[To get you into the spooky spirit, the Daily Dead team is spotlighting double features that we think would be fun to watch this Halloween season. Keep an eye on Daily Dead for more double feature recommendations, and check here for our previous Halloween 2017 coverage.]
Carpenter. Romero. Craven. Argento. Hooper. These names are synonymous with the horror community. They are royalty in the realms of horror fandom. The path that these filmmakers paved is undeniable, with their work serving as influence for the future generations of filmmakers. However, there is one name that seems to hold more regard with the passing of time. Sam Raimi’s catalog of horror films may be small, but the content he has produced is a unique blend of genre characteristics that compose an identifiable watermark for the director, all while also paying respect to the horror that paved the way before his work.
Analyzing the furthest spectrums of the director’s work displays why Mr. Raimi should be considered a master of the craft of horror. From the now perennial film that launched the director’s career, The Evil Dead, to the most recent return to the genre that staked his claim to a place amongst the horror filmmaking icons, Drag Me To Hell, Raimi’s early and later works display a filmmaker at the peaks of his talent and creativity. These two films also serve as an impressive double feature for the Halloween season.
Released in 1981, Sam Raimi’s homegrown horror film is a marvel of independent filmmaking, very much in the vein of what George A. Romero did with Night of the Living Dead. What makes The Evil Dead so unique, however, is how the film is structured. From the narrative to the characters to the genre characteristics, everything within this movie is both an homage to the films that came before it and also a calling card for a director who is molding all these elements in the way that makes the most sense to him. Before the franchise would become known for its one-liners and immense gore, Raimi was simply trying to make an old-fashioned horror film.
Leading the charge for this film, and for the last 36 years, is the reluctant yet often foolhardy Ash Williams, played by pop culture icon Bruce Campbell. Though in The Evil Dead, Ash is played straightforward, as a heroic character who consistently draws the short end of the boomstick. The character of Ash in this film must endure numerous trials, his friends are killed off one by one and the demons released by the Naturom Demonto consume more of the environment around him, leaving the character to change in order to survive the night. It’s the character of Ash that makes The Evil Dead so engaging as a horror film, even without the one-liners and action hero attributes.
Mr. Raimi also incorporates numerous ingenious techniques, much of which has come to define the director’s filmmaking style. The way Raimi constructed the design of the demons, to the composition of the cabin in the woods, and the motion imposed by the camera has been reproduced and copied by filmmakers ever since. It doesn’t always work when other filmmakers do it, but when Raimi employs the designs, it consistently works whether it’s a horror film or not. The director’s film fingerprint is specific and unique, a method that is further appreciated in the future when the director was given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted, just like he did with The Evil Dead.
28 years later, after two franchises, a western, a baseball film, and a few dramas, Sam Raimi returned to the genre that launched his film career. In 2009, Drag Me To Hell arrived in theaters. The film, when compared to The Evil Dead, is a complementary experience that displays how Raimi has evolved as a director over time, but also how much talent the the filmmaker possessed early in his career.
Drag Me To Hell is Raimi doing everything, employing all the skills that he has learned over the course of a career. In this film, Raimi operates like a magician, luring the viewer into the design of the film with every new trick. And the director outdoes himself in nearly every scene, building tension to a peak and then making you laugh—it’s a fine line between comedy and terror. And when Raimi wants to induce fear in the audience, he does so with a master class of jump scares, sleight of hand, and visual surprises.
It doesn’t matter if it’s demons, a curse, or even Spider-Man, the director’s style accommodates all genres. Assisting the design is another charismatic lead character, one that again is tasked with taking all the punches yet still needs to fight for every inch. Alison Lohman plays Christine, a bank loan officer who evicts an old woman with supernatural backing. Ms. Lohman’s character has all the fortitude, confidence, and charisma that Ash exemplifies throughout all the Evil Dead films. And again, it’s the director’s emphasis on character that brings his vision to life, adding an emotional connection for Christine that makes you feel the struggle that she must endure throughout the film.
The Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell are an interesting double feature, one that displays the exceptional talents of Sam Raimi as a storyteller and filmmaker. With a defined style that permeates both films and lead characters that leap off the screen in a swell of blood and mayhem, this double feature solidifies Sam Raimi’s place among the masters of horror. Hail to a King!
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!