We get glimpses of his other projects, his (usually unfortunate) brushes with “A-List” celebrities, and the hardships of being a real working stiff in Hollywood. I found his skewering of Tom Arnold particularly amusing, and his encounters with Chuck Heston and Kurt Russell actually verified my theories on both those individuals (pompous, self-centered ass and cool, laid-back regular joe, respectively).

And Campbell is flat-out funny. Not guffawing, knee-slapping funny, but the kind that leaves a slow smirk creeping up on you a paragraph after the fact. It’s subtle, and it’s intelligent, which seems to be precisely the same characteristics setting Campbell apart from most of the “A-list” stars he encounters.

Diagnosis: If you’re a fan of Campbell’s work, or want to get the skinnee on old-school, damn-the-torpedos independent film-making from a man who has lived it, brothers and sisters, then this is a great read for you. The book is proof positive that the real heart and soul of Hollywood will never see their names on the marquee, but it’s probably for the best that way.

Grade: B+ (I’d give him an A, but I think he’d be happier to stay in the “B”s.

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  • The version of the book reviewed here has been discontinued. An updated version we have not reviewed, but assume it’s probably just as cool, is now available. Click here to buy it from Amazon.