Interview: Sam Raimi

An affable and pleasant personality in the flesh, SciFiNow caught up with the world’s most successful geek for the following chit-chat about this past, present and future plans…

spider-man-posterFew directors have made a certified classic by the age of 21 but Sam Raimi accomplished exactly this with his splatter masterwork The Evil Dead (1981). Since then the filmmaker has crafted a series of cult classics (including 1987’s The Evil Dead 2, 1990’s Darkman and 1991’s Army Of Darkness) while also taking Hollywood by storm with his hit trilogy of Spider-Man movies. More recently, Raimi has turned his hand to producing, under his own company Ghost House, and churned out such commercial hits as The Grudge, Boogeyman and this year’s vampire shocker 30 Days Of Night. An affable and pleasant personality in the flesh, SciFiNow caught up with the world’s most successful geek for the following chit-chat about this past, present and future plans…

Let’s start with an inevitable question: Spider-Man 4 – where are you with this?

Basically, Sony would need to ask me to do it. I don’t know the answer to that right now but it would be great if they can find the right story because I love Spider-Man. Whatever it is I am sure it will be good because people are working hard to find the best idea and, presently, Sony is meeting with new writers and trying to bring a brand new story and approach to the Spider-Man franchise.

Are you a fan of sequels yourself? You have made a few in your time – overseeing The Evil Dead franchise, the Spider-Man films, producing The Grudge 2…
Well even when I was making super 8 movies at high school I was still producing sequels. As long as the audience liked it I didn’t see a problem, you know? I remember doing a short film called The Jimmy Hoffa Story back in 1976 in Detroit when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared and even though he died at the end of it, we got some laughs from the kids, so we went and did Jimmy Hoffa II. We did James Bombed and James Bombed Again, so we always did sequels, myself and my friends – Rob Tapert, Scott Spiegel and Bruce Campbell. So making a sequel to The Evil Dead movies was nothing new. It was just a return to familiar sets and approaches and working within that known genre – to be honest, it saves time and storytelling. The stage is already set and the audience knows what kind of thing to expect and you can just go for the gags. Maybe that is why television seemed like such a good fit for us – like when Rob Tapert and I were doing Xena, American Gothic and Hercules – we liked being able to continue the story with the same characters and it is really natural for us.

Another inevitable question: The Evil Dead – is the much-muted remake going ahead?
I know that I once said we wanted to find a young filmmaker to re-imagine and remake The Evil Dead and that was because we made the original in 16mm, blew it up to 35, and we had only had 60 prints. Plus, at least in America, no one saw it in the cinema. So I thought, “Why don’t we make a new, big-screen version of The Evil Dead in 35mm? And we will do it with great actors, a great director, real cameras and a great soundtrack.” However, since I said that publicly we have not spent any time looking for people – it has all just been talk and it is still just talk because we have been so busy.

Do you still catch up with Bruce Campbell on a frequent basis?
No I don’t – he moved to Oregon. Plus, with me having five kids, every night is about whether they have brushed their teeth or done their homework and that is how I spend my evenings. So our different lives have led us apart a little bit but I love Bruce and I miss him. I often scold myself for not going up there and spending a few days with him.

Your latest production, 30 Days Of Night, is really gruesome – do you enjoy being back among the blood and guts after so many years away from it?
Yeah – and it has always been an element of the horror film to show us the gross out (laughs). That has always been an option for anyone making a horror film and it is not something that I have been above myself. I quite like the “Ew that is gross” reaction that you used to get from crowds at the drive-in. I like to build suspense, get a scare or a laugh, and even create some sounds that will get a reaction, but a gross out is not beneath me. It is just one tool in the arsenal. But it has always been a common part of cinema. Way back when you had Lon Chaney changing into the Wolf Man… that was probably a gross out when people saw it in the Forties. Back in the Sixties I imagine that Night Of The Living Dead did the same thing – I know that George Romero really freaked me out when I was kid – and Cannibal Holocaust showed some intense sights in the Seventies. We just have better technology now.

If you were to do Evil Dead 4 would you aim to ‘out-gross’ the competition, so to speak?

Now you have Hostel, the Saw films and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which all make The Evil Dead and its first sequel look quite tame…you know what? I don’t think about any other picture when I am doing an Evil Dead film. Seriously, I am always just thinking about the character of Ash and how dumb and low and cowardly he is. I focus on what dumb things he wants to do when he should be doing more noble things and the misinterpretations he has. So if we did an Evil Dead 4 I would only be thinking about how we can go about punishing him a little bit more.

The Evil Dead also owed a lot to The Three Stooges. Are you still a big fan?

