Director’s Chair Introduction: Sam Raimi

by Tony Cogan · February 10, 2020 · Director's Chair · No Comments

Deadline: 7 March 2020

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Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the featured director for February and, with the news that he may be directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I thought now would be a good time to cover the films of Sam Raimi.

Now Raimi got his start making low budget Super 8 films, mostly with his friend and constant collaborator Bruce Campbell. With some experience with these films Raimi moved into horror with The Evil Dead. Shooting The Evil Dead was a mess, due to the inexperience of the cast and crew, resulting in many injuries to them, whilst having to work with what little they had to emulate a Steadicam and dolly, neither of which they had. During the editing process, Raimi became friends with one of the assistant editors, Joel Coen, later working with Joel and Ethan Coen on a number of their films, notably the Coens co-writing his next film, Crimewave, and Raimi co-writing The Hudsucker Proxy. When the film was finished, it had a hard time at first finding a distributor, but picked up steam after it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, with Stephen King giving it a rave review. Upon release, The Evil Dead was a sleeper hit, but not without controversy. Famously, in the UK, The Evil Dead was on the official list of Video Nasties drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecution, this being a list of films which were believed to fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act. Whilst The Evil Dead was never prosecuted under the Act, it was heavily edited in order to receive a UK release, an uncut version only being released in 2001.

After The Evil Dead, Raimi moved onto Crimewave, which ended up being a critical and commercial flop and is only really now sought out by fans of Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The failure of the film lead to the Coen Brothers making the decision to direct all of their screenplays (up until 2012’s Gambit) and led to Raimi making the decision to direct a sequel to The Evil Dead to avoid another flop stalling his career. The film was funded partly by Dino De Laurentiis, who initially wanted Raimi to direct an adaptation of Thinner, but was convinced to fund Evil Dead 2 following the intervention of Stephen King. The production of Evil Dead 2 wasn’t as bad as it was for The Evil Dead, due to the greater level of experience Raimi had as a director. Upon release Evil Dead 2 was a critical and commercial success, ad is often cited as the defining film in Raimi’s career.

After the success of Evil Dead 2, Raimi tried to make his first foray into comic books, wanting to direct an adaptation of The Shadow. However, Raimi was unable to secure the rights to The Shadow, Instead, Raimi created his own superhero, Darkman, his first major studio film. Originally, Raimi wanted Bruce Campbell to play Darkman, but the studio didn’t think he could pull it off, with Campbell having only a cameo at the end of the film, whilst Liam Neeson was cast as the lead. There were difficulties during the edit, with the editor assigned to Raimi having a nervous breakdown, whilst initial test screenings had some of the lowest scores Universal had seen. When it was released though, it was a moderate success, resulting in two direct to video sequels being made.

After Darkman, Raimi returned to The Evil Dead series, although moved towards fantasy comedy, with Army of Darkness. The film did receive some positive reviews, but was a commercial disappointment, although it has now become a cult film, with numerous comic adaptations, including crossovers with the Marvel superheros, Darkman, Re-Animator, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. For the future of the franchise, there was a remake of The Evil Dead in 2013, which was later revealed to be a pseudo-sequel due to a post credits scene with Bruce Campbell reprising his role, with the Evil Dead series making a return on TV with Ash vs Evil Dead in 2015.

Raimi then moved into other genres, making the Western, The Quick and the Dead, with star Sharon Stone personally choosing Raimi to direct, the critically acclaimed thriller A Simple Plan, which was nominated for 2 Oscars, and the sports drama For Love of the Game, which received more negative reviews.

In the early 2000’s, Raimi had his biggest mainstream successes with his Spider-Man trilogy. Originally intended to be directed by James Cameron, when Cameron wasn’t hired, Raimi was chosen to direct the film instead, taking more cues from the early Spider-Man stories. Upon release, Spider-Man broke box office records and earned positive reviews, although some elements of the film did need to be changed following 9/11. The film also caused a bit of controversy in the UK due to the BBFC rating Spider-Man 12, meaning no children under 12 could see it. Some councils ended up giving Spider-Man a PG, overruling the BBFC and it is commonly believed that the uproar over Spider-Man’s rating resulted in the creation of the 12A rating. The film’s sequel meanwhile, whilst not earning quite as much as the first, was still a massive success, whilst critically the film was better received, with it being considered one of the best superhero films and the best Spider-Man film, up until the release of Into the Spider-Verse. Spider-Man 3 meanwhile was more of a mess. Famously, Columbia forced Sam Raimi to include Venom in the film due to the marketability of the character, whilst Raimi was not a fan of the character, instead wanting the villains to be Sandman and Vulture. Whilst Raimi did get Sandman in the film, he did have to include Venom. Whilst I personally think Spider-Man 3 is pretty good overall, it has a negative reception in the fan community. Raimi was initially onboard to make Spider-Man 4, planning to make The Lizard one of the villains, following set up in Spider-Man 2 and 3, and negotiations were held with John Malkovich and Anne Hathaway to play the other villains, but Raimi was unable to find a script he liked and, with a set release date of May 2011 in place, Raimi left as he felt he would be unable to make the film he wanted in that timeframe.

After the Spider-Man series, Raimi had a fair few projects fall through, including an adaptation of the Warcraft games, but those never came to fruition, and made a return to his horror roots with Drag Me To Hell. There were some initial issues, mainly Ellen Page was originally cast as the lead but dropped out due to a Screen Actors Guild strike, but filming itself was relatively smooth and the film was a critical and commercial success.

Raimi’s next film ended up being Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Raimi made use of a mix of CG and practical sets, and had the cast playing the CG characters (mainly Zach Braff and Joey King) on set to record their dialogue, to allow for better interactions with the rest of the cast. A fine line had to be drawn in making the film to avoid it being too stylistically similar to The Wizard of Oz so that it could act as a prequel, but would not get Disney in legal trouble with MGM, this including the film not being able to use the yellow brick road and a different shade of green needing to be used for the make-up used to turn Mila Kunis into the Wicked Witch of the West. Whilst Oz: The Great and Powerful was initially expected to be a success on par with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the final film ended up grossing less than half that whilst critically it received mixed to negative reviews.

After that, Raimi had numerous other projects set up but fell through before filming began, including World War 3, a thriller about the Bermuda Triangle and an adaptation of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Raimi’s work was mostly on TV during this time. Raimi had experience in TV in the 90s with shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Young Hercules and Jack of All Trade, whilst in the 2010s, he produced 4 series inspired by Spartacus and the aforementioned Ash vs Evil Dead, directing the pilot episode. Raimi is now in talks with Marvel to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, following the departure of Scott Derrickson.

As a reminder, the films of Raimi’s that you can cover are listed below.

  • It’s Murder!
  • The Evil Dead
  • Crimewave
  • Evil Dead 2
  • Darkman
  • Army of Darkness
  • The Quick and the Dead
  • A Simple Plan
  • For Love of the Game
  • Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man 2
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Drag Me To Hell
  • Oz: The Great and Powerful

I look forward to reading all the pieces you send to me.