Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Drag Me to Hell: Director Sam Raimi, Not a Horror Director

Sam Raimi by Gage_Skidmore | A Constantly Racing Mind
Sam Raimi by Gage_Skidmore
Sam Raimi is a multi-talented director who can direct Horror, Fantasy or any genre that Mr. Raimi wants to, and he can do it well.  With Guillermo Del Toro's departure from "The Hobbit," Sam Raimi is one of those directors that Hollywood insiders are buzzing about taking over the reigns.  Raimi's outstanding success with the "Spider-Man" series leaves him as one of the top contenders for the fantasy genre prequel to Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  Raimi, also pulled out of directing a fourth "Spider-Man" leaving Sony and the film's new director, Marc Webb to come up with a reboot of the franchise, that I think is too soon for the audience to forget Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst's faces as Peter Parker and Mary Watson.  Raimi, on the hand is bringing the Warcraft universe to theaters scheduled for a release sometime in 2013.  In a press release dated July 22, 2009, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. announced that the reason they picked Raimi was because, "... in the course of his career, clearly demonstrated a genius for developing and adapting existing fictional universes for mainstream audiences while staying true to the spirit of the original content."

Horror and Fantasy 

Starting your career making horror films tends to stereotype a director early in Hollywood.  People have a tendency to go with stereotypes until proven otherwise.  Returning to his roots in 2009's "Drag Me to Hell," fans thought Raimi was back in the horror directing business.  "Drag Me to Hell," starring Alison Lohman as a woman cursed to be dragged to hell by a Dybbuk, a devil-like creature.  Fans and critics alike chanted "Evil Dead," while watching Drag Me to Hell, and considering it his best horror film since The "Evil Dead" trilogy.  I tend to agree.

The 51-year-old writer, producer, actor, and director works in all genres well, but does an even better job with the fantasy genre than anything else.  Starting with the classic "The Evil Dead" in 1981 the then 22-year-old director already had several short films under his belt.  Three short films dealing with subject of murder ("Murder" - 1977), horror ("Within the Woods" - 1978), and more horror ("Clockwork" - 1978), gave Raimi a resume that would eventually get him the financing to create the film that got the young director noticed.  Staying busy between the release of "The Evil Dead" in 1981 and his break away from the horror genre film Crimewave in 1985, Raimi was busy appearing in small roles like 1985's "Spies Like Us," the Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd spy spoof, and in buddy Josh Becker's Cleveland Smith: Bounty Hunter in 1982.  Returning to his horror-child in 1987, Raimi wrote, produced and directed Evil Dead II, providing even more horror and adding some comic slapstick to the Dead franchise.  Always with his friend Bruce Campbell, Raimi continued in 1992 with Army of Darkness, taking Campbell back to the Middle Ages for cheesy fun.  Financially, The Evil Dead Trilogy is an resume of increasing financial success not only in horror but also in the fantasy genre.  Making only $2.4 million on "The Evil Dead," Raimi's production budget was $375,000.  "Evil Dead" II had a production budget of $3.6 million and grossed $5,923,044, not quite doubling their money but enough to call the film successful.  The third film in the series, "Army of Darkness," made the most money with $11,502,976 and $21.5 million worldwide while generating a cult following.

Comedy

In 1985, Raimi directed the Cohen Brothers' film "Crimewave."  During release, the film was not only a critical but also a financial failure.  Raimi and friends were not used to having a studio breathing down their necks and making decisions for him.  The major financiers of "Crimewave," Embassy Pictures, held creative control over Raimi's head on choice of actors, actor's salaries, and script changes.  Sam Raimi learned that, as a director, one needs to have ones act together when dealing with major studios in the production of a film.  If the film was a financial failure, then it was Raimi's greatest opportunity as a director to learn the art of dealing with the studios.

Science fiction, a tortured superhero, and a spaghetti western. 

