Raimi To Bring Wyatt Earp To The Future In SAINTS FOR SINNERS

sam-raimiSam Raimi has always been firmly entrenched within the ranks of “geekdom”. The EVIL DEAD series has taken on legendary cult status, SPIDER MAN 1 & 2 were excellent – funny, we don’t seem to remember a THING about a third one of those – and DRAG ME TO HELL has found an audience all its own. It seems that they sci-fi/horror train keeps on rolling for Raimi as it was announced in Variety that he will be directing EARP: SAINTS FOR SINNERS for Radical Studios and Dreamworks.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, SAINTS FOR SINNERS follows a “modern day” Wyatt Earp as he fights the lawless in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Some fears have arisen based upon the recent blight that was JONAH HEX, but with Raimi at the helm it seems that the Sci-fi/Western genre has no place left to go but up. The graphic novel itself has not been published yet but will be revealed at this week’s ComicCon.

Sam Raimi Going to 'OZ'

Wizard_Scary_WSat on this for a while, but it appears to be legit.
Deadline.com says it can confirm that Sam Raimi (SPIDER-MAN) is going to direct OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL for Walt Disney Pictures.
Robert Downey Jr. (IRON MAN) is said to be in talks to play the role of the “Wizard” in this prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

 
The article states that Downey’s character is a “circus wrangler transported by tornado to the mysterious world of Oz”.
The screenplay, formerly known as BRICK, was written by Mitchell Kapner (ROMEO MUST DIE). Disney hopes to have the film out in 2013.
In the Frank L. Baum novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Great and Powerful Oz was a state fair performer from Omaha, whose hot-air balloon was whisked away into the fabulous land. The novels implied the Land of Oz was real, and not just the dreamscape of young Dorothy Gale, as in the best-known movie.

Bryan Bertino To Find This Man


Director Bryan Bertino
Director Bryan Bertino

According to Deadline New York Bryan Bertino (THE STRANGERS) has been hired by Sam Raimi’s production company, Ghost House Pictures, to direct their latest horror-come-thriller, THIS MAN. The film was inspired by an Italian sociologist’s website (yes, you read that correctly) for which the company picked up the rights to adapt and have asked Bertino to direct.

THIS MAN centres on ordinary man who discovers that people he has never met have somehow seen him in their nightmares and the aforementioned real-life website helps those who claim to have seen him for real connect with one another. Raimi calls it, “a hair raising story that will be sure to delight horror fans.” THE STRANGERS was a decent film (even if it wasn’t quite as good as the trailers suggested) and the premise for THIS MAN is very original so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.
THIS MAN is too far off for a release date but THE STRANGERS 2 (which Bertino wrote) is due out sometime next year.

Sense of Wonder: Looking Back on Sam Raimi and Pixar

We usually look forward to Tuesday because it’s the day when new DVDs and Blu-ray discs are released; unfortunately, today is a bad day for cinefantastique on home video. With not much new and exciting happening, we thought we would take refuge in retrospectives, casting a look back on some older items of interest. Since Pixar Animation’s UP and Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL came out on Friday, we figured we might as well post a few articles about the previous output of those two genre giants.
In regards to Pixar, we have posted a couple reviews of their older films, THE INCREDIBLES and CARS. For Sam Raimi, we have a couple of retrospctive articles, one an interview regarding his work 2002’s Spider-Man and “Hell and Back Again,” which traces the career trajectory that took him from early exploitation horror to mainstream blockbusters and back to horror.
Of course, this kind of stuff flies in the face of what  you’re supposed to do on the Internet, which is post nothing but news and scoops about upcoming product. However, Cinefantastique magazine was always about an appreciation of the best the genre had to offer, old or new, and we proudly maintain that tradition online.
If that’s not enough for you, you can find more Pixar-related articles here and more articles about Sam Raimi here.

Retrospective Interview: Sam Raimi on swinging from Evil Dead to Spider-Man

Spider-man (2002)Sam Raimi was the perfect choice to bring SPIDER-MAN to the big screen. His early EVIL DEAD  films displayed a love of vertiginous camera work and over-the-top antics that seem eminently suitable for a comic book adaptation about a superhero swinging around buildings on a web. His later dramatic work (A SIMPLE PLAN, THE GIFT) proved him willing to turn off the visual pyrotechnics and focus on characterization and story when necessary—which came in handy when dealing with Peter Parker’s uncertainty and angst about the responsibilities brought on by his new powers. And perhaps most tellingly, Raimi had previously created one pseudo-comic book superhero in DARKMAN, a film that fused elements from action and horror films (particularly, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM) to create an original character who was part vengeful monster and part righteous avenger.
Until the blockbuster success of the Spider-Manfranchise, Raimi had remained mostly a cult figure, loved by his fans but overlooked by critics. Spider-Man put him on the mainstream map. The multi-million-dollar Sony production starred Tobey Maguire (The Cider House Rules) as Peter Parker, who is transformed by the bite of a genetically-altered spider (replacing the radioactive spider of the comic book) into the titular superhero. Kirsten Dunst co-starred as Parker’s love interest Mary Jane Watson, and Willem Dafoe was his nemesis The Green Goblin. Also on board were Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, with J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Peter’s boss at the Daily Bugle. Danny Elfman (of course) supplied the music, and John Dykstra (Star Wars) supervised the visual effects. The final screenplay was credited to David Koepp (Jurassic Park), but featured uncredited contributions from several other writers, including James Cameron.
Raimi is a unpretentious and self-effacing filmmaker, and he wants fans to know that he is himself “a giant comic books fan,” even if his current workload prevents him from keeping up with all the titles being published. “I did most of my reading in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and only occasionally do I pick up comic book now. I’ve been reading the Spider-Mans and some of the Batmans. But my workload is so intense that I don’t have time to chew gum and sit on the bed and flip through the comics like I used to.”
Likewise, Raimi didn’t have time to check up on all the previous comics-to-film adaptations, in spite of his best intentions. “That was my plan,” he says. “I thought to myself early in pre-production ‘I’m going to watch every superhero picture ever made, and I’ll try to understand why they work and why they don’t work.’ But suddenly I was overwhelmed with this outrageously gigantic job of making Spider-Manand pre-production with all its departments and responsibilities, and as far as I got was the first half of Superman I. And I never got to see the rest. I saw X-Men then. So I can’t say it’s based on those pictures or that I had time to learn from them. I remembered how much I loved the first half of Superman I and X-Men was a blast, but I never got around to [any other films].”
The first Superman film sold itself with the tagline: “You Will Believe A Man Can Fly.” Raimi faced a similar challenge with his web-slinger: not only using special effects to create shots of incredible action, but also using the actors and dialogue to create a sense of believability that allowed audiences to hook into the picture on an emotional level. “They did a great job with Superman,” says Raimi, citing director Richard Donner in particular. “I love that picture. It’s really emotional and uplifting and bright and wonderful, and you did believe that a man could fly in that film. They were successful. They were great effects…. We’re faced with the great challenge of making Spider-Man believable. The kids really want to soar with Spider-Man 60 stories up. They want to dance with him in this aerial acrobatics that he performs. And those illusions are…accomplished a lot of different ways. I don’t want to reveal too much because I don’t want to spoil for the kids and have them start picking them apart as tricks. I want them to be swept up into the thing. But suffice to say that Tobey [Maguire]’s performing a lot of the [action] himself with backgrounds put in and John Dykstra helping him with some CGI.”
Unlike most of Raimi’s previous output, Spider-Man has a PG-13 rating. “The movie’s really made for the whole family,” he explains. “[In] Stan Lee’s original conception, the great strength of Spider-Man was the fact that he’s a real person, unlike Superman from the planet Krypton or other fantastic heroes. He’s a kid from Brooklyn; he doesn’t have a lot of money; he doesn’t get the girls, he’s got acne. He’s a fairly average looking kid. He’s really a kid that we identify with. And this kid is vested with these powers, or perhaps cursed with this powers. But the important thing is he’s one of us. So it really broadened that base of people who could appreciate comic books. I think it completely changed the demographic at that point, because suddenly he was a real character with a love relationship, and sometimes two, and family problems. It wasn’t just about beating the [bad] guy. It was about a real human being. So I think that the picture [will] appeal to an intelligent audience, so that adults can really enjoy it, but at it’s heart it will have a lot of fun and excitement and adventure that the kids will also enjoy.”
Spider-Man (2002)Despite the superficial similarity to Darkman, Raimi insists that Spider-man has “its own style.” He adds that, “because the guys and girls who read Spider-Man comic books are so into the outrageous movement that Spider-Man generates as he swings through these tremendous arcs at like 90 miles an hour through the city of New York, it demands a much more visceral camera style than we presented with Darkman, who was a more sedentary type of fellow, so it didn’t demand the same amount of exciting movement that Spider-Man demands. So I think it’s a lot more visceral in its feeling, but not so much that the audience says, ‘Oh, that’s a cool shot.’ Because I don’t want to pull them out of the movie. I’ve got these great actors here to pull the audience into the film.”
During production of Darkman, Raimi voiced similar sentiments about not wanting to make the audience aware of “cool shots,” yet that film emerged with a fair share of delirious camera trickery. Still, the director made good on his pledge with later films in which the camera concentrated on recording the actors performances. Spider-Man is a good marriage of both techniques, now that Raimi has learned a few lessons about working with actors.
“I guess I’m learning that I don’t know anything about actors…and don’t want to know,” he laughs. “I’m joking, of course. Every picture that I make, I learn a lot from the actors. Those horror movies that I made when I got started – called Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 – they were about the exploration of what film was, and presenting the world of the supernatural was a great medium for that because you had to present something that doesn’t exist in our world. But at some point in my life, I thought I should start making the types of pictures that I’d like to see, because the films that I saw were not horror films…
“So I started to look for better material, and that attracted a finer caliber of actor, and I learned and I’m still learning how to work with actors and what they bring to a film,” Raimi continues. “And the more I learn the more astonished I am at the wonders they create. It’s all really about them; everything else is just a device, and really great stories are about human beings and their interaction and things they understand. There’s nothing wrong with a great visual. In fact, I love it. This picture is a great chance to combine both. It’s a great chance to make it visually exciting and interesting and still work with a great caliber of actor and a really fine script and a great character. It’s really a film director’s dream to make a picture like Spider-Man.”

This article was originally copyright 2002 Steve Biodrowski; it has been slightly rewritten to bring it up to date.

Hell and Back Again: Sam Raimi drags himself back to horror with his new film

A look at the long and winding road from THE EVIL DEAD to DRAG ME TO HELL


DRAG ME TO HELL represents a return to the horror genre for Sam Raimi as a director – a fact that may surprise younger fans who know him only as the man behind the SPIDER-MAN films. Raimi burst onto the exploitation horror scene in 1982 with THE EVIL DEAD, a graphically gory horror film that earned a small but faithful cult audience. After directing EVIL DEAD II (a slick, tongue-in-cheek sequel) in 1987, Raimi has gradually worked his way up to major Hollywood motion pictures, only occasionally dabbling in horror, most recently as a producer Ghost House productions, whose biggest hit was THE GRUDGE, a 2004 remake of the Japanese horror film, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2003).
The Grudge, with its spooky amospherics and Japanese flavor (courtesy of director Takashi Shimizu) was light years apart from outrageous excesses of the Evil Dead trilogy (which include 1992’s Army of Darkness). Sam Raimi’s early horror films displayed a love of vertiginous camera work and over-the-top antics that created an “anything goes” atmosphere, often pushing the tone into outright comedy in the sequels. Later cinefantastique like Darkman (1990) showed Raimi struggling to tether his wilder impulses in favor of focusing on characterization, but he couldn’t quite resist the urge to show off. The Quick and the Dead (1995) is a weak Western, enlived only by the occasional flash of the old outrage (e.g., a camera angle that shows us a few through a hole in a gunfighter’s head). A Simple Plan (1998) and For the Love of the Game (1999) showed Raimi moving in a more mainstream direction, until by the time of  The Gift (a 2001 supernatural thriller starring Cat Blanchett) the restrained style had completely disguised the identity of the man behind the camera.
The effort to go mainstream finally paid off with Spider-Man in 2002, which was followed by two sequels in 2004 and 2007. Those films saw a return of the visual exuberance that is the hallmark of Sam Raimi’s best work. Drag Me to Hell finally displays an all-out return to the over-the-top horror antics on which he built his original reputation.
The question, then, is: Why was Raimi away from the genre so long? The answer is partly one of temperament and partly one of career considerations. Until Spider-Man, Raimi was a cult figure, loved by his fans but overlooked by critics and mainstream audiences. In fact, he seemed in danger of falling into the pit of oblivion that has claimed so many talented low-budget horror auteurs, who often have trouble making the transition to studio film-making. (Just think of John Carpenter, Brian DePalma, George Romero, and Tobc Hooper. All of them made distinctive independent films, but when they came to Hollywood their batting average was hit-or-miss-mostly miss.)
Raimi’s transition to blockbuster movie director was a slow one, his sparse directorial filmography (only thirteen feature films) augmented by producing duties and occasional acting appearances (he was the only funny thing in Indian Summer). In 1987 Raimi followed up Evil Dead with Evil Dead II. The film was intended to reach a wider audience, but like the original it found only limited success theatrically, relying mostly on video sales to turn a profit. ”
Very few people have seen the first two,” admits Raimi. “They never do good box office domestically. They’re not really movies about making money. They’re about… l don’t know what they*re about – I really don’t! They’re just weird pictures to make the audience have a good time.”
With the second Evil Dead film, Raimi took a step away from horror by adding comedy to the mix – a trend lie continued by turning the second sequel, Army of Darkness (1992) iinto a Ray Harryhausen-type fantasy adventure instead of a Mood-and-guts horror film. The reason for the change, quite simply, is that Raimi is not a genre enthusiast. “When I grew up, I wasn’t really a fan of horror pictures – it was only after I made The Evil Dead that I began to look at them and appreciate their art and craftsmanship,” he reveals. “What I really want to do is make the audience laugh – which is probably the hardest thing in the world. All my early Super-8 pictures were comedies. Only when I got in college and realised I had to make money did my partner Robert Tapert and I realised that we should make a horror picture. We knew no matter how badly we failed, it would still play somewhere.”
The humour that found its way into the two follow-ups often took the form of directorial sadism levelled at actor Bruce Campbell, who played the trilogy’s hapless hero, Ash. As the films went on, Raimi treated the character like the live-action equivalent of a cartoon, who could be endlessly beaten and bruised but always get up and come back for more.
“That’s how I look at Bruce – Bruce sometimes doesn’t feel that way when he’s under the wheel of the steamroller!” Raimi laughs. “My theory is that what the audience wants more than anything – more than a good story, more than an interesting visual or a good joke – is to see Bruce Campbell in pain. If Bruce Campbell is in pain, then the audience is having a great time. I’ve read a few books of film criticism and theory, and it all really boils down to that; the more pain, the more laughs.”
Of course, not everyone gets the joke. “Yeah, the Evil Deadmovies have a very small audience, so a lot of people don’t relate to the rule that, as they teach in school, ‘Violence is golden,” Raimi Chuckles. “A lot of people don’t find the Evil Dead films funny, such as the British Censor Board and the MPAA. But there is a small crowd that seems to like them, and to both of those people I say, ‘Thanks,Mom and Dad!'”
Since Raimi made the transition to studio film-making, a fourth Evil Deadfilm has been discussed, but it remains a matter of coordinating Raimi’s schedule with that of series star Bruce Campbell. “If there ever was a sequel, I’d have Ash battle an evil robot,” says the director. “I’d build him a new arm, a robotic one. I wanted to pluck out Bruce’s eye and give him a robotic eye in the [last] one, but I was throwing so much torture at him that he didn’t want to wear a patch – he wanted to see what I was throwing at him. I can’t blame him.”
After a moment’s thought, Raimi adds, “I think it will just be an endless loop of a big rock hitting Bruce on the head for ninety minutes – that’s what it’s boiling down to! That’s the only thing that makes me, Bruce, and the audience happy!” (The Internet Movie Database lists Raimi as schedule to direct a remake/reboot of THE EVIL DEAD for 2010 – which means he would have to squeeze it in before his contractual obligation kicks in to direct SPIDER-MAN 4 for 2011.)
Darkman (1990)In between the two Evil Dead sequels, Raimi got his first shot at helming a studio production in 1990. Darkman was an eccentric but entertaining conflation of comic book and horror movie elements, the sick joke of the scenario being that origin story we see could stand in equally well for a superhero or a monster.
What was it like for the hands-on director to find himself on a Hollywood studio lot?
“My partners and I no longer do as much,” Raimi explains. “We delegate more authority. Out here we have the best technicians in the business at our disposal. What you get is a picture that is very competently produced by high-quality professionals. But it’s less individual than what I would have done – even if I wouldn’t have done it as well. And it’s not always the way I would have done it. So you getsomething a little more generic. As opposed to looking through the camera and then running around to move a chair three feet, I look through the camera and then tell my assistant director, ‘Ask props to move that chair three feet back.’ That’s the difference between small bud-et and big budget. And you get a director’s chair on a bigger budget – but I’m never sitting down anyway. When you sum it up, there’s lot more people who decide what the finished picture will be: the technicians, the crew, and the cast. You can no longer kid yourself that you know everything, better than everybody else: you have to deal with a lot more input, which is good.”
Darkman was a first for Sam Raimi in many ways: first nation-wide theatrical release, first R-rating, and the first time attempt at telling a story with some kind of dramatic arc. This required an longer running time than that of his earlier films.
“I personally like movies that are 85 minutes – I think that’s a great length for a picture,” he says. “The Evil Deadpictures are just roller-coaster-slyle thrill pictures that have no story that demands they be longer than that, whereas Darkman has a story with real characters. It has its own dramatic arc, and you follow it to its conclusions, as opposed to just filling up time with scares and special effects. It’s a very conventional way to do things, I know, but my favourite movies are like that. I don’t know why I ever made the other type.”
The final result was recognisably Raimi, but some of the more outrageous excesses were notably attenuated, partially due to editing by Universal Pictures. Still, Raimi insists that the compromises were “not enough to merit a lengthy conversation When you work with a studio – and every filmmaker should know this – you’re saying. ‘I will trade creative autonomy for a studio release, studio marketing, and studio money.’ The trade-off is you have to listen to them, creatively. So I could talk about things I was sorry to lose, but I knew what I was doing going in. It would be wrong of me to talk of the downside of the deal.”
Although Darkman was successful enough to launch two direct-to-video sequels, it was no blockbuster. After Army of Darkness, Raimi spent the rest of the `90s dividing his time between executive producing television series (Hercules, Xena) and directing more mainstream-type films: The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan, For the Love of the Game, The Gift. Of the four, Simple Plan earned the most respect and praise (including Oscar nominations for supporting actor Billy Bob Thornton and screenwriter Scott B. Smith).

Spider-Man wrestles with Venom in SPIDER-MAN 3

But Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3 were the film that has finally put Raimi on the mainstream map. The trilogy continued the transition from Rainii’s earlier work, emphasizing characterisation and comedy amidst the fantasy. If looking for continuing threads from his previous work, one could say that the comic book-typc resiliency of Ash has been married to the pathos of’ Darkman in a film that contains even more special effects and eye-popping visuals than Evil Dead II. All this in a film that earned a family-friendly PG-13 rating in the United States.
“The movie’s really made for the whole family,” he explains. “[In] Stan Lee’s original conception, the great strength of Spider-Man was the fact that he’s a real person, unlike Superman from the planet Krypton or other fantastic heroes. He’s a kid from Brooklyn. And this kid is vested with these powers, or perhaps cursed with this powers. But the important thing is, he’s one of us. So it really broadened that base of people who could appreciate comic books; it completely changed the demographic. So the picture (had to] appeal to an intelligent audience, so that adults can really enjoy it, but at it’s heart it [has] a lot of fun and excitement and adventure that the kids will also enjoy.”
In retrospect, Darkman looks like a sort of missing link between the Evil Dead and Spider-Man, with one foot in the horror genre and one foot in the superhero-action genre. It shows Sam Raimi striving toward a more character-oriented form of cinefantastique, which would come to fruition with the Spider-Man trilogy – films that combined characterization with fancy camera work.
“I got into motion pictures because I liked what cameras were and how they captured reality,” Raimi explains. “And then the fact that you could shuffle that reality in editing was outrageous to me. That’s why I got into it: to study the effects of camera movement lighting and sound. And those horror movies that I made when I got started – Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 – they were about the exploration of what film was, and presenting the world of the supernatural was a great medium for that because you had to present something that doesn’t exist in our world. It really was great ground for experimentation. But at some point in my life I thought I should start making the types of pictures that I’d like to see, because the films that I saw were not horror films. I thought, `Well, this is dishonest in some way.’ So I started to look for better material….”
Having worked with “better material,” did Sam Raimi still have the guts to make an all-out, no-holds-barred horror film, a crude and simple genre effort that – like The Evil Dead – gloried in its own excess and refused to play by Hollywood rules for mass-market entertainment?
The answer turns out to be yes, with some caveats. Within the confines of a slick studio movie – with a PG-13 rating, no less – Raimi found ways to go back over the top, substituting bile for blood while still throwing everything he could think of at the audience. The result is not completely satisfying – the script is too contrived and confused – but Drag Me to Hell is at least a pleasant piece of nostalgia for fans of the Evil Dead films. In fact, there is even a mildly tongue-in-cheek reference when the leading lady and her fiance discuss going to an isolated cabin for the weekend; to those who recall the setting of Evil Dead I and II, it seems for one brief, glorious moment that DRAG ME TO HELL might morph into EVIL DEAD IV (a promise that, alas, never materializes).
In any case, the formula for Drag Me to Hell was a winning one, at least with fans who were so grateful to see Sam Raimi directing a horror movie again that they completely overlooked its flaws. In terms of box office, the film’s success is less certain: the opening weekend yielded $15.8-million, putting it in fourth place behind Up, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and Terminator Salvation. Unfortunately, horror films are notorious for their quick box office decline, and this seems to be a case when boosterism will not substitute for good word-0f-mouth. Most likely, the film will turn a profit when it reaches home video, but it’s a shame Raimi couldn’t quite fuse his recent mainstream success with his old horror formula in order to craft a horror film that would go box office ballistic as The Grudge did (over $187-million worldwide).
Oh well, at the very least, Drag Me to Hell shows the old Sam Raimi horror sensibility is still in place, giving us good reason to hope for the best if the planned Evil Dead reboot comes to pass next year.
[serialposts]

Drag Me to Hell – Horror Film Review

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

“Everytime I pull myself out, they drag me back in!”
-Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER PART III

What can you say about a horror film whose title sounds like a bad Italian Western? “Drag Me to Hell” – what does that mean, exactly? Does the lead character want to go to hell, or is director and co-writer Sam Raimi saying he feels as if he is being dragged back into a genre he left years ago? Whatever the case, the lameness of the title – its blunt descriptiveness, its lack of poetry or panache – pretty much sum up the film that will follow. Far from a glorious return to gory horror by the mastermind behind THE EVIL DEAD and, more particularly, the magnificent EVIL DEAD II, DRAG ME TO HELL is a modest exercise in nostalgia; it’s a bit like a reunion tour by an aging rock band running through a medley of their hits: it’s fun to see their routine again, but the magic is gone, and when the show is over, you realize you would be better off listening to the old albums instead of spending money on the new stuff.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

There is a pleasingly retro feel about DRAG ME TO HELL, which is clearly intended to be a fun and goofy form of gross-out horror. Sam Raimi clearly does not want to disturb you; he wants to provoke you into shouting at the screen, more in excitement than in fear, as each new explosion of slime, muck, and bile reverberates through the theatre. Constricted by a PG-13 rating, Raimi cannot deliver the gore (except for a nosebleed that briefly gushes like a geyser), so offers up goo instead. The yuck factor goes off the scale at times; you feel like you’re watching a 13-year-old brother’s attempt to disgust his sister by telling stories about squishing bugs. (The eight-year-olds in the audience I attended, loved the film.)

That is not nearly enough to sustain a whole movie, however, and DRAG ME TO HELL suffers on a conceptual level. Sam Raimi and co-writer Ivan Raimi just don’t know what to do with their story, except use it as an excuse to string together the set-pieces. This worked in EVIL DEAD II because of the hell-bent-for-leather approach, but this time out, the screenwriting duo seem to be laboring under the delusion that they are telling a story with characters.

Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush
Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush

They go out of their way to present bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) as an aspiring yuppie, someone who has dragged herself off the farm to seek success in the big city – even if it comes at the cost of her soul. Trying to prove to her boss that she is willing to make tough decisions, Christine refuses to grant a mortgage extension to an old gypsy, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), who promptly puts a curse on her.

The rest of DRAG ME TO HELL deals with Christine’s attempts to avert the curse, but the script fails in one major, unforgivable way: Christine’s own greed – her quest to achieve a promotion even if it means evicting an old woman from her home – led directly to her problem; in a sense, she deserves what is happening to her, and the script never truly manages to get us on her side. If anything, we become more alienated from Christine as the story progresses.

Unsympathetic or morally dubious protagonists are nothing new; in fact, there are two reliable ways of pulling off this gambit:

  1. Make the film a tragedy about someone whose moral flaws brings about his/her own destruction (think MACBETH)
  2. Cast a likable actor in the role (think of Jimmy Stewart in VERTIGO)

DRAG ME TO HELL does neither. Lohman may be a competent actress, but she is not a dazzling screen presence, and she does not have that magic that will make us relate to her in spite of her character’s shortcomings. Likewise, the script lacks the nerve to turn her character into a completely ruthless bitch, one the audience will love to hate. Christine is presented as if we are supposed to sympathize with her, but the film assumes we will overlook her moral lapses simply because she is young and blond and mildly pretty.

This confusion about characterization is part and parcel of the whole conception of DRAG ME TO HELL, which seems cobbled together from a variety of sources. The most obvious is CURSE OF THE DEMON, the 1957 classic based on M. R. James’ story “Casting the Runes,” which also built its plot around a demonic curse that would strike within a specified number of days if the victim could not pass the curse onto someone else. (Both films end in a train station, not coincidentally.) What made James’ stories frightening was the random nature of the supernatural element, which terrorized innocent victims who had done nothing to deserve their fate.

The screenplay for DRAG ME TO HELL, on the other hand, comes closer to James’ predecessor, J. Sheridan LeFanu, whose ghost stories featured a stern form of morality, in which people who had sinned in only venial ways (sometimes more by omission than commission) were haunted to their deaths. There are also traces of E.C. comics, which took the LeFanu approach a step further, crafting tales that encouraged the reader to relish the demise of guilty anti-heroes. And the twist ending seems virtually lifted from Robert Bloch, who enjoyed thwarting his characters with the last-minute revelation of some unforeseen detail.

What this all adds up to is rather a big mess. DRAG ME TO HELL works on a scene-by-scene basis, with the script doing whatever necessary to justify those scenes while overlooking the fact that, in the long run, we just don’t care. Which would be fine if the film embraced a pure visual aesthetic, but Sam and Ivan want us to be involved in Christine’s plight and care what happens to her, when all we can really care about is when the next horror scene will arrive.

These are a mixed bag. As a director, Sam Raimi pulls some old tricks out of his hat (like the possessed human levitating with spastic arm and leg movements), but there is also a distressing use of computer-generated imagery that is slick and glossy but seldom frightening (Raimi redoes the flying eyeball gag from EVIL DEAD II, this time with CGI gore, and it simply lacks the visceral punch of the old-fashioned mechanical effect).

Occasionally, DRAG ME TO HELL achieve a shuddery kind of horror with its special effects – ironically, in the subtler moments. Early scenes of Christine fleeing from shadows on the walls are spooky in a manner far more old-fashioned that Raimi’s ’80s style over-the-top antics. The highlight has to be the remarkable moment when Christine sees that shadows of feet approaching a closed door: the shadows resolve into hooves, as of a devil, and then turn into hands – which stretch under the door and into the room!

Christine (ALISON LOHMAN) is attacked by Mrs. Ganush (LORNA RAVER)
Christine (ALISON LOHMAN) is attacked by Mrs. Ganush (LORNA RAVER)

DRAG ME TO HELL’s few genuinely scary moments are overwhelmed by the more crude effects, including an enjoyably protracted but ultimately overdone cat-fight between Christine and Ms. Ganush. Sometimes, the anything-goes approach descends into the outright ridiculous (as when a goat, possessed by the demon Lamia, begins to speak). The absurdity is clearly intentional  (Raimi’s way of telling us this is all in good fun), but it’s another example of the film’s slip-shod construction, which shoe-horns in too many pieces that do not fit.
On occasion, some of those pieces are good. You have to laugh at the revelation that Mrs. Ganush’s rotten, broken teeth are actually dentures (presumably she bought them from a monster movie makeup store). And there is actually one well-written dramatic scene, wherein Christine suffers through an embarrassing family dinner with her boyfriend’s upper-class, snooty parents. When Christine reveals an embarrasing personal detail (her poor mother, back on the farm, is an alcoholic), the expected negative consequences are neatly reversed; instead of earning contempt, she is praised for her honesty. It is the one moment of genuine human feeling in a movie otherwise overwhelmed by superficial effects.
There is also just a vague whiff of white-boy racism, probably the result of adhering to stereotypes rather than any malicious intent. Our white, blond heroine is menaced by an ethnic minority with a foreign accent. DRAG ME TO HELL balances this with a couple of “good” ethnic types (East Indian and Hispanic), who aid Christine, but whether intentional or not, the implication is that dark-skinned people are part of a different world that traffics in exotic mysticism, unlike the white people, who are all businessmen or scientists.
Special praise, however, must go to Dileep Rao, who somehow makes his one-dimensional role as an Eastern mystic feel like a real human being. There character is just there to service the white heroine, but Rao suggests some kind of inner life that exists beyond his simple role in the plot. It’s also fun to see Justin Long (the Mac guy from those PC vs Apple commercials) as Christine’s boyfriend, but Lorna Raver makes a weak antagonist – there’s little chance that Mrs. Ganush will enter the pantheon of on-screen horror icons.

Ultimately, the biggest failing of DRAG ME TO HELL is that it is so lazy about confronting the moral issues involved. Defeating the curse is presented as a technical issue rather than one of salvation, and Christine’s moral failings are swept under the run; she regrets the trouble that resulted, but not really the actions that caused the trouble. In the low point, she resorts – way too early for it to be believable – to offering her pet kitten as a blood sacrifice to appease the Lamia demon; the sequence is presented almost as a joke (“Here, kitty, kitty!” she croons, knife in hand) when at the very least it should be a major dramatic moment on the character’s downward spiral. Later, just to underline the point, Christine takes part in a ritual that involves killing a goat. Finally, she has a chance to save herself at someone else’s expense, but she has last-minute second thoughts.

Christine (ALISON LOHMAN) descends into the muck in a vain attempt to save herself.
Christine (ALISON LOHMAN) descends into the muck in a vain attempt to save herself.

The clever approach would have been to suggest that, in attempting to save herself, Christine is actually damning herself to Hell, that these blood sacrifices and rituals are achieving the opposite of their avowed purpose, but DRAG ME TO HELL does not have the nerve to go there. These are simply failed attempts – failed because, for some technical reason, they did not work, not because Christine is willing to harm others to save herself. Her decision not to pass the curse on to a co-worker (a competitor for the big promotion) is meant to show a change of heart, but it is too little, too late – a weak writer’s device to win us over to Christine just before the script pulls out the big final whammy.

On the audio commentary for the US. DVD release of Takashi Shimizu’s JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, Sam Raimi (who produced the American remake) offers praise for what he learned and says it had been a long time since he had “gone to school” on horror films. DRAG ME TO HELL suggests he cut a few too many classes. As simple as the story and characterizations are in Shimizu’s J-Horror film, you always feel sorry for the innocent victims. In DRAG ME TO HELL, we applauded the heroine’s demise. For all I care, let the bitch roast in hell.

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009). Directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi. Produced by Rob Tapert, Grant Curtis. Executive Producers: Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake. Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao

Since originally posting, this review has been edited to fix typos and clarify language.

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Variety reviews "Night at the Museum 2" & "Drag Me to Hell"

Ben Stiller and Amy Adams in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUMLael Loewenstein doesn’t think much of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN:

Bigger, longer, and even more chaotically crowded (more stars! more f/x!) than its predecessor, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” proves that adding another ring doesn’t make for a better circus. Swapping Gotham’s Natural History Museum for D.C.’s Smithsonian, this “Night at the Museum” sequel reunites Ben Stiller’s ex-security guard with former cast members and adds dozens more. But where the original had a vaguely tenable narrative hook (deadbeat dad finds redemption through nocturnal heroics), the new pic seems purely a vehicle for lavish visuals and cheap gags. Still, the 2006 comedy-adventure soared past tepid reviews to a $574 million global B.O.; chances are this “Night” also will be a mammoth success.

LORNA RAVER as Mrs. Ganush in director Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre, an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse. Credit: Melissa Moseley
LORNA RAVER as Mrs. Ganush in director Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre, an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse. Credit: Melissa Moseley

Peter Debruge thinks Sam Raimi’s return to horror, DRAG ME TO HELL, will appeal to fans of all shapes and sizes:

As its no-nonsense title suggests, “Drag Me to Hell” offers a kicking-and-screaming riff on the classic curse movie — and if the material scarcely warrants feature length, so be it. Scant of plot and barren of subtext, the pic is single-mindedly devoted to pushing the audience’s buttons, and who better than Raimi to do the honors? Long before he went legit with “A Simple Plan,” helmer was perfecting inventive shocks on shoestring budgets, and, as if to remind us of that legacy, he opens this modestly budgeted film (by “Spider-Man” standards, at least) with an early-’80s Universal logo.

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Drag Me to Hell opens May 29

No, it’s not about cross-dressing Satanists; it’s Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre as a director for the first time since 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. DRAG ME TO HELL, from Universal Pictures, is describd as “an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse.” From the press release:

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an ambitious loan officer with a charming boyfriend, professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan. Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), and get a leg-up on a promotion? Christine fatefully chooses the latter, shaming Mrs. Ganush and dispossessing her of her home.
In retaliation, the old woman places the powerful curse of the on Christine, transforming her life into a living hell. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to save her soul from eternal damnation. To help the shattered Christine return her life to normal, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell. As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: How far will she go to break free of the curse?

  • Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao
  • Directed by: Sam Raimi
  • Written by: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
  • Produced by: Rob Tapert, Grant Curtis
  • Executive Producers: Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake

[serialposts]

Army of Darkness – Review & Retrospective


In this film, the Evil Dead are back, but now their ranks have swelled to become an ARMY OF DARKNESS. After the un-rated cult horror hits THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2, director Sam Raimi turned the third film in the series into an R-rated fantasy-adventure. When last we left Ash (Bruce Campbell), at the conclusion of EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), he had been unwittingly transported to the 13th century, where he was reluctantly hailed as a hero sent to oppose the Deadites. In the follow-up, Ash must find the Necronomicon (the Book of the Dead), which contains a formula to send him back to his own time. Unfortunately, Ash, not being the brightest of heroes, misspeaks an important incantation while retrieving the book, inadvertently resurrecting an army of the dead, led by his own alter ego, Evil Ash. Reluctantly, Ash stays to help in the ensuing battle, using his 20th-century technical knowhow to combat supernatural forces of evil.
With its multi ‑million dollar budget and a major Hollywood distributor, ARMY OF DARKNESS is not, technically, a direct sequel to its low-budget predecessors; rather, the film pretends to be almost a stand-alone effort. Universal Pictures asked for a title change to ARMY OF DARKNESS instead of EVIL DEAD 3, and a brief prologue, as if starting from scratch, strands a slightly older version of Campbell’s character in the past. The sequences incorporates some scenes from EVIL DEAD 2, along with new footage featuring actress Bridget Fonda (a fan of the films, who had previously played Mary Shelley in Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound), as Ash’s ill-fated girlfriend, Linda.
Unfortunately, despite its production values, outrageous action, and imaginative visual effects, the film is perhaps the least effective of the series. As a director, Raimi’s strength lies in his manic inventiveness – which is somewhat in abeyance here, as he tries injecting some traditional plot elements into the old formula. These actually dilute the overall effect, because the enterprise is too outrageous to engage us in a traditional way (i.e., make us care what happens to the characters).
With the horror elements mostly toned down, the film seems tame in spite of its outrageous action. There is a sense of “anthing goes,” along the lines of the most far-out Hong Kong fantasy flicks, but those films (e.g., A Chinese Ghost Story) somehow manage to mix romance, comedy, and thrills without diluting any of the elements. ARMY OF DARKNESS, on the other hand, doesn’t always gel; too often, the low comedy undermines the fantasy heroics. At times, the film even descends into outright silliness, obviously inspired by the Three Stooges. The result is a sort of goofy geek idea of a great movie, with lots of exploding skeletons, bony fingers poking eyes, and the occasional geyser of blood to remind us of glories past.
On the plus side, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a perfect parody of the archetypal mythic hero: a self-centered, loud-mouthed jerk who happens to be good at fighting monsters, as long as he relies on instinct rather than intellect. (The minute he stops to think, the consequences are devastating for all concerned.) To a large extent, Campbell’s over-the-top performance is the film’s saving grace. Although he sometimes falls prey to the film’s tendency to milk a joke too long, he actually carves a distinct character that’s worth watching for a whole film. He even manages to immediately differentiate the two versions of Ash when the character divides into himself and an evil twin. Sometimes called the “Rambo of the gore world,” Ash is actually closer to Inspector Clouseau: we laugh at his incompetence while he pretends to know what he’s doing, and we cheer on those occasions when, through luck or providence, he actually does something right. Too often in movies we are presented with white male heroes who can do no wrong and thus are allowed to act like a law unto themselves as they interfere in situations that have nothing to do with them (the sort of delusional fantasy that underlies American interventionism in real world situations like Iraq); therefore, it’s nice to see a film that finally calls bullshit on this concept. You just wish uber he-men like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would get a clue.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Whereas THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2 were horror films centered on an isolated cabin besieged by a handful of possessed zombies and a hand‑held camera representing an unseen evil presence, ARMY OF DARKNESS is a time travel fantasy featuring a medieval castle under attack by a literal army of skeletal “Deadites,” brought to screen life through a combination of animation, mechanics and prosthetics. The film features extensive use of the Introvision front projection process, which combines the go-motion skeletons with their live-action counterparts and also provides numerous miniature settings that would have been too expensive to build full-scale.
The epic concept behind ARMY OF DARKENSS (jokingly called “The Medieval Dead” by Raimi) was first developed for EVIL DEAD 2, until budgetary restrictions dictated that the script be cut back. “After THE EVIL DEAD, our sales agent at the time, the late Irvin Shapiro, suggested we make a sequel,” recalled producer Robert Tapert. “Sam came up with the idea of going back to the Middle Ages. Shapiro really liked the idea and took out ads in the trades, announcing EVIL DEAD 2: ARMY OF DARKNESS, in ’82 or ’83. We had a story fairly similar to this, but it was too expensive to make at the time, so Sam wrote a new version of EVIL DEAD 2 that didn’t take place in the middle ages.”
Though unable to make his “Medieval Dead” movie at that time, Raimi retained one hint of his original concept: transporting Ash to the 13th century for the twist ending of EVIL DEAD 2. Perhaps this was his way of insuring that any future sequel would adhere to his ARMY OF DARKNESS storyline. EVIL DEAD 2 ended up being financed by the Dino DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, to the tune of $3.75-million –a step up from THE EVIL DEAD, but nowhere near the amount needed to realize the ARMY OF DARKNESS storyline.
After EVIL DEAD 2, Sam Raimi turned his attention to directing Darkman (1990) for Universal Pictures, his first experience with Hollywood filmmaking. The deal to make a third EVIL DEAD film was struck during the long development process on Darkman. Dino DeLaurentiis, who had retained sequel rights to the EVIL DEAD franchise, approached the Renaissance Pictures team of Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell, who agreed to make EVIL DEAD 3 even though it represented a step down from the budget of DARKMAN.
“This is back to the kind of hands-on filmmaking that we grew up with,” Raimi explained. “Dino DeLaurentiis […] gives us an incredible amount of freedom. That’s why we want to make this picture: we can tell any kind of story we want in as wild a way as we think the audience would like it. Therefore, we’re happier, and maybe the audience that really wants to see something wild is happier, even if it is somewhat smaller.”
DeLaurentiis made a deal with Universal Pictures to handle domestic distribution rights, then sold the foreign rights at the February 1991 American Film Market. Thus, the proposed EVIL DEAD 3 became a “negative pick-up,” a deal in which the distributor agreed ahead of time to reimburse DeLaurentiis for his negative costs after he delivered a completed film to them.
Knowing that the film would be released by Universal, Raimi and his brother Ivan developed a script that was quite different from its predecessors, with more conventional qualities, such as being more story-driven.
“Ultimately, it’s about a guy trying to get home, but he has to do some pretty hasty things in order to do that, and the question is whether or not he’s competent enough,” said Campbell. “In the script development, that’s what we — primarily Sam ‑‑ tried to do. Sam’s tastes have evolved: just doing gags won’t hold for him anymore; he wants to tell a story now.”
When Darkman finally went into production, ARMY OF DARKNESS was moved to the back burner. The delay was fortunate, because the successful release of Darkman encouraged DeLaurentiis to raise the budget for ARMY OF DARKNESS, which would eventually reach approximately $11-million, after Universal kicked in additional funds during post-production.. It was unprecedented for a major studio to release up a sequel to two relatively obscure cult films and try to sell it to a wider audience – which may or may not have heard of the originals. For this reason, Universal opted to change the title and market the film as an original.
Noted producer Robert Tapert, “Universal – and they’re right to do it – said, ‘The EVIL DEAD title is a drawback because, based on bow it did theatrically, no one saw EVIL DEAD 2.’ It was a flop for all practical purposes — ­though it did very well on video, far outstripping what it had done at the box office. So they felt that fans would know this is EVIL DEAD III, and the rest of the audience would just see it as ARMY OF DARKNESS.”
“The fact that it’s called ARMY OF DARKNESS, I think, is fine,” said Campbell. “If more people will come and see it, I’m all for it. The first two were limited releases. I think it’s a logical progression, in that we hope this one is as entertaining as, or more entertaining than, the others. It’s not as graphic. The others were unrated: the first one rightfully so; the second one, we just went around the MPAA because we knew they were going to give us such grief.”
EVIL DEAD 2 had represented a considerable shift in tone from the first EVIL DEAD, and ARMY OF DARKNESS continued the evolution, to a certain extent. The earlier films were not noted for plotting so much as for stylistic flourishes; in fact, Darkman was Raimi’s conscious attempt to make a film plot and characters that were more than a mere excuse for special effects. ARMY OF DARKNESS is a bit of a throwback that falls somewhere between the two approaches.
“It’s somewhat of a departure, but it’s still in the same vein as EVIL DEAD 2, with a much heavier emphasis on comedy and scope,” said Tapert. “We don’t have scenes like the head falling into Ash’s lap. But we’ve tried to find other ways to go over the top and still remain within the limitations of the MPAA. We don’t have nearly the money of DARKMAN but twice the scope, with medieval archers, horses, castles and flaming catapults.”
Likewise, Raimi saw ARMY OF DARKNESS as an evolutionary step rather than a huge departure. “It’s the same thing: Bruce Campbell — kick him in the face, hit him in the head, kick him in the face again, spit out the blood and make the funny face ‑‑ cut! It’s the old routines. It was a bigger change from EVIL DEAD to EVIL DEAD 2.”
The contractually mandated R‑rating necessitated that ARMY OF DARKNESS be much less graphically violent than its predecessors, and an emphasis on comedy was designed to help run the ratings board gauntlet. Of course, EVIL DEAD 2 had its share of black comedy, but as Raimi pointed out, “Our policy at that stage was still, ‘the gore, the merrier.’ I thought that [the tongue-in-cheek tone] would buy some leniency with the ratings board, but they lack a sense of humor, and they have some hang‑up about self‑mutilation,” he explained, in reference to one of the film’s most memorable scenes. “This picture has even more comedy, and I do feel satisfied – it’s great to make the audience laugh.”
While trying to make ARMY OF DARKNESS original and different, Raimi was also conscious of incorporate elements of the EVIL DEAD films that audiences had enjoyed in the past. “But it’s always hard for me to know exactly what they liked,” he admitted. “I’m always wrong — that’s my motto. I’m trying to go William Goldman’s ‘Nobody knows nothing’ one better.”
Attention‑grabbing camera angles and movement had been a major component of the previous films; in a sense, the camera was the star of THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2. Similar gyrating visuals were employed for ARMY OF DARKNESS, but Raimi insisted, “Campbell’s really the star of this film. My favorite thing in the film is his character. He’s a loud mouth a coward and a liar. Just like you or me.”
Campbell more or less agrees with Raimi’s assessment of the character: “Ash is a little bit like a cartoon character: the anvil flattens him, but then he gets up. He’s basi­cally a dork on the human side. He goes back in time and, even though he’s an idiot, he assumes that these people are primitive, and he thinks he knows more than everybody. I like the fact that he makes horrible mistakes that cost hundreds of lives — which sets him apart from the guys who can do no wrong. Ash is a for‑the‑moment sort of guy: whatever needs to be done at the time, he’ll do. When­ever he has to fight somebody, he knows what’s going on — for some reason he knows how to ride a horse and swordfight, ­but he screws up in every other department of life. Ash’s prob­lem is: if he thinks about it, he makes a bad decision; if he doesn’t have time to think and just goes for the ax, he comes through with flying colors. Actually, I think he represents the average guy, in that he will clearly panic in a given situation — which I think is cool, because you can get into the trap of having a lead character who says, ‘Stand back – I’ll take care of it!’ To the audience that’s fine, because they can feel protected, but Sam, I don’t think, has ever wanted his audience to feel that comfortable.”
The film shot on location in Acton, California for several weeks in the summer of 1991.It soon became apparent that the film’s ambitious action was more than could be accomplished on the limited budget and schedule. DeLaurentiis was ame­nable to adding an extra week on location. However, even after extending the schedule and cutting money elsewhere in order to spend it on the cli­mactic battle, Raimi still found himself coming up short.
“Cer­tain ideas had to be compro­mised for the lack of budget,” he said. “Instead of 200 extras on horseback, how about 100 extras and 50 horses?”
“When they started shooting the battle, I think Sam realized he wasn’t going to get a lot of the shots that he wanted,” said special effects supervisor William Mesa, who suggested a cost‑saving alternative that allowed the principal action to be com­pleted back on the Introvision stages. “We proposed that we go out there and shoot a series of plates, with all the extras fighting, from various angles. That way, when it came to the battle between the Good and the Evil Ash, in the upper area of the castle, then behind them could be all of this major battle going on, because you couldn’t afford to set up battles just to have close‑ups on actors.”
Raimi managed to finish location work by late July­ and then moved to the Introvision facility for seven weeks to complete the bulk of shooting. In many cases effects shooting is a tedious post‑pro­duction process during which the director surrenders much of his control. The Introvision process, on the other hand, was actually part of principal pho­tography, with Raimi directing the actors as if they were on set, the difference being that most of the sets were projected back­ground plates.
“Because they have a great technician and artist, Bill Mesa, in residence, I didn’t even have to worry about the technical aspects of Introvision,” said Raimi. “They took care of it and allowed me to just direct, either the back­ground plates or the fore­ground action, which was very refreshing.”
Fortunately, the increased budget allowed Rai­mi to confer more with his actor, rather than devoting himself solely to the mechanics of getting the shot. “There was more time, although it was so ambitious that sometimes I felt just as rushed as on a low­-budget movie,” said Campbell. “Sam exercised quality con­trol. If I happened to be out of it that day, he let me know, whereas on a low‑budget movie, the director might be out of it, too, because he’s so overwhelmed with guys hassling him about getting more setups. We did fewer setups per day, but they were more com­plex, so we’d still run out of time. And if we fell behind, we had to make it up the next day, because there was no deep pocket on this film.”
One sequence pushed so far back that it didn’t get made up, at least not during principal photog­raphy, was the “Temple Ruins” scene, wherein Ash was sup­posed to learn a crucial piece of information from a sorceress, who then mutated into an Evil Dead witch. The scene was to climax with the temple pillars toppling like dominoes, which had been filmed in miniature during pre‑production.
“It was a crucial scene,” said production designer Tony Tremblay. “It was a transition from when Ash wasn’t inter­ested in helping these people to when he knows he’s got to help them, whether he’s interested or not.”
With no hope of filming live‑action pillars top­pling on guards, Tremblay designed a new set, to be rebuilt and redressed from a standing set, in which the expository portion of the scene could be shot during post‑production. The sequence was reconceived as a scene set in a chamber where Ash is sitting on some furs and being fed grapes. There is a battle with a witch but no massive destruction: “We can get away with that,” said Campbell, “because it’s not the climax of the movie, which is where we put all the dough.”
Renaissance Pictures’ origi­nal plan had been to finish at Introvision and then wrap principal photography with two more weeks on location, shooting prologue and epi­logue scenes unrelated to the rest of filming. Instead, the filmmakers opted for a short breather in mid‑September, so that they could put together a rough cut and then regroup in November. “We were going to shoot those final two weeks at the end of our original sched­ule, but people were a little fried,” recalled Campbell. “We were running on about 70% efficiency by that point. It’s funny — you don’t even know it until you stop. Then you say, ‘Ouch, I can’t even think!’”
The delay had the additional bene­fit of allowing Raimi to pick up any missing inserts and transi­tional shots revealed by the rough cut. “The scenes needed a smaller crew, and they were completely unrelated to the rest of filming,” said Raimi. “So it made sense to take a break, cut a little bit, and then shoot those scenes. That way, we could make sure we didn’t need to pick up any other sequence as well.”
The final two weeks included the film’s conclusion, in which Ash, having adopted a Rip Van Winkle approach for returning to his own time, awakens after seal­ing himself in a cave for several centuries. Also filmed was a new prologue of Ash’s trip to the fateful cabin, this time with Bridget Fonda as his girlfriend, Linda.
Said Campbell, “Now, including this, we’ve shot three different versions of Ash going to the cabin. In EVIL DEAD 2, a lot of people thought Ash was stupid enough to go back to the cabin, because he had so much fun the first time, with his new girlfriend, who happened to be named Linda, again. Now, we’ve done it again, with Bridget Fonda. That was a thrill. Apparently, she had liked the other movies and wanted to be the third and best Linda. We went even further back to show Ash as a mild­-mannered S‑Mart employee, our version of K‑Mart. Story­-wise, we’re trying to make that leap from being a guy working in the house wares department to being a gun‑slinging, chain­saw‑wielding Deadite slayer. Now that we’re involved with studios, that’s the kind of request we get‑to make Ash a real guy. Ash is still on the cartoon side. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a real charac­ter.”
During the two‑week pick­up shoot, Raimi did manage to add some transitional shots of Ash riding through the forest from one scene to the next, but many scenes remained un­filmed. Raimi went back into the editing room throughout the end of 1991, with the hope of shooting an additional two or three weeks in January.
Explained Campbell, “While shooting, we dropped several sequences for budget that we would re‑evaluate later, but in those sequences was a lot of story information. In that last two weeks, we shot the beginning and ending, but there were still several chunks missing in the middle that had to be reworked into more man­ageable scenes. Fortunately, it’s not because we cut it together and couldn’t make sense of it — the script was always very linear — but when you look at the storyboards that were skipped over, that’s quite a chunk of work. We couldn’t have certain sequences because it was more important to put money in other areas. We had to go back and get the same informa­tion out another way.”
“That was our intention, but we didn’t actually do that,” said Sam Raimi when the addi­tional shooting in January failed to materialize. “We had to cut a lot of things out and…eliminate certain scenes from the picture.”
“Unfortunately, going back and filming becomes more and more difficult during the edit­ing process,” lamented Tapert. “When you’re in production, the producer and the director wield a lot of power, because everybody’s got to trust them. When you get into post, every­one can see the film and say, ‘Oh no, you don’t need that­ — the audience will understand anyway.’ It’s much harder to get things approved that might on the surface seem extrava­gant — but the audience loves the big extravagances.”
Instead, Raimi planned spent January trimming his two‑hour rough cut down to an hour and a half – about ten minutes longer than EVIL DEAD 2. As of February, the plan was to deliver the finished film, with a score by EVIL DEAD 2’s Joe LoDuca, by May, with the hope of getting a big early summer roll-out if the film could secure a PG-13 rating without any re-editing or a late summer release (a la DARKMAN) if it was rated R. Unfortunately, neither release date materialized. Instead, the film fell into distribution limbo when Dino DeLaurentiis initiated a lawsuit against Universal Pictures.
POST-PRODUCTION BLUES
In 1986, Dino DeLaurentiis had produced Manhunter, which was based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Although an excellent film, it was not a success, and when Harris wrote a sequel called Silence of the Lambs, DeLaurentiis licensed the rights to Orion Pictures. The result was a film that earned over $272-million worldwide after it was released in 1991, and went on to win five Oscars, including one for Best Picture of the Year, at the Academy of Motion Pictures 1992 awards ceremony.
Despite this success of this picture, Orion Pictures was on the way to bankruptcy, leaving the door open for DeLaurentiis to set up any sequel with another company. The essence of his lawsuit against Universal was that, in exchange for additional money he was seeking for reshoots on ARMY OF DARKNESS, the studio was trying to strong-arm him into a deal to make a sequel to Silence of the Lambs. In an interview with a Hollywood trade paper, Universal executives gave a different version of events, suggesting that an invitation to make a sequel had been offered and accepted before Silence of the Lambs had even come out. (This seems unlikely: it’s hard to believe Universal was eager to acquire sequel rights to an unreleased film that was itself a sequel to a box office flop; rights to a Silence sequel would have become a hot property only after the film became a blockbuster success.)
Whatever the facts of the case, the bottom line for ARMY OF DARKNESS was that its release was delayed while the legal wrangling was sorted out. Ultimately, Universal prevailed, earning the rights to produce the sequel to Silence of the Lambs – a right they were unable to exercise for nearly a decade, because it took author Thomas Harris so long to write his next novel, Hannibal, which was filmed and released in 2001. In the meantime, ARMY OF DARKNESS sat on the shelf for nearly another year.
During that time, several things happened. In an effort to generate interest in the languishing project, the 96-minute director’s cut was screened at the DeLaurentiis building in Hollywood. Unfortunately, this version is too slowly paced to hold interest for its entire running time. The silly jokes wear thin; the action during the final battle goes on too long; and the ending features an arbitrary twist that serves little purpose besides setting up a hoped-for sequel (which never materialized).
With input from Sam Raimi, Universal Pictures cut the film down to an 81-minute running time, which included a brand new (and much improved) ending, wherein Ash is seen back at his old S-Mart job, telling his tale to a skeptical co-worker (played by Raimi himself). Unfortunately, it turns out that Ash has once again forgotten to speak the correct magical words, allowing a Deadite to launch an attack in the store – leading to a brief but exhilarating fight scene that captures much of the exuberance missing from the rest of the film.
Despite the changes, the film was not a big success when it opened in February of 1993. ARMY OF DARKNESS earned $11.5-million in North American theatres. In other territories, the 96-minute cut did not fare any better, earning approximately another $9-million.
Not surprisingly, the idea of making ARMY OF DARKNESS 2 (or EVIL DEAD IV) was set aside. Renaissance Pictures shifted its attention to television series like Hercules and Xena, while also producing two direct-to-video sequels to Darkman. Sam Raimi became a director-for-hire on several Hollywood Films (e.g., The Quick and the Dead, For the Love of the Game, A Simple Plan, and The Gift). Even when the films were good, they evinced an anonymous professionalism, as if he were keeping his own stylistic instincts in check. Only with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 did he show a return to form, welding his virtuoso visual style to comic book subject matter that was perfectly suited to him. Eventually, Raimi even returned to the horror genre, not as a director but as a producer, purchasing the rights to Takashi Shimizu’s excellent Japanese ghost story Ju-On, which was remade as The Grudge, with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead.
The latest word is that Raimi and Campbell are considering the possibility of a fourth EVIL DEAD film, although when or if it will actually be made remains an open question as long as Raimi is busy directing big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The proposed EVIL DEAD follow-up would not be a sequel, nor a remake, but a “reinvention,” according to Bruce Campbell.
In an interview with Penny Blood magazine, Campbell revealed, “It’ll be a whole new story. It won’t be Ash. It’ll be the evil book [the Necronomicon], and it’ll affect a whole new group of people in a different situation. […] The trick is to take that premise – and we think it’s a scary premise – and use some cool, modern-day effects… so we won’ have green garden hoses in the shots. We want to make a flat-out, scary-ass, un-rated horror film.”

DVD DETAILS

Both the 96-minute director’s cut and the 81-minute Universal cut of ARMY OF DARKNESS are available on DVD; in fact, they can be purchased together on the so-called two-disc “Boomstick Edition.” The title is also available on various other editions, most of them including the samebasic set of bonus features (give or take one or two) with different packaging. Perhaps the most distinctive of these is the “Bruce Campbell Vs. Army of Darkness: The Director’s Cut – Official Bootleg Edition,” which –true to its name — simulates the look of a cheap brown paper wrapping, suggesting a booglet copy.
This version includes the 96-minute director’s cut, plus several bonus features: an audio commentary; four deleted scenes; a gallery of production artwork; and a feature that allows you to view the film’s extensive storyboards in the lower right-hand corner of the frame while watching the film.
The deleted scenes (which feature optional audio commentary) are:

  • An Alternate Opening Prologue: This features Ash, photographed in closeup against a nebulous black background, suggesting an unidentified limbo. This was meant to tie in with the original ending, which had Ash winding up stranded in the future. The sequence has a bit more of the feel of the previous EVIL DEAD films, but it goes on too long. In the audio commentary, the filmmakers admit they were never sure how much recapping from the previous films was necessary, so they ultimately chose to trim this down.
  • Ash Confronts Arthur: This snippet was to take place in the middle of the longer sequence in which Arthur’s men find Ash at the beginning of the film and put him in chains. Ash thinks he has come to an understand with Arthur, who has him arrested anyway. “We probably didn’t need it,” according to the audio commentary.
  • The Original Windmill Sequence: This is a much longer version than seen in either the theatrical cut or the director’s cut. There is lots of waitingwhile light shifts, shadows loom, and gears grind, but the pay off is not worth the build up. After a nifty tracking shot, Ash goes outside (we see some unfinished blue screen shots), finds his horse, and runs back into the mill when he sees an intruder – actually his own refelction in a full-length mirror. Campbell regrets the truncating of this sequence, because it sacrifices logic to speed up the pace: “The shorter a movie gets, the less sense it makes.”
  • Ash Recruits Henry the Red: Ash talks Henry into joiningforces with Arthur against their common enemies, the Deadites. This would have provided a stronger sense of continuity, so that the last-reel appearance of Henry and his men would not come out of nowhere.

Recorded around the time that Raimi was directing the Kevin Costner baseball film For the Love of the Game, the audio commentary by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raim (Sam’s brother Ivan joins midway through) is amusing and informative, although – typically – some touchy subjects are avoided (there is no reference to the DeLaurentiis lawsuit that delayed the film’s distribution for a year). A fair amount of time is devoted to discussing footage that was deleted from the shorter, theatrical cut, but Raimi resists criticizing Universal Pictures, admititng that he had input into the revisions. Considerng that he and his partners took on the project in order to regain the creative control they had lost on Darkman, they could have at least noted the irony that they ended up going through a similar post-production process on ARMY OF DARKNESS.
The major cuts and alterations discussed are:

  • The bloody death of the first ghoul is trimmed down to avoid an X-rating.
  • The backlit love scene in front of the romantic, roaring fire was removed entirely: “It’s a little too heavy,” says Raimi. “I didn’t mind losing this. It’s too serious for the picture.”
  • In the director’s cut, Evil Ash’s taunting Ash for beinga “Goody Two Shoes” goes on much longer. Aftera fed-up Ash blasts his evil twin in the face with a shotgun, he says: “I’m not so good.” In the theatrical print, an alternate take was used: “Good, bad – I’m the guy with the gun,” which Raimi admits he prefers.
  • The director’s cut contains more shots of Ash riding from place to place, giving a sense of geography.
    Ash’s speech to rally the troops for battle was cut from the theatrical version, and the montage that followed was trimmed.
  • The scene of Evil Ash kissing Shielagoes on longer in the director’s cut, and there is more interplay between the two after Sheila turns evil.
  • According to Bruce Campbell, “About ten minutes of battle was removed to get the 81-minute version.” Raimiadmits that it was hard to argue that nine shots of exploding skeletons were necessary in this sequence, as opposed to four.

Other interesting points made in the commentary:

  • The scene of Ash severinghis hand with a chainsaw was reshot for the prologue of ARMY OF DARKNESS, because the shot in EVIL DEAD 2 was too slowly paced for a rapid-fire montage.
    Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi suggest that all three EVIL DEAD movies would cut together as a single, longer work if the reshot recaps at the beginning of EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS were cut out. This ignores the considerable continuity gaps between the lattertwo films: at the end of EVIL DEAD 2, Ash is immeidatelyhailed as a hero; in ARMY OF DARKNESS, he is put in chains as a prisoner and earns the respect of Arthur and his men only after defeating a monster kept in a pit int the courtyard of Arthur’s castle.
  • Of the director’s cut, Universal “said it’s too long and the ending’s a downer,” according to Raimi. “So we reshot an ending, and they pretty much cut out fifteen minutes – although I did have input on that. I can’t just claim it was them.”
  • Sam Raimi on the credibility of the supporting cast: “It was not the greates script. We really needed that crediblity, because we were taking our low-budget antics and trying to drop them into a real world, as much as possible.”
  • As the film moves into its final act, Sam Raimilaments, “Ivan and I have talked about where we went wrong withthepicture. […] We agreed that afterthis point, we lost a lot of the characterof Ash beinga coward. That’s why for us it didn’t work as well. Just battle scenes are empty. What Ivan and I loved was the characterof Ash beinga coward, a blowhard, a braggart, a liar… His character disapperas, and it becomes about cool skeleton battles, like a Ray Harryhausen movie, which we’ve seen Harryhausen do, so it’s not that interesting. We should have put in more pieces of Bruce interacting.”
  • Bruce Campbells defends the original ending, in which Ash winds up in a devastated future: “It’s appropriate…. It gave a very good lead in to what would or would not become Part 4.”

SEEN TODAY

Although the most lavish of the EVIL DEAD trilogy, ARMY OF DARKNESS is probably the least effective, thanks to its compromised nature. Nevertheless, it does have enough redeeming features to make it an amusing cult film for fants of the series, and its fantasy elements make it appealing to viewers who might find the excessive gore of the earlie films unpalatable. Although the director’s cut preserves the artists’ original ision, the theatrical cut is actually more worthwhile viewing: the faster pace holds viewer attention better, and the shorter length deletes at least some of the silliness that can elicit groans rather than laughs. Though it is no match for EVIL DEAD 2 (by far the best of the three films), ARMY OF DARKNESS is a worthy follow-up that expands upon the earlier films in interesting ways and has the nerve to go in a new direction – a direction worth applauding, even if the film stumbles sometimes on its way..
Army of Darkness (1993). Directed by Sam Riami. Written by Sam & Ivan Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda, Patricia Tallman.