Film: A farewell to arms?

The Evil Dead established Sam Raimi as the king of lo-fi gore. But his new film is a moral thriller, his next a baseball movie. Has he lost the taste for splatter, stalk and slash?

Sam Raimi started his career early. He began directing short films at the age of 13, mainly sci-fi pieces and slapstick sketches in the style of The Three Stooges. At the age of 19, he got together with his high-school friend Bruce Campbell and shot Within the Woods, a half- hour Super 8 horror film made to chivvy investors into funding their first feature. By 1982, they had completed a 16mm flick with the wildly adolescent title of The Evil Dead: The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror, a melodrama about teenage vacationers who dig up an occult text and get spattered all over their log cabin by - what else? - Khandarian demons from Ancient Sumeria.

Raimi wanted to call it The Book of the Dead, but its backers vetoed the title, fearing that the whiff of anything literary might scare off its potential audience. Maybe they were right. Five years later, they had received a 150 per cent return on their initial investment of $50,000. The Evil Dead became an enormous cult hit, was applauded at Cannes, and gained notoriety from its skirmish with the British censors. Two sequels made Raimi the king of lo-fi gore.

A Simple Plan, Raimi's latest, reaches British cinemas next week. It contains no zombies, no demons, and no freshly killed corpses gibbering on the slab. It is substantially more Mametian than anything else in the Raimi canon. More Mametian than Army of Darkness: The Evil Dead 3, anyway. Based on a novel by Scott B Smith, it's a moral thriller about three men who find a stash of cash in the snow-covered wreck of an aircraft, and decide to keep it for themselves.

Though it's clearly Raimi's calling card to a more sensible audience, he couldn't resist the temptation to include a scene in which a raven pecks the eyeball out of a putrefying cadaver. "It's in the novel," he protests. But it's still an echo of Raimi's glorious entrail-spattered past, and perhaps a sign that body horror will always remain in his system. "I had to fight the urge to make things more visually dramatic, and keep the direction as invisible as possible," he admits. "It was a struggle for me to allow the actors to tell the story."

Despite the literary source, A Simple Plan is, in some ways, The Evil Dead for grown-ups. It's the story of a group of people in an isolated spot, who find a buried object that brings death and disaster down upon them. Nobody gets raped by a tree or transmogrified into a steaming heap of Satanic pus, but the same structure of desecration and retribution remains in place. And, Raimi concedes, the body count is actually higher.

It was Darkman (1990) that first brought Raimi's movies to a constituency wider than drive-in daters and hardened gore-bibbers. A live-action comic strip about a mad-ish scientist (Liam Neeson) who uses plastic sludge to remodel his mangled body, it allowed Neeson to give the least boring performance of his career, and gave Raimi the clout to tackle mainstream projects: The Quick and the Dead (1995), a Western starring Gene Hackman and Leonardo DiCaprio; A Simple Plan; and the upcoming baseball drama, For the Love of the Game.

Raimi is now a rich man, but this isn't really a result of his movie career - his wealth comes from his extensive moonlighting as a TV producer. CBS may have cancelled his wonderful, macabre soap opera American Gothic after one season, but Universal is now siphoning up revenue from more brazenly commercial projects. Raimi is the man responsible for those barmy pseudo-mythological series in which pneumatic Amazons in chamois leather bikinis punch the lights out of assorted Vikings, dragons and Roman legionaries. Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Young Hercules might only be bemusing Channel Five fodder to you, but their combination of Baywatch bosomry and medieval martial arts has bounced them to the top of the US ratings charts. And the Dutch can't get enough of them, either.

Horror, however, remains the lodestone of Raimi's career. He is emphatic that he's not abandoned the genre, and thinks it would be "wonderful" to direct The Evil Dead 4. He'll put his money where his mouth is, too. In the past, he's handed out advice and cash to young film-makers who share his passion for the bile-smeared end of cinematic endeavour.

In 1988, he took a chance on JR Bookwalter, and used his salary from The Evil Dead 2 to finance the newcomer's zombie runaround, The Dead Next Door. Drunk with gratitude, Bookwalter named the film's hero after his patron, and has since enjoyed a modestly successful career as a director of low-rent horror. Though you're unlikely to have seen much of his work, Raimi's protege continues to direct straight-to-video pictures such as Robot Ninja (1990), a vigilante stalk'n'slash flick which features neither a Robot nor a Ninja, and stars Burt Ward - who played Robin in the Sