Monday, July 20, 2009

Sam Raimi Gets Back to Basics

Sam Raimi earned the love and devotion of geeks everywhere with the Evil Dead pictures and the original comic book movie Darkman, then rolled up his sleeves and proved to the industry that he could suck it up and direct Kevin Costner (in the sensitive Crash-Davis-at-midlife picture For Love of the Game) if that's what it took to get them to trust him with Spider-Man. Three web-slinger movies later, Raimi has finally gotten in a position where he can make another horror flick, this time with a budget and a highly regarded young actress, Alison Lohman, in the Bruce Campbell part. James Rocchi stopped by the set of Drag Me to Hell to observe. "It's a long-standing piece of trivia," he writes, "that Raimi wears a suit to the set every day, in the mold of Alfred Hitchcock, so I made sure I put on an appropriate suit-and-tie combo for our visit. When Raimi came over to meet us, though, he was wearing a T-shirt and blazer, unshaven, relaxed and happy. Looking me up and down, he laughs: 'I see one member of the press dressed appropriately.'"

The script, which Raimi co-wrote with his brother Ted, who could cure cancer tomorrow and still remain best known to most of the world as Joxer the Mighty from Xena: Warrior Princess, casts Lohman as a loan officer at a bank who chooses to deny an old woman the loan she needs to keep from losing her home because Lohman is angling for a promotion and wants to impress her boss with her ruthlessness. It turns out that the old woman is a witch who retaliates by cursing Lohman with an evil spirit. It's torn from today's headlines, though it's not immediately clear who we're supposed to root for. Raimi says that "my brother and I wanted to write a story about a woman who, like in a lot of morality tales, has a choice to do good or evil, makes a sinful decision, and ends up paying the price for it -- or not, if she can escape."

Raimi also believes that Drag Me to Hell "is a little more complex in some ways than the Evil Dead movies, but the Evil Dead movies were suspense and scares and gross-outs and trying to be fun and funny. This is trying to do the same thing, but we're also trying to base how it kicks off in a way that's ... I don't want to say 'a little more real-world', because, at the time, believe it or not, I was trying to make the beginning of those movies 'real.' All I can say is this is a PG-13 picture, so it's a little less assaultive than the Evil Dead movies, which were unrated films." For those of us with fond memories of Bruce Campbell pulling a demon's dick off and the infamous sexual assault by forest in the first Evil Dead picture, that PG-13 business is ominous; the greatest suspense element connected to the movie may be waiting to see whether Raimi can still do this shit, or whether his acceptance by the industry will inhibit his grisly creativity. There may be signs of hope in the words of special effects chief Greg Nicotero, who recalls that Raimi brought him on board with a pep talk: "Listen, this is back to traditional stuff ... I want to use animatronics and puppets and dummy heads. None of that CG stuff. Get that crazy crap out of here!" Instead, Nicotero says, "We were designing rotted corpses and demon makeup and possession makeup," adding, "In this instance Sam wanted to stick with the traditional prosthetics, like puppets." No crazy stuff there, for sure.

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