Updated: March 26, 2016
Blood on the Screen: The Films of Sam Raimi
Director/Writer Sam Raimi
A Selected Filmography & Review by:
On October 15th, 1981 in the Redford Theater in Detroit, Michigan history was about to be made in the form of a small-budgeted, gore-filled shocker known then as “Book of the Dead”. Its creators, little more than college kids playing with cameras, had already forged a friendship that would span decades and many movies. Their names have become synonymous within the horror movie industry and infamously with ratings boards across the globe: Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert & Bruce Campbell.
This was not, however, the group’s first film, not by a long shot. As young adults, they had made such 8mm classics as “Supa’ Bad” (1973), “The Happy Valley Kid” (1977) , “It’s Murder!”( 1978), among dozens of other such home made films…of unfortunately the same quality.
However, in 1979, the guys set out to make a good old fashioned horror flick called “Within the Woods”. $1,600 and six days later- they had it in the bag! This would be a short feature to show to potential investors in their feature length movie “Book of the Dead”.
They formed Renaissance Pictures that same year and with the “Within the Woods” short, they had enough money (between $350,000 & $400,000 according to Bruce Campbell) to make “The Book of the Dead”. Filming began in November 1979 in the mountains of Tennessee.
Fast forward to one savvy distributor Irvin Shapiro, a name change to “The Evil Dead”, a distribution deal with New Line Cinema and bang! – A U.S. release in April of 1983 sealed the deal. A true American horror classic was born into the motion picture world.
Original Poster Art for “The Evil Dead”.
“The Evil Dead” did not see a large theater distribution, however when it was shown in such venues it was packed with viewers. It was also helped along by a slick little horror magazine called “Fangoria” of which I was already an avid fan and had been reading articles regarding the upcoming film. Released “Unrated”, the mystique of “The Evil Dead” was born into the genre.
The early 1980’s was the dawn of videotape movie rentals and “The Evil Dead” found its audience there. VHS home video is where “The Evil Dead” made its mark and in time, would become the standard against which all horror films would be measured. It was in VHS format in 1984 that I first saw “The Evil Dead” & I was so taken with the camera movements, the premise and especially its ending, that I became a Sam Raimi / Bruce Campbell fan for life.
For its day & time, “The Evil Dead” was over-the-top scares & bloody gore, & campy humor made it a true original in every sense of the word. No one before had used the elements contained within “The Evil Dead” in such a way.
Nowadays, it’s become expected that every movie should be a multi-million dollar epic of incredible proportions and scope. However in 1983, things were different. Movies were developing and experimenting with both content and how they were made, coupled with the fledgling business of home video- a entirely new world was awakening.
“The Evil Dead” was in the right place at the right time, with the right content & direction.
There was something else on the horizon, something far, far greater than the success and imaginativeness of “The Evil Dead” for Raimi & company. Perhaps the greatest horror / comedy of all time was in Raimi’s head and it would soon burst forth into theaters, again unrated no less, in 1987, “Evil Dead 2”!
In the time between the success of “The Evil Dead” and the beginning of production for its sequel, “Evil Dead 2”, Sam Raimi had made a name for himself in the genre. The sequel would not disappoint. Armed with a larger budget, better make-up effects, and a storyline so incredibly demented & gory, “Evil Dead 2” had without doubt outdone its first installment. Considered by many fans of the series to actually be the finest installment, it balances horror & comedy in such a unique way that it truly has to be seen to be fully understood!
The name garnered by the first “Evil Dead” was such that Sam was worried about ratings and the MPAA in regards to distribution. To help with that, Raimi decided to utilize different colors for bodily fluids instead of ‘blood red’ in the goriest of scenes. It didn’t help with the ratings, so he created “Rosebud Releasing Corporation” and again released it unrated! Using such strange colors and over-the-top crazy action did however make the film as great as it is. I mean blood geysers spewing forth red, then black, then green biles?!
“Evil Dead 2’s Ed character becomes possessed by Kandarian Demons”
“EVIL DEAD 2”
“Evil Dead 2” is considered by many to be the best in the series & rightfully so. It seemed that Raimi had balanced the horror and humor in perfect proportions, to the immense satisfaction of the fans. The special make up effects by Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, under the supervision of Mark Shostrum provided some of the best ‘deadite’ possessions of the series as well.
“Ash at the end of Evil Dead 2.”