After completing "Evil Dead II," Raimi creating his own tortured superhero, filmed "Darkman" and released it in 1990.  Starring Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, "Darkman" is less horror and more of a sci-fi crime thriller.  Faring better than any of Raimi's films to date, "Darkman" made $48,878,502 in worldwide ticket sales, "Darkman" was what Raimi needed.  Now known as a director of horror, fantasy, and comedy, Raimi moved on to a new genre for him, the western.  1995's "The Quick and the Dead," starring Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and Sharon Stone.  Receiving lackluster reviews and attendance, the film, however, is noteworthy for performances by Russell Crowe and Gene Hackman.  "The Quick and the Dead" had a $35 million production budget the film only brought in $18,636,537 domestically.

Mainstream ventures

 An adaptation of Scott Brown's novel, "A Simple Plan," is neither horror nor comedy and a new direction for Raimi.  Starring Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and Billy Bob Thornton, is a story about three men who find several million dollars in a crashed airplane.  The film is a character study of how decent people do terrible things when money comes into their lives.  Well received by the press, "A Simple Plan" didn't fare as well at the box office.  The film's reported budget of $30 million, only made $16,316,273.  By the end of the decade, Raimi added romance to his range of directorial competence with "For Love of the Game" in 1999.  Kevin Costner stars in Michael Shaara's ("The Killer Angels"/"Gettysburg") adaptation of his novel of the same name.  Raimi directed this drama of love, of baseball, and the coming to terms with one's priority in life; the film didn't fare well at the box office with only $46,112,640 in worldwide sales, despite the film 80 million dollar budget.  Directing Billy Bob Thornton's "The Gift" in 2000, closing out the century with a mystery thriller with a touch of horror, Raimi and Thornton garnered little success financially or critically.  "The Gift" received less than favorable reviews from critics and made $44,567,606 at the box office.


Comic book action hero

During the 80s and 90s from a profit and loss statement, Raimi's horror pictures make more money than his mainstream films; however, Sam Raimi is just getting started.  In 2002 through 2007, Sam Raimi directed the phenomenally successful "Spider-Man" franchise through three films reaching a combined total of $2,496,346,518.00.  With each "Spider-Man" film averaging around $832 million each, the franchise is Raimi's most financially successful films to date.

Television Executive Producer

Since attaining a level of prominence in Hollywood, Raimi has kept his attentions on many genres as producer, and writer.  During the 90s, Raimi was the executive producer for TV series like "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys"  and "Xena: Warrior Princess," and two direct to video "Darkman" films.  During the last decade, Raimi served as executive producer on science fiction shows as "Cleopatra 2525" and was the producer of 2004's "The Grudge" and in 2006 "The Grudge 2."

Real Horror Directors

Compared to Wes Craven, Sam Raimi's resume as a horror director comes up short. Craven with 29 directorial credits and only 2 films that stray entirely outside of the horror thriller genre, Wes Craven is a better contender for the horror director title.  Craven's films include the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise, the "Scream" franchise, and the 70's classics "The Last House on the Left," and "The Hills Have Eyes."  

Director John Carpenter has 30 directorial credits; however, one can discount "Dark Star" (1974), "Assault on Precinct 13" (1976), "Elvis" (1979), "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986), and "Starman" (1984) as horror films, leaving 25 films still in the count. 

A director with only one film of the 19 he directed in the last 40 years not listed under the horror genre, a true horror director is George A. Romero.  Starting like Raimi with the low-budget "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968, Romero has consistently put out three horror films in the last four decades.

Sam Raimi is not horror director but a brilliant film director who can make horror films, along with any genre that producers wish to hand to him.  Raimi is commercially better at the action fantasy genre than he is with the horror-thriller genre.  When it comes to horror films, Raimi and friends inject a unique humor that make his horror films stand out from directors like Craven and Carpenter.  "Drag Me to Hell" was an exception to his typical campy "The Evil Dead" style of horror film, as "Drag Me to Hell" was truly scary proving that when he wants to Raimi can do horror just as well as the next horror director

Originally published on 6/15/2010 on Associated Content by Robert Barbere.