I know there’s some out there who don’t want to hear it, but there’s more to Sam Raimi than the deranged pleasures of the Evil Dead trilogy. So with his return to directing (and superhero movies) imminent at the time of writing with the release of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, I figured it was high time we looked over his wackiest, kookiest and downright weirdest moments that he’s managed to get away with in other movies. Be it the gleeful and continued abuse of his lead characters or the fact that he likes to fling a camera around like nobody else, this is a celebration of Raimi’s most out-there stuff that doesn’t involve chainsaw arms, total bodily dismemberment, or the phrase “Klaatu Barada Nikto” anywhere.
But before we start, all you primitive screwheads need not fret, I’m cooking up an Evil Dead list too, so all you Deadheads and Ash Holes will be nicely catered to.
So with a spoiler warning full in effect, it’s over to you, Sam….
5) The Fastest Camera In The West (The Quick And The Dead – 1995)
When Sam was announced as the director for hire for the latest Sharon Stone vehicle where the advertising campaign was almost entirely hinged upon there being a good chance of her showing her boobies, no one really expected his trademark style to pop up in a Western of all places – and yet, a viewing of this vastly underrated tribute to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone shows quite the opposite. Packed with some establish stars (Stone, Hackman) few soon-to-be superstars (DiCaprio, Crowe) and a clutch of character actors (Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell), Raimi establishes his visual dominance by staging all of the movie’s quick draw sequences completely differently. One employs Sam’s trusty crash zooms to dizzying effect while another sees every shot use a dolly zoom (you know, that shot from Jaws, or Vertigo where the depth perception goes all squiggly) as the seconds count down to draw time – and when he’s not using every trick in his wacky repertoire, he’s indulging in other, little visual quirks, like having a shard of daylight poke through the neat, little bullet hole plugged through someone’s chest or even having a doughnut shaped hole blown through someone’s skull.
4) Hag, Your It! (Drag Me To Hell – 2009)
Raimi’s long awaited return to horror in 2009 certainly didn’t disappoint, but a noticable high point in a film full of them proved to be the hilariously vicious brawl between sweet loan officer Christine and wronged, vengeful gypsy codger, Mrs Ganush that takes place in the former’s car. Outraged that she was shamed for begging for a third extention on her mortgage, Ganush ambushes Christine by lurking in her car in order to lay a whammy of a curse on her that will ultimately see the girl who wronged her dragged to hell, but obviously isn’t expecting such a spirited retaliation. As the two women claw and scratch at each other, Christine loses a fistful of hair but scores point by belting the maddened crone with a stapler, succeeding in lodging three staples in the old woman’s face, one of which staples her eyelid shut. From there things get even crazier as Ganush’s dentures are shattered so she tries to ravage her opponent’s face with her bare gums to queasy effect and eventually is forced out of the car much to Christine’s short-lived relief.
It’s a gut busting set piece that’s hilariously shot (love the tiny insert of her stapled eyelid twanging open in shock) and beautifully staged and it’s a mouthwatering opener to the truly insane carnage that’s due to follow.
Sam’s utilised many a creepy, shrieking harridan in his time (Evil Dead II, Army Of Darkness and Oz The Great And Powerful), but never quite like this and this particular case of hag horror may truly be his best one yet.
3) Peyton Pays The Price (Darkman – 1990)
It’s always fun when Raimi turns his particular brand of actor abuse against someone more famous than Bruce Campbell and while numerous actors have had to suffer the indignities of Sam’s gleeful attempts to torment them, none is more impressive and drawn out than the extended beating Liam Neeson endures at the beginning of Darkman.
Working on his pioneering synthetic skin late into the night, well-meaning boffin, Peyton Westlake is beset by a gang of thugs looking for a particular memorandum, led by the loquacious, finger-snipping gangster Robert G. Durant and what follows is an example of comic book torture that is ghoulishly hilarious as it is completely over the top.
After having his face smashed through successive panes of glass (which Raimi’s camera naturally tracks to follow), Westlake has his hands forced onto electrodes that burn them to blacked, skeletal claws and then is repeatedly dunked in chemicals which burn his face. However, the final, spiteful, coup de grace is yet to come and a critically wounded Peyton is left lying on the floor in a room full of gas while a dippy-bird is set up to push the button on a lighter after the villains have left. Cue an extreme close up of the bird hitting the lighter, a contracting pupil reacting to the oncoming flames and the sight of a flaming Liam Neeson being blown straight through the roof of his lab like some kind of freakish firework. The caper to this scene? Frances Mcdormand’s girlfriend character witness the explosion and in one shot, bows her head in grief as the background fades out to become the scene of Peyton’s funeral and her clothes become morning garb in one, magnificent disolve. Beautiful.
2) Seance It Ain’t So (Drag Me To Hell – 2009)
Arguably the greatest showcase for Raimi’s skills outside of Evil Dead II, Drag Me To Hell really stretches it’s cloven-footed legs when it gets to it’s fantastic seance scene. With her three days of torment almost up, Christine has to resort to desperate measures to remove the curse of the Lamia before she’s dragged unceremoniously to Hell and partakes in a seance/exorcism in an effort to survive. Things start off creepily enough as other spirits float in trying to get the low down on all the spiritual energy, but things go absolutely gonzo in pretty short order when the Lamia is successfully summoned and possesses the body of the elderly, female exorcist – however, this is actually part of the plan and when the Lamia is distracted, Christine forces it’s hand onto a goat, transferring its essence into the farmyard animal. This leads to the remarkable sight of a demonically possessed goat screaming obscenities at our lead actress, but when an assistant tries to slaughter the goat and dispell the curse, he misses and the Lamia goes into him instead and he celebrates by dancing a grotesque jig while floating twelve feet in the air and vomiting up a dead kitten just for shits and giggles.
1) Doc Ock Swats Docs (Spider-Man 2 – 2004)
Raimi proved to be an inspired choice to helm the first, big screen adventures of the world’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man if for no other reason than his whirling camerawork would be perfect when keeping up with Peter Parker’s particular method of travel. However, while Sam’s crazy dial was set on around medium-strength for the first movie, a more confident version of the director turned that knob all the way to 11 for the sequel.
Behold the legendary sequence where surgeons strive to saw off the four metal arms that’s become fused to the torso of hapless scientist Dr. Otto Octavius only to have said tentacles wake up in something of a bad mood. As they violently lay waste to the entire hospital staff unluckily enough to be present, Raimi busts out every Evil Dead reference in the book with melodramatic screaming, wild crash zooms, freaky POV shots from the snake-like protuberances as they whip around the room cause carnage wherever they can. The best homage, however, is reserved for the Doctor who manages to get his hands on a surgical chainsaw and who lifts it into frame as it revs into life very much in the same style as a certain, prominent-chinned, demon slayer that’s worked with the director before…
The balls of Raimi to stick in a blatant nod to his low budget horror roots during a mega-budget superhero movie proves that he must have genitals the size of medicine balls and the final result? Resplendent.
Honorable Mention: Crimewave – 1985
Raimi’s second movie doesn’t really get much love – primarily because it’s a fucking mess – but even though his first foray into actual filmmaking (as opposed to holding up in a cabin with some mates and a camera) does admittedly contain some under appreciated gold. Among the outlandish set pieces and a truly hilarious death for Bruce Campbell’s odious heel, Ronaldo, lies a wonderful bit where Louise Lasser’s nosey housewife flees from murderous juggernaut Crush though her husband’s security store and into a long corridor of doors. As she closes each one in wake while pirouetting like a ballerina, Crush simply takes the direct route and batters his way through them like the unstoppable maniac he is. A rare moment of beautious calm in a noisy maelstrom of utter chaos.
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is released the 5th of May in the UK and the 6th in the US.