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Why we loveā€¦ Sam Raimi

#DCAcinema

11 May 2022

We know you're as excited as we are for this week's quadruple-whammy of Sam Raimi films, starting with our Evil Dead marathon and peaking with our run of the spectacular Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, including Bring a Baby and Relaxed screenings! We asked our Dundead programmer Michael Coull to round up some of the director's wildest, most memorable highlights…

The Evil Dead (1981)
A whirling cacophony of sound, fury and buckets of gore, 1981’s The Evil Dead is arguably Raimi at his most inventive (and influential). As they so often do, budget limitations breed creativity, and Raimi and co. deliver 85 minutes of gleefully tongue-in-cheek carnage. Plot be damned, this is all about pushing onscreen gore and violence as far as the budget (and viewers’ stomachs) can stretch.

“…gleefully tongue-in-cheek carnage”

Released at the height of the ‘video nasties’ era, Mary Whitehouse herself identified The Evil Dead as the 'number one nasty'. If that’s not a glowing endorsement, then what is?

Evil Dead II (1987)
The Godfather vs. The Godfather 2. Star Wars vs The Empire Strikes Back. The Evil Dead vs Evil Dead II. For horror fans, the debate over the various merits of the first two Evil Dead films will (much like a Kandarian demon) never truly die.

Raimi keeps the blood and guts, but amps up the sense of humour from the first film, with Bruce Campbell going full slapstick for several sequences, least of all his blood-drenched battle against his own demonically-possessed dismembered hand. This is also the film which arguably gave us Campbell’s Ash as a horror icon, complete with his wonderfully concise catch-phrase: “Groovy.”

Darkman (1990)
In between the last two installments of the Evil Dead series, Raimi wanted to try his hand at a comic book film. Unable to secure the rights to either The Shadow or Batman, Raimi invented his own ‘superhero’; superhero in parentheses because Darkman owes as much to film noir and Universal monster movies as it does to comic strips.

“Raimi invented his own ‘superhero’…”

Starring Liam Neeson (three years before Schindler’s List), it’s a strange beast; pulpy and broad, but with Raimi’s signature kinetic camera moves, and while not quite at Evil Dead-levels of oozing gore, it was violent enough to earn it an 18 rating here in the UK. It also gave a little indication of where Raimi’s career would be heading in 10 years’ time when he tackled another beloved trilogy. 

Army of Darkness (1992)
Army of Darkness dials back the gore of the first two entries in the Evil Dead series, but pushes the humour to even stranger places, as Ash finds himself bizarrely transported to the Middle Ages. Fans were unprepared for this shift in emphasis, but it’s textbook Raimi inventiveness; turning a gory, ultra-violent video nasty franchise into an early 90s sword-and-sorcery adventure. It’s extremely silly, and Campbell is perhaps given more to do than ever before (pulling double duty as Ash and ‘Evil Ash’) and is a suitably madcap end (at least until the television series) to one of the great cinematic horror franchises.

Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004)
While Blade and the X-Men came first, Spider-Man was arguably the beginnings of the modern Marvel boom. Those earlier films (and most superhero films since) had one foot in reality, but Spider-Man’s New York felt like the New York of the comics, rather than the real thing. Raimi is clearly a comics fan; he and Stan Lee had tried unsuccessfully to get a film version of Thor off the ground sometime in the 90s, and he clearly understands what had made Peter Parker such a beloved character for 40 years at that point.

“…arguably the beginnings of the modern Marvel boom​”

Raimi’s predilection for exaggerated, often pulpy emotional drama is a perfect fit for Spider-Man’s iconic origin story, and the sequel is every bit as good as the first film. Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina are perfectly cast, Dafoe in particular relishing the opportunity to go full pantomime villain, and the triumphant web-swinging scenes are arguably still the best we’ve seen on the big screen, even now. 

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Unfairly maligned on its release, Spider-Man 3 is admittedly bloated and messy, but at its high points, is also pure unadulterated Raimi. Raimi was forced to include the Venom character by Sony execs, and the film struggles to balance three villains jostling for screen time, but Raimi’s handling of the the Sand-Man character (despite some messy retcon) is inspired, and you can see his love for the Universal monster movies in the brilliant scene where the character becomes Sand-Man for the first time. Just as he had done with Army of Darkness, Raimi also amps up the comedy for the third instalment of this series, giving Tobey Maguire his own ‘Evil Ash’-style alter ego.

While fans at the time hated Peter Parker’s transformation into a floppy-haired smooth-talker, the much criticised, heavily-memed dance scene is the most purely Raimi scene across the three films; (intentionally) hilarious and the kind of bizarrely inventive tangent than the modern superhero template is often accused of stamping out.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Having been burned out by his experience of making Spider-Man 3, Raimi wanted to return to the character for one final triumphant concluding film, but the project never left the scripting stage. In the meantime, the director made a welcome return to his horror roots with Drag Me to Hell

“balancing the scares against moments of bizarre humour”

As with The Evil Dead, the plot is minimal, which works both in its favour and against it (the film has faced criticism for engaging in outdated gypsy stereotypes) but again, Raimi proves a master at balancing the scares (and it is scary) against moments of bizarre humour (see the demonically-possessed goat) and OTT violence (some nasty business involving a ruler).

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
We don't want to spoil the eagerly-awaited sequel to 2016's Doctor Strange, but it's safe to say Raimi has drawn on his horror roots to take the Marvel universe in new, darker directions. Expect plenty of mind-bending, dimension-shifting action as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange learns the hard way that there are dangerous consequences to dabbling in forbidden ancient magic…

Thank you, Michael, now we're more excited than ever! Catch The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at DCA Cinema this week. Groovy!

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