Dusting off yet another neglected feature, we bring you the award show styled series where we attempt to summarize a genre or personality by looking at aspects of their body of work we enjoyed the most. This time around, we’re preparing for STARZ’s new series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, which is a continuation of the Evil Dead franchise, most famously showcased in the horror/comedy cult classic, Army of Darkness. That series was created by director Sam Raimi and long time collaborator/actor Bruce Campbell (as if you didn’t know!) You may be aware that we love us some Evil Dead on this site, but you may not be familiar with some of Raimi/Campbell’s other works (such as the pulp action films, Darkman.) Here are some of our favorites in that catalog of films.
Winner: Cate Blanchett, The Gift
This movie was a surprise for me. Not only that it was a Raimi production, but that it ended up being as riveting as it was. Man crush aside (and ill-advised lady crush,) I was not expecting much from a cast that had Keanu Reeves and Katie Holmes in a serious role. Add Giovanni Ribisi and Greg Kinnear, and this film looked downright dubious. The plot involves a prominent political family in a small southern town and the disappearance of the fiance (Holmes) to the golden child of the family (Kinnear.) The family calls in a psychic (Blanchett) who leads the police to the body of the betrothed, but when blame falls upon a violent patsy (Reeves,) the psychic has troubling dreams that contradict the police’s neat little prosecution. When the real killer tries to silence Blanchett, she has to rely upon her own toughness and a little help from the other side.
The acting in this film is pretty roundly good. A backwoods who-dunnit with an occult motif is no easy feat to pull off, and everyone manages to bring their A game. The top performance, as is expected, goes to Blanchett, who manages to give us a down-to-earth mother of three grappling with a “gift” which causes her more trouble than profit. While this is not Oscar material, it is a well paced mystery that features a well-realized setting and features some great roles and performances.
Winner: Bruce Campbell. Everything. Ever.
Are you kidding me? Did you think this was going to end up any other way? He’s Bruce. He’s battled the dead, smack-talked Spider-Man, and faced down a maniac cop. Steven Spielberg has his Tom Hanks, and Sam Raimi has his Bruce Campbell. I pity Spielberg.
Winner: 30 Days of Night
It’s hard to pick this one. The original Evil Dead managed to find scares and slick visuals with the tiniest shoe-string budget (hell, it was practically Velcro!) The remake, though a touch more focused on body horror and outright gore, was pretty nerve-wracking, and perhaps one of the few warranted remakes of a famous horror film. The Grudge…had a cat-screaming kid that was good for a few crapped-pants. But 30 Days of Night was something special: a vampire movie that didn’t suck.
30 Days of Night takes an old story and puts it into some fresh duds, ships it off to the frozen north, and lets a complete horror show erupt. With Western influences, a small town Alaskan sheriff has to deal with some deadly drifters who really appreciate that the sun won’t shine for another month. The vampires are a little CG weird, but their mannerisms and blood-lust more than make up for it. Josh Hartnett was mounting a mini-comeback with this film and Lucky Number Sleven, and did a damn fine job as the beleaguered cop who needs to save his town from the undead. Sure, Raimi was only the producer on this piece…but I still love the hell out of this flick.
Winner: The Quick and the Dead
I love Westerns. Sam Raimi took a detour from his horror/comedy roots and managed to turn in one of the best cowboy flicks of the last twenty years. Sure, it bombed at the box office…but Sam Raimi is pretty much the comeback kid when it comes to turning a flop into filet mignon. The cast is a Hollywood wet dream, with Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and Gary Sinise. The story could not be any more rock-bottom Western: somebody (Hackman) did a lady wrong (Stone), so she rides into town and…enters a gun-fighting tournament to get her revenge. It’s Street Fighter meets High Noon, and every single fight is inventive and tense. I wish Hackman would just keep making Westerns for forever, because we haven’t had such a great heel since Lee Van Cleef hung up the spurs.
Winner: The Hudsucker Proxy
OK, this one is a bit of a cheat. Sam Raimi is involved here…but in a bit part as an actor. So don’t blow up my comment section about how he didn’t direct this film. I know. He didn’t direct 30 Days of Night, either. But man, The Hudsucker Proxy! That is one of the secret gems of cinema! If you collect it and 12 more…you have 13 really great movies. Nothing mystical, but perhaps you can turn it into extra street cred when writing amateur reviews on your buddy’s web site. I wouldn’t know anything about that, though.
Winner: A Simple Plan
I’ve always loved A Simple Plan. It is an amazing movie. Three small town locals find an improbable and highly illegal stash of money…and quietly keep it. The only problem is that guilt is cumulative, and with each passing day, they begin to mistrust each other, strangers, and even themselves. Pretty soon, this level of paranoia and greed turns a very simple plan into the mother of all cluster-fucks.
The acting in this flick is wonderful. Bill Paxton is the smart brother who orchestrates the whole plan. Billy Bob Thornton is the simple-minded younger brother who cannot fathom the world of trouble he is walking into by going along. And Bridget Fonda is the intelligent wife who sees the whole plan starting to become deadly. They’re all amazing. This story is so damn good, I automatically assumed it was the Cohen Brothers who made this film. Nope. Sam Raimi directed this bad boy. If you’ve every loved a Cohen’s film, you need to get up to speed with this film. As a bonus, Raimi took controls of this turkey when Ben Stiller opted out of directing it and Nicolas Cage opted out of staring in it. That is the luckiest pair of cold feet a movie has ever had!
Our Favorite…Awful Movie
Winner: Spider Man 3
This list had many many aspirants! Sam Raimi is better at making lead than he is at making gold. Like a career pugilist who manages to keep getting back up from thrashings, Sam never stays down. His filmography is more like a “who the fuck!?” than a “Who’s who?” I’m going to discount his producer/actor miss-steps, since they are hilariously numerous. I mean, hell, he was in The Flintstones movie!
As a director, he’s had some flops that turned into cult classics. He has an odd sensibility, and it sure ain’t for everyone, so that is to be expected. But some of his mainstream stuff has just been god-awful. Oz The Great and Powerful? Holy crap. He gave the Wicked Witch of the West a low cut dress, for goodness sake! Yes, let’s sexualize the embodiment of childhood dysfunction and natural disaster. And his sports epic, For The Love of the Game, started the trend of Kevin Costner losing money in baseball movies. That’s Field of Dreams level of epic…badness. But the ultimate booby prize goes to Spider Man 3. Sure, the cast was bloated. Sure, they dawdled on Venom when Sandman was the really interesting villain. Sure, they cast Topher Grace as anyone. But the worst offense was giving evil Peter Parker a K.D. Lang emo haircut and trying to make him look cool. Holy crap, again. That sequence managed to ruin what was previously a totally kick-ass James Brown song. If you can make the hardest working man in the industry sound weak, you’ve committed a heinous sin. And guess what, I love watching it!