"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Campbell’

Sam Raimi: The TV Years (Rake, Ash vs Evil Dead, 50 States of Fright)

Thursday, February 3rd, 2022

So, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) is Sam Raimi’s most recent feature film until DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS comes out in a few months. It’s like he accidentally took one too many drops of the potion and woke up in a whole new world.

But not really. In the interim, as always, he’s been producing movies for other people, including Fede Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD remake (also 2013) and DON’T BREATHE (2016). And of course he’s developed movies to direct that just haven’t gotten off the ground for one reason or another. There have been announcements of him directing movies based on the video game The Last of Us, the books Love May Fail, The Blade Itself, The Next 100 Years and The Kingkiller Chronicle: The Name of the Wind, plus a remake of A PROPHET. All of these seem to have fallen away, as such things often do.

Throughout his career as a director he’s also been prolific as an executive producer of TV shows including M.A.N.T.I.S., Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American Gothic, Spy Game, Young Hercules, Jack of All Trades, Cleopatra 2525, Xena: Warrior Princess, Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus. But in 2014, about a month after OZ came out, he finally directed his first TV show. (read the rest of this shit…)

Oz the Great and Powerful

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

And now in our journey through the films of Sam Raimi we have arrived at a difficult spot. We have come to the film that was at the time “the new Sam Raimi” but for a few years became “the last Sam Raimi?” I enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL well enough when it came out in 2013 (here’s my review), even though a big commercial Disney movie that’s an unsolicited prequel to a famous story wasn’t high on the list of what I wanted to see from him. And it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to see him go out on.

Luckily he has now actually filmed his next movie, so a comeback is on deck. But isn’t it crazy that it’s been 9 years since the last Sam Raimi movie? To remind you of how long ago this was, it’s when FURIOUS 6 and MAN OF STEEL came out. It’s when they were on the first film of MCU Phase Two, IRON MAN THREE. We’re talking seven David Gordon Green movies ago (he was on PRINCE AVALANCHE, starring Paul Rudd, who was not yet Ant-Man). It’s when Franck Khalfoun’s remake of MANIAC came out, and Spike Lee’s remake of OLDBOY, and Ryuhei Kitamura’s WWE Films joint NO ONE LIVES. Remember those? No? You weren’t born yet? That’s what I’m saying – it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man 2

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Raimi started work on SPIDER-MAN 2 immediately after the first one, and had it ready to go two summers later. Since it really is about following up on the events of the first film, it starts by running the credits over some of them, as depicted in paintings by Alex Ross. (He’s celebrated for his realistic portraits of comic book super heroes, which are more impressive when they come from his imagination and not photography we’ve already seen, but still, it was cool that they got him). The end of the sequence reminds us that in SPIDER-MAN Peter chose not to be with Mary Jane, who he loves, so that he could be Spider-Man.

Which does not seem to be working out great so far. The painting of Mary Jane dissolves into a closeup of her face on a perfume billboard that Peter has to walk under every day, reminding him of his pain. Though he tries to hide it, it’s clear his world crumbles when she is not near. He’s in college now, and living on his own in a small apartment. Much like part 1’s opening about all the ways Peter can be humiliated on the way to school, this one piles it on real thick about what a shit sandwich life still hands to him every day. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

“He had an uneventful childhood. He played baseball with the other kids on the block, became fascinated with the antics of what later became his heroes – The Three Stooges, read Spiderman comic books, thought Jerry Lewis was hilarious and the Little Rascals even more so. What influenced Raimi to become the ‘horror meister’ of slash and gore films is not found in his past.”

Dead Auteur: How a 20-year-old ex-college student carved out his horror niche in Hollywood by Sue Uram, Cinefantastique, August 1992

 

Immediately following Raimi’s very serious director period, his career changed drastically again. After so many stabs at the mainstream, he finally made the leap to genuine blockbuster filmmaking, bringing one of the most famous characters in the history of American pop culture to the big screen for the first time. This is not the use-Intro-Vision-to-stretch-the-budget-enough-to-try-to-compete-in-summer of DARKMAN and ARMY OF DARKNESS, or the work-with-huge-stars-but-scare-off-boring-people-by-doing-something-different-with-them of THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. I’m talking a super hero event movie with ten times the budget of DARKMAN, working with Sony Digital Imageworks to pioneer effects techniques that nobody was even sure would be possible, and finally sharing his talents with pretty much the widest audience possible for a movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Army of Darkness

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Man, here we are on Sam Raimi’s fifth movie, and I feel like it’s his fourth major breakthrough. THE EVIL DEAD was the smashing debut that put him on the map, CRIMEWAVE didn’t do much for him but EVIL DEAD 2 was the cult masterpiece that moved him from the map to the pantheon, then DARKMAN was his first studio movie and first actual big moneymaker.

But during the couple years he spent trying to get DARKMAN going he’d also agreed to make an EVIL DEAD III with Dino De Laurentiis, this time with a bigger budget to accommodate the Medieval Dead concept he’d wanted for 2 but had to abandon because it was too expensive. Produced by De Laurentiis and released by Universal, ARMY OF DARKNESS not as expensive as DARKMAN, but is arguably larger in scope – it’s a period piece with a castle, lots of knights in armor, horses, catapults, an army of skeletons, plus various possessed ladies, a flying beastie, an Ash that grows a second head and then splits off into a monstrous Evil Ash, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Evil Dead II

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

“Then let’s head down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch.”


After the financial and (perceived) artistic failure of CRIMEWAVE, Raimi and company were itching for a win, and knew their best bet was to return to the one that had worked, THE EVIL DEAD. When they couldn’t find financing, their savior was the same guy who arguably made their careers by raving about THE EVIL DEAD: Stephen King. One of the crew members Raimi and friends had interviewed for the potential sequel was working on King’s directorial debut MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, and happened to mention to King that Raimi was having trouble getting a greenlight. King was like Are you kidding me? There could be an EVIL DEAD part 2 but nobody will let them do it!?, called up his producer Dino De Laurentiis and convinced him to meet with Raimi. So give that man a medal.

De Laurentiis was skeptical of the project, especially after Raimi and friends rejected filming at his Wilmington, North Carolina studio. But he agreed, allowing a $3.6 million budget, small enough to rule out their plans to set it in medieval times, but giving them more to work with than either of their previous films. And the studio gambit worked exactly as intended – the three hour drive to the locations made it harder for higher ups to pull any CRIMEWAVE shit..

(read the rest of this shit…)

Crimewave

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

THE EVIL DEAD was a hit. It took them a while, but they found a distributor, Irvin Shapiro. He’d been a founder of the Cannes Film Festival, and arranged for it to screen out of competition, where Stephen King saw it and loved it. Him raving about it in USA Today brought it outsized attention for such a small movie. It was well reviewed and became a sleeper hit, making 8 times its budget at the domestic box office (and then we all saw it on video).

And you know how these days you can make a low budget horror debut and a studio will hire you to direct SHAZAM! or some shit? That’s a little bit like what Raimi tried to do after THE EVIL DEAD. Not a for-hire thing, but a bigger movie more in the comedic vein of his amateur Super-8 films. According to Bruce Campbell’s book If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, THE EVIL DEAD editor Edna Ruth Paul had told Raimi that her assistant Joel Coen and his brother Ethan wrote great scripts. “Ethan was just a statistical accountant at Macy’s at the time,” Raimi is quoted as saying in the book, “and I thought it’s probably going to be awful, but I’ll read it because I like Joel. And I read it and I thought, ‘This is really a great script. These guys know how to write scripts.’ I needed help, because ours was no good and they came in and helped me with it.”

Later there was an uncredited pass by Sheldon Lettich, who in a few years would become forever associated with Jean-Claude Van Damme by writing BLOODSPORT and then directing LIONHEART. (Lettich would also co-write a too-ambitious EVIL DEAD 2 draft similar to what became ARMY OF DARKNESS.)

Set in Raimi and Campbell’s home town of Detroit, CRIMEWAVE (1985) is a weird and funny movie, teeming with Raimi and Coen personality, from the precisely worded dialogue full of humorously archaic phrasing, to the over-the-top set pieces, to the straight up Three Stooges cartooniness. A favorite example of the latter: during a struggle, a shelf gets knocked down and a series of bowling balls (or cannonballs?) roll onto a villain’s head one after the other – don’t keep those on a shelf, people! That’s dangerous!

But Embassy Pictures fucked with Raimi from the beginning, causing numerous obvious compromises, so he and the Coens have long since disowned it.

First and worst compromise: they wouldn’t let Bruce Campbell be the star. He’s funny as Renaldo, the “heel” and lady’s man who’s the hero’s romantic rival. But the lead was given to Reed Birney (House of Cards, THE HUNT), who comes off like a poor man’s Anthony Edwards circa REVENGE-OF-THE-NERDS. He plays hapless dork Vic Ajax, who openly reads the book How To Talk To Women and then, when he gets the chance to, only talks to them about himself. It’s easy to imagine this cluelessness working with Campbell’s arrogant buffoon shtick, but Birney’s portrayal seems a little too accurate to that type of person to be charming. I kind of want to see him suffer. But he pulls some of it off. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Evil Dead

Monday, January 10th, 2022

Welcome friends, to a new review series. Each year on Halloween I like to post a piece on an all-time classic horror movie, usually one that I’ve been intimidated to tackle because so much has already been said about it that it’s hard to find a fresh angle. A couple Halloweens ago I decided to tackle Sam Raimi’s 1981 low budget classic THE EVIL DEAD. And I was really proud of the appreciation I put together, but writing it got me so excited about Raimi that I got a little ambitious. I decided I should do a separate one on the even better EVIL DEAD II. But watching that again got me thinking about other early Raimi movies, so I held off posting to grow it into a mini-series. And then I decided fuck it, I should do every movie he’s directed, even ones I’ve already reviewed.

Initially the goal was to remind people of the joy of Raimi since, having not directed a movie since 2013, I feel he’s largely fallen out of discussion. Since I started writing these, though, he filmed a DOCTOR STRANGE sequel, and his SPIDER-MAN characters returned in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Hopefully we’ll be seeing other retrospectives that go beyond Marvel Comics, but I’m glad I took the time to get carried away revising, digging through old magazines and books, and making screengrabs to illustrate my points. I want this series to be closer to a college course than a “Sam Raimi Movies Ranked” slideshow. So please joooooiiiiinnnn usssssssss for the next few weeks in examining THE COMPLETE FILMS OF SAM RAIMI.

* * *

When you say “EVIL DEAD” to people now, they tend to think of cocky Bruce Campbell, funny Ash, “Shop smart, shop S-Mart,” “Hail to the king baby,” etc. But back in the early ‘80s – and now, if you can watch it in the right state of mind – Sam Raimi’s original THE EVIL DEAD was and is a real fuckin corker, a cinematic slap to the face (in a good way), a thrilling ordeal in 16 millimeters.

You know how it is: you and a group of your fellow young people decide for some reason to go on a road trip from Michigan to a dilapidated, isolated cabin you’re renting in some dreary woods in Tennessee. Your buddy finds a reel-to-reel in the basement and hits play, a professor reading from an ancient text conjures up the ol’ Kandarian demons, and before the end of the night all your friends’ eyes are turning white, their skin turning crackly grey and they cackle and levitate and contort themselves, jerking around like marionettes, all their joints making sounds like cracking knuckles, until you decide your only options are to lock them in the basement or chop them up with an ax. You try to stay calm, but what the fuck is up with this invisible force charging through the woods at you, knocking down trees and battering through windows and doors? Whenever we shift to its perspective our ear drums rattle with eerie drones, gurgly didjeridu moans and echoey, whispered taunts. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mindwarp

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

tn_mindwarpFangoria Magazine is important to me. I’ve been reading it since some time in the ’80s. It covered not only all the great horror movies that have come out during all those years, but also the less great ones. I like that you could read detailed coverage of, like, DOLLY DEAREST or some shit when it came out. I have boxes of old issues and sometimes I’ll remember to go back and see their interviews about, say, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE, or something and find more details than I could find browsing the internet. It’s great.

Back when people read magazines and loved horror movies enough to read about how they were made, Fangoria had enough money to try crossing over and making some movies of their own, including MINDWARP. To be honest I  don’t remember ever hearing of it until I came across it recently on a nice Twilight Time blu-ray. I remember Fangoria Films as a distributor of low budget movies (don’t think I ever watched any of them) but I didn’t realize that before that they had tried to finance one movie per year, starting with this in 1990 (not released until ’92 though), followed by CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (vampire movie from HELLRAISER II director Tony Randel) and SEVERED TIES (horror comedy with Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Garrett Morris in the cast). (read the rest of this shit…)

Congo

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

tn_congo

RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 9

Here’s a funny thing that was different back in 1995: Bruce Campbell was so worshipped as a cult star that the idea of him being in a blockbuster movie was thrilling to people. He had done the EVIL DEAD trilogy and the MANIAC COP pictures and did a couple seasons of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. but that didn’t really catch on in the mainstream. And he seemed like their secret but somehow they wanted everybody to know. He made it to the semi-big-ish time with little cameos in DARKMAN and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, but people still wanted him to star in some big movie and be the next, I don’t know, Kurt Russell or somebody.

And then he was in the trailer for this new Michael Crichton movie CONGO. Had the misguided dreams of horror nerds come true at last? Would they be able to finally share their hero not just with the Johnny-come-latelies who saw ARMY OF DARKNESS before the other ones, but with the whole world?

Well, the fact that the camera zoomed in on his screaming face during the trailer seemed to indicate that he wasn’t gonna make it to the end. Still, word of disappointment spread fast when people saw the movie and discovered that he bites it in the opening scene. The whole movie is about a rescue mission to come find him, even though we got a pretty idea they’re gonna be rescuing a dead body. (They do manage to find John Hawkes still alive, but catatonic, and then he freaks out and dies.) Anyway, I mention this movie to people 20 years later, that’s still the first thing that comes up. The wound has not healed. (read the rest of this shit…)