Nestled at 7,800 feet above sea level in Estes Park, Colorado, The Stanley Hotel sits in the snowy mountains with an air of regality. This is where BruceFest, the definitive Bruce Campbell film festival, returned for its second year from Dec 1st-3rd. This time around, it featured the exciting addition of fellow horror icon Ted Raimi as co-host of honor.
Tickets were sold as three-day passes for access to events in various buildings on the hotel grounds for a blend of immersive ARG, screenings, trivia, tabletop games and prop exhibits. Attendees referred to the Eventzee app for schedule updates and participated in challenges that would award a special prize to the highest scorer. Ways to up your points included self taped submissions of Campbell impressions, photos of swag you brought to get signed, answering S-Mart questions and then some. This also tracked your progress on the scavenger hunt, where you had to seek out and scan rune symbols. It was all a part of the S-Mart immersive storyline surrounding a conspiracy theorist named Chester Eckels, who has accused the corporation of being in cahoots with demonic forces.
Day One kicked off with goodie bags containing a Blu-ray of Daniel Emery Taylor’s It’s Just A Game, a BruceFest patch and postcard. Exhibits were available to peruse in the afternoon: the Saber lounge offered multi-platforms to play Evil Dead: The Game, a tabletop games saloon, an Army of Darkness photo booth, the merchandise table, ongoing screenings, a prop exhibit from Sam Raimi and the HSPPA’s collection, along with a screen-used Delta 88. The opening ceremony started in the evening, as Campbell and Raimi were introduced by S-Mart CEO Bradley Smart (Paul Rufus Jones), who has such a resemblance to Raimi that he jokingly assured the attendees that he was truly an entirely different person.
When Campbell and Raimi are invited onto stage, they are dapperly dressed in tuxedo suits, a formal dress code they kept up throughout the weekend. After playing an energetic montage of what’s to come, Campbell unveils a world exclusive first look at Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise, and asks everyone to refrain from divulging what we see to social media. During the most gruesome moments, the crowd eats it up, screaming in joy. The reaction is so positive that Campbell plays it once more to everyone’s delight. After the ribbon cutting, the event follows with a lecture titled “Real Necronomicons” by Dr. Justin Sledge of Esoterica, who presents fascinating information with enthusiasm and humorous delivery. He mentions that Evil Dead II sparked his interest in pursuing academic study of real historical books of black magic, and that’s the very film that closes out the night in a watch along. The banter between Campbell and Raimi is not only entertaining commentary, but a master class in indie filmmaking tips. Even fans who can quote these anecdotes by heart will enjoy hearing them again, as the duo doles them out with charisma and charm.
Day Two continues with tabletop gaming with Raimi, Andy Campbell and Janel SantaCruz Campbell, photo ops and signings. Later, Josh Becker’s Lunatics: A Love Story is screened with a panel moderated by the hosts of Cult Talk Net’s Cult of Campbell, who also interviewed the creative team of BruceFest and Bradley Smart on their podcast prior to the event. Lunatics is an underrated and surreal gem starring Raimi in the lead romantic-eccentric role, which has yet to receive a Blu-ray or 4K release. Raimi states it should be incoming, as it currently is only available on VHS and DVD. It can currently be streamed for free on Tubi.
The festivities then move on to the first session of Last Fan Standing, a game show where fans are quizzed on pop culture and fandom. The original concept was developed by Steve Sellery, who invited Campbell to host Armed Forces Trivia Quest in 2014. It has since been performed live across the US, overseas, Wizard World and ran for a season on CONtv. The games began with Campbell v. Raimi being hilariously tested on their knowledge of each other. Then, to select which fans would compete, attendees answered timed questions on their phones and the top scorers stepped up to the podiums. As seen on the CONtv episodes and at BruceFest, Campbell excels and thrives in the host role, rocking snazzy suits and quick witted replies that earn guttural laughs. It truly begs the question as to why a network has not yet swept him up and given him his own talk show.
The night then advances by way of a surprise marriage ceremony with Bradley Smart acting as officiant. During the “If anyone objects to this wedding, speak now or forever hold your peace” segment, Campbell bursts in from the rear of the hall and hollers, “Yeah… I fucking object!” adding lively chaos to the moment. Having been married for thirty years, he proceeds to give his heartfelt advice to the couple on how to keep a marriage intact, emphasizing honesty and freedom for your partner. “I’ve enjoyed all of my marriages,” he quips.
It follows with Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, a first time watch along, with perfect timing as the film celebrates a 4K release from Scream Factory next February for the 20th anniversary. The closer of the night, the S-Mart Holiday Party, features cocktails and scrumptious appetizers (including the pizza balls from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) catered by celebrity Chef Chris Binotto. To everyone’s surprise, the wait staff were none other than Raimi and Campbell themselves. It was a sweet exchange, one that displays their humility and zeal to provide a memorable and intimate experience for their fans.
Day Three opens with the S-Mart Holiday Market, where national and local vendors sell spooky themed trinkets, artwork and items. The Cult of Campbell podcast recorded a live episode where they rated Campbell’s performances in his entire filmography, and in the saloon Raimi gave commentary as a fan played The Quarry, where he portrays the unsettling Sheriff Travis Hackett. When asked about the process of making the game, Raimi mentions the script was over 1,000 pages, taking him almost a month to read. He also praises the game’s impressive use of performance capture and his joy of working with the cast and team. When asked if his character Chet is swooping into Evil Dead: The Game anytime soon, he kept it politely tight-lipped.
After more photo ops, autograph signings and part two of Last Fan Standing, we plunged into the watch along of Army of Darkness. Campbell states the production was a nightmare to endure, but is proud of the stamina and resilience he displayed at this age. Raimi played four roles in the film: Cowardly Warrior, Brave Fighter, Supportive Villager and S-Mart Clerk, to which the crowd roared in applause whenever he was spotted. After the film, the top cosplayers make their way to the stage where only one can be crowned the winner. There are two Ash Williams, Cheryl Williams and a Darkman. One Ash wins based on the attention to detail on his shoes from the original The Evil Dead, and later drops down on his knee to ask his boyfriend (dressed as a vine covered Cheryl) to marry him. Love is in the air at BruceFest!
At Dance of the Dead, the final event to close out the weekend’s festivities, a number of attendees swap their hoodies and jeans for gowns and suits. It’s an amusing sight on the dance floor as we see Elvis with a walker from Bubba Ho-Tep and Darkman grooving to ‘80s favorites spun by DJ Paul Italia. The winners of the challenges on the Eventzee app are announced, but are interrupted by Bradley Smart… at least, what’s left of him. He’s now mutated into full-on Deadite, leaving Raimi and Campbell having to exorcise the evil out as the staff hold him back. Of course, they overcome him (with the help of attendees chanting “Klaatu verata nicto!”) and all is safe and sound at The Stanley again.
After taking in the three days of the fest and observing the Scream Kings interact with fans, there was a realization. It is titled BruceFest but it’s not just about celebrating Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi. It’s also their way of celebrating their devoted fans. At larger conventions, you most likely have less than a minute to speak with them as hundreds of others wait in line. No where else will you get to lounge next to Raimi and chat over a playthrough of The Quarry or be served pizza balls from Pizza Poppa himself. When I asked attendees how last year compared to this weekend, I’m told that operations ran more smoothly, it’s a consistent blast and they intend on returning again.
It takes a lot of hard work to make a fest this much fun, particularly in the unforgiving winter wind and snow, but the BruceFest team did a stellar job of crafting a grandiosely elegant and unforgettable experience that kept everyone’s spirits warm. If you can find the time and resources to make it to the next one, it’s highly recommended. Of course, there’s only one word that can encapsulate how BruceFest 2022 was. Groovy.