I haven’t watched The Three Stooges in a while actually, but I do have a great DVD collection and I would love to start going through them again. I first watched them back in the Sixties, and my parents didn’t mind, but I was showing them to my kids a while ago and my wife came in because she heard these horrible sounds of men screaming coming from the TV. She said: “Hey what are you watching?” I told her it was the Three Stooges and she wanted to see. So she saw Mo unscrewing a light bulb, then he hits Curly in the stomach, his mouth opens, Mo puts the light bulb in Curly’s mouth and then uppercuts him. Well she shut it right off! She said to me, “What are you showing our children?” and it was only then that I realised how violent it actually is. I haven’t watched them since that little episode but I will get my son and put them on again when she is not around.

Looking back, would you agree that your movie Darkman perhaps anticipated the Spider-Man films and that it was the first indication of your love for comic books?
I have always loved comic books and at the time I was trying to get the rights to The Shadow. I went in and met with the writers at Universal but they wouldn’t give me the job on The Shadow so I thought, “Well I’ll make my own version of The Shadow but I will call it Darkman.” It was basically just a Shadow rip-off but Liam Neeson did a great job. I loved working with him and Frances McDormand on the picture and I had a fun time making it, but I don’t know if I would say that the movie foreshadowed Spider-Man.

All the same, it must not have hurt you when Colombia was trying to find the right director for Spider-Man…
Actually, when I got the news that Colombia Pictures was looking for a director for Spider-Man I threw my name on the list but I was way, way down it (laughs). I just kept waiting and waiting because the only comic book character I love as much as Batman is Spider-Man. But, finally and luckily, my name came up.

Would you ever consider directing another comic book property?

Sure, I’d definitely consider directing another comic book property but only if I loved the character and felt that I could do it better than anybody else. If that was the case then I would fight to do another comic book movie.

Hypothetically, if you could bring any comic book to the screen, what would it be?
Well I love Bruce Wayne but that has been done and it is in really good hands right now. I feel the same way with Superman – Bryan Singer is doing a great job with that. I am finally developing The Shadow right now so I’d plump for that.

What other stuff have you got coming up under the Ghost House banner?

Well, as I mentioned, right now the screenplay for The Grudge 3 is being completed and we want to get that into production as soon as possible. Drag Me To Hell – we are hoping to go into production on that, it is the curse movie directed by Jeffrey Lynch. We hope to go into production on that in the winter. The sequel to Rise is also coming up.

I presume you still enjoy working in the horror genre?
Yeah, and it is a lot of fun being a producer on them. It is great to see dailies of David Slade directing 30 Days Of Night, or Takashi Shimizu working on The Grudge. You tend to think, “Oh wow, how interesting that he put the camera there” or “How interesting that he doesn’t build up a scare but instead looks at a creature quietly moving out of the darkness.” I wouldn’t do something like that; I am much louder and brasher and uglier in my approach. So I learn a lot from watching these filmmakers work. In a sense, I feel like I am returning to school. I get to work with some great artists – which is a lot of fun – put my two cents in, but without taking any bruises myself because I am not the director, and I even learn a lot.

Do you see a time when you will only work as a producer?

Yeah, I think that will happen one day, but probably only when they don’t want me to direct any more. However, it is much more fun making the pictures at Ghost House than directing a big blockbuster. It is all about working on a limited budget, relying on the smarts of the filmmaker and the craft of building suspense and scares. It all goes back to the old-fashioned formula of making a horror film, and sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed. I really like that back to basics approach but without the big budget. Although I am not the director of those Ghost House films, I enjoy watching other filmmakers work in that genre. It is a lot more fun to work in an atmosphere where there are fewer expectations and it is kind of dastardly and fun – just like being in a ‘ghost house’. It is a blast.

Your latest production is 30 Days Of Night. As you will know, there are a number of sequels to the original graphic novel – will we see the first of these, Dark Days, brought to the big screen in the future?
I only read Dark Days once and it was quite a few years ago, but I remember that it is very different from 30 Days Of Night. To be honest, I don’t know if there will be a sequel to 30 Days Of Night; we will have to see if people want to see a second instalment. But if there is a sequel, I want to remain true to the books because I think that Steve Niles gave us such a good mythology. When I read the 30 Days Of Night graphic novel I thought that it was really gripping and powerful, even visually through the illustrations, but the concept was also great.

Finally, is it true that you were originally going to direct 30 Days Of Night?
No, all I did was chose the material and then beg Sony and Ghost House pictures to buy it for me. I chose the star (Josh Hartnett) and I chose the director (David Slade) and I also recommended the New Zealand location because we had shot there before. Then, when the dailies came back, I gave notes on the editing and the sound design. But, at the time, I was too busy with the Spider-Man franchise to consider directing it.