Sometimes, when you’ve ridden the highest of highs for long enough, it’s best to just hang things up and take it back to basics. That’s the case with Sam Raimi, one of the most beloved filmmakers of the last 40 years. The man has taken the helm at some of the biggest projects that Hollywood has to offer with his Spider-Man trilogy, Oz the Great and Powerful, and recent Doctor Strange sequel, yet if you look at his entire filmography, his lower budget films tend to have a higher hit record. Not necessarily in a box office sense, but in a quality sense. Raimi’s strengths have always shined greater when he was given less, requiring him to get more creative with the means that he is given rather than leaning on behemoth budgets from studios. Despite corporate hands meddling with Spider-Man 3, Oz, and Multiverse of Madness, Raimi has continued to go back to these studios only to deliver middling films – middling films that show strokes of genius when the man is given sparse moments of freedom. It’s time Raimi cut his budgets down, took back the control of his works, and returned to directing low budget horror films.
The Guy Has Always Had It
Back in the late 1970s, when Sam Raimi started out making Super 8 short films with his high school friends Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel, he was already showing promise of a filmmaker who could do a lot with very little. The team started out mostly making slapstick comedies like their 70-minute mega short It’s Murder!, shorts that got the bulk of their jokes from physical gags and risky stunts, with any and all hurdles being overcome by mere pocket change. As Raimi began to aspire towards a jump to feature films, he practiced his horror chops with shorts like Clockwork and Within the Woods, getting every last bit of mileage out of his consumer grade camera and minimal resources. Within the Woods in particular was described by the Michigan based team as a prototype for The Evil Dead, made to attract investors and raise money to eventually make their first horror film. For those that haven’t seen the original Super 8 short but are fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, it’s amazing how much of Raimi’s style was already intact here and how much he could do with so little.
The Height of His Creativity
As Raimi moved into a professional filmmaking career in the 80s and 90s, he also moved into his greatest creative period. Being that the Evil Dead trilogy was entirely independently financed, Raimi’s funds went towards technical equipment that would get the job done, but primarily towards monster makeup. These are movies that lean entirely on their wild presentation. These days, we’ve become used to seeing a Sam Raimi that is restrained to shooting his films with an in-house style, be it Disney-proper with Oz or in the typical Marvel Cinematic Universe style with Strange. Back when he could do things on his own terms, Raimi tossed, zoomed, mangled, and threw the camera in more ways than you can imagine. He helped spearhead a generation of independent filmmakers that did so much with their creativity, that their lack of budget ends up almost not mattering at all. This just goes to show that the more money there is behind your film, the more those funding it will attempt to make it conventional and appealing to mass audiences.
Raimi’s studio fare pre-Spider-Man also helps demonstrate an incredibly talented filmmaker without a big budget. With Darkman and The Quick and the Dead, Raimi explored genre filmmaking outside of horror, but these films are not without their thrills. Both contain riveting action set pieces and the consistently inventive filmmaking that he promised in the 80s. In his thrillers A Simple Plan and The Gift, Raimi ratchets up the tension just about as much as he did with his horror films. Maybe he didn’t do so with chainsaws and monsters running through the woods, but he did with a greater understanding than ever before of how to direct drama, work with his actors, and create a slow burn sense of dread.
Heading Into Blockbuster Territory
As the 2000s came along, Raimi became almost exclusively a big budget studio filmmaker. The Spider-Man trilogy is absolutely fantastic. With the first two films, it felt like the perfect marriage of Raimi’s creative action filmmaking sensibilities and his overlooked knack for staging drama. Spider-Man 3 is incredibly underrated, a film that has a terrible rep, but in comparison to the bland and lifeless franchise entertainment today, it feels like an Alejandro Jodorowsky film in terms of having a unique voice behind the scenes. Enough has been said about his lifeless Oz and Doctor Strange movies, but they’re only lifeless in terms of what we know Raimi to be capable of. When you stack Oz up against Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland or Strange with the rest of the MCU, his movies are like breathing air for the first time. They’re more lively than their contemporaries, but they aren’t what fans want. It’s time he went back to his roots!
He’s Still Got It
Between Spider-Man 3 and Oz the Great and Powerful, it seems as though Raimi wanted to prove to himself and his fans that he still had the guts to make a great horror movie, and that he did with 2009’s Drag Me to Hell. With a budget of $30 million, this movie feels like a return to the Sam Raimi of the 80s and 90s. It shows that he’s still more than capable of creating terrifying horror set pieces captured by a frenetic camera that only he has the eye for. This is also incredibly evident with the Ash vs Evil Dead series pilot that he directed, an episode of television with more visual flair than almost anything you see in the medium. More than two decades after Army of Darkness, this series pilot shows Sam still has what it takes to make one mean piece of horror, even on a TV budget.
When he hasn’t been directing his own films, Raimi has spent the last couple of decades primarily producing low budget horror films for younger filmmakers through his company Ghost House Pictures. Almost all the projects that he picks to work on have profited greatly and garnered a large audience. Raimi’s eye for horror has not gone away, he just so happens to not be directing these films himself anymore. With Drag Me to Hell, Ash vs Evil Dead, and the various films that he has produced, Raimi has proven that he knows what audiences are looking for in their horror and how to deliver the goods to the max.
It’s Time to Go Back to Basics
Unless we’re talking about Spider-Man 4, we need our boy to hang up his blockbuster filmmaker hat. It’s not that he’s incapable of making good blockbusters, Raimi was given plenty of room with Spider-Man 1 and 2, and he arguably made the two greatest superhero movies ever. But besides those, his tentpole films have felt more like a waste of time than anything. Every time he comes back to helm one of these massive projects, it seems as though he gets so burnt out that he returns to exclusively producing others’ works, making the wait time between his movies longer and longer. Fans know what kinds of terrors and fun filmmaking the man is still capable of with a low budget, he’s made that clear multiple times ever since 2009, but for whatever reason, he keeps going back to these studios that seem like they’re embarrassed to make a Sam Raimi movie. I’m sure the massive paychecks don’t hurt, but it’s a bummer to see studio executives continue to water down and burn out one of the greatest living genre directors.
With recent movies like Barbarian and Cabin in the Woods clearly being made in Raimi’s image and garnering fantastic audience reactions, it’s clear that there is still a hunger for the original master’s brand of horror, all we’re lacking is his specific stamp. Things have been so great in this recent horror renaissance, but they could be better. Spicier. More fun! It’s time the man grabbed a chainsaw, cut his budgets down, got together with a small team again, and started delivering the goods by the bucketful. Help us Raimi, and give the world that extra kick in the ass that no other horror filmmakers can.