The adventures of making “Evil Dead 2” are well documented, so there’s no need to mention the J.R Faison High School, “Rotten Apple Head”, “fake shemps” or even, “recap of the decap” – as they are well known to every Raimi fan. For the absolute final analysis regarding the Evil Dead series, I would suggest buying “The Evil Dead Companion” by Bill Warren. It is extensive and contains a complete written examination of each film in this series.
Anchor Bay DVD has released a fantastic special collector’s edition of “Evil Dead 2” called “The Book of the Dead 2 Edition”, the DVD case is a latex molded version of the Tom Sullivan sculpted Necronomicon complete with cryptic (and decipherable) pages!
“Evil Dead 2” set the standards, both in writing and visual style, in which Sam Raimi would be known for. This style would later be easily recognized in the hugely successful “Spider Man” trilogy. However, before mainstream success would find him, Sam Raimi had to complete the original ED trilogy with “Army of Darkness”.
“Army of Darkness”, although having a much wider release than its predecessors, had its share of studio problems which affected the final product. Raimi, working under Universal Pictures, was forced to re-write, re-edit and basically tone-down his original work as it was turned in to Universal. The result was a pretty good film and an ‘OK’ entry in the series, but it stands on its own.
I prefer the Directors Edition which includes the original ending of Ash over-sleeping to return to his own time…only to discover he has awoke in a time after a civilization-ending apocalyptic vision of London. This edition is how Raimi wanted it and it suits me just fine!
Anchor Bay DVD has released several versions of “Army of Darkness”: The Directors Cut, The Bootleg Edition & the Boomstick Edition. All are impressive and have great extras! Universal Pictures has also released a special Screwhead Edition of the theatrical release in a special case.
As of this writing, it has been announced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert & Bruce Campbell that writing for “Army of Darkness 2” will begin in the summer of 2013.
WHY I LIKE SAM RAIMIS’ HORROR FILMS
One of the things that drew me to the film series was its concept which was, at the time, a new and fresh original one. I was 14 and watched “Evil Dead” on VHS in 1984 and I loved it! The entire story regarding the “Notorum Demonto” (as it was called at first) was a neat concept. Yes, I know, H.P Lovecraft used his “Necronomicon” long before in his writings (plus he invented the damn thing to begin with)- I’m working on an essay regarding Lovecraft right now, but more on him later.
I liked the way the camera moves and uses Dutch angles, snap-zooms & the creepy, although vague, pure maliciousness of the possessing demons. It was a truly terrifying concept to me in that day & age! Nothing had been done like that before, even though it has been done a million times since. That’s why modern & younger horror fans just don’t get it. It wasn’t just the film; it was the time of when it was first released. After seeing the newest installment “Evil Dead” (2013-Fede Alvarez), I can see just how far, as fans, we’ve come. I loved the new installment by the way; I say that because it’s really not a remake or a reboot. It fits well into the series, but more on that in a bit.
The story takes place almost entirely in and around the cabin which adds to the claustrophobic feeling of dread in the film, especially in the finale. The ending blew me away, as it was atypical at the time to have a ‘downer’ of an ending. We all though Ash was dead at the end! We thought the mysterious unseen force has taken him (Space:1999 fans ears should have just perked up at that!).
Luckily, I was an avid reader of Fangoria magazine and they were following the newest chapter and teased all of us accordingly.
“Evil Dead 2”
When “Evil Dead 2” was released, I was already in line and watched in pure delight as my hero Ash was tortured in such crazy, almost silly ways. The book, now referred to as “Necronomicon Ex Mortis” was a more developed character than some of the actors in the film! Ash, this time, is no cowering wimp! Cutting his own hand off and creating his own chainsaw hand- he hacks, slashes and gets more goop spurted onto his face than Barney Frank at the DNC! (Well see how well that joke goes…).
We find out that the mysterious unseen force that had apparently gotten hold of Ash at the end of “Evil Dead” had merely propelled him with such force that he flies through the woods end over end, eventually crashing into a tree. The force had finally possessed him, but it was dawning & the sunlight drives it out of him. The story is mostly in the cabin again, but we do get glimpses of other places through the introduction of new meat for the grinder, er, I mean characters.
The resulting mayhem culminates with Ash using the pages of the Necronomicon to make the unseen force manifest itself in the flesh and summoning a portal to banish the force back to where it came from. He succeeds, but the portal sucks him & his 73 Oldsmobile in as well, only to deposit him in the 14th Century!
I always thought it was pretty cool that one could; basically, edit the beginning of “Evil Dead 2” & the end of “The Evil Dead” together and it would be one long story. Of course, when “Army of Darkness” was released, that exact same thing could be done again, making one 3 hour long story! I realized that there were always continuity errors in each sequels “recap of the decap”, but that was something I completely understood at the time & I accepted that.
“Army of Darkness”
“Army of Darkness” has much the same charm as “Evil Dead 2”, just with less biles and blood! This time around the book is simply called “Necronomicon”. Visually all three movies had different designs for the book with my favorite begin Tom Sullivans “Evil Dead 2” version. Ash is back and does his thing against a mounting army of the dead in 1300 AD or thereabouts. AOD picks up directly after the events of ED2 and it’s just a cool film.
The blend of horror & camp is pretty balanced and it’s made quite well. This is, to date, the most expansive “Evil Dead” story. Ash is no longer trapped in that cabin in the Tennessee Mountains and has been thrown back in time to; once again, face the evil wrought by the dreaded “Necronomicon”.
The Special Effect house of KNB (Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger) handled the make-ups and effects with astounding results. As usual, KNB pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and delivered that “Evil Dead” style as they had done in “Evil Dead 2”.
“DRAG ME TO HELL”
This is one hell of a horror movie! I really like it! The story, written by Sam & Ivan Raimi, is familiar but at the same time so original. Of course there are jump scares, gross-outs, dutch angles & snap-zooms; all of which adds up to what Sam Raimi is all about: fun & scares!
A young bank clerk, wanting a promotion, goes against her compassionate nature and denies a loan extension to an elderly Gypsy woman who, in turn, curses her to be tormented and eventually dragged to Hell by a demon called the “Lamia”.
The best part of the movie is when the protagonist seeks the help of a medium in an attempt to summon the Lamia, force it into the body of a goat and then kill the goat to break the curse. It goes wrong, of course, and we finally get to see a pure “ Raimi-esque” possessed Goat! It reminded me of the possessed mounted deer head from “Evil Dead 2”, as well it should as both effects were created by KNB FX under the influence of Greg Nicotero!
Another aspect of the film is the design itself. The “Lamia” seems to be a realistic version of real ancient depictions of “Baphomet” (Satan) from medieval times. Also, there are some very funny scenes and some very intense action sequences during the advancement of the story. Staying true to form, the films ending is a shocker and one that I found very interesting. How can you not like a Raimi ending?!
NOTE: “Must See” or “Notable” films are underscored.
*“The Evil Dead” – 1982
“Evil Dead 2” – 1987
“The Dead Next Door” – 1989 (Producer) – J.R. Bookwalter's zombie opus!
“Darkman” – 1990-Disfigured scientist uses invention to exact revenge.
“Army of Darkness” – 1992
“Darkman 2: The Return of Durant” – 1995 (Producer)
“The Quick and The Dead” – 1995 (Director)- Remake of the classic western, awesome!
“Darkman 3: Die, Darkman, Die!” – 1996 (Producer)
“A Simple Plan” – 1998 (Director)
“For Love of the Game” – 1999 (Director)
“The Gift” – 2000 (Director)
“Spider Man” – 2001 (Director) – Who HASN’T seen this?
“Spider Man 2” – 2004 (Director)-
“The Grudge” – 2004 (Producer)
“Boogeyman” – 2005 (Producer)
“The Grudge 2” – 2006 (Producer)
“Spider Man 3” – 2007 (Director)
“30 Days of Night” – 2007 (Producer)
“Boogeyman 2” – 2008 (Producer)
“The Grudge 3” – 2009 (Producer)
“Drag Me To Hell” – 2009 (Director/Writer)
“Priest” – 2011 (Producer)
“The Possession” – 2012 (Producer)
“Oz the Great and Powerful” – 2013 (Director)
“Evil Dead” - 2013 (Executive Producer)
“Army of Darkness 2” (Director/Writer) – SCRAPPED
“Evil Dead 2” – SCRAPPED
"ASH VS EVIL DEAD" - TV Series
Season One: 10 Episodes; 30 min each.
Season Two: Currently filming!
UPDATED MARCH 26, 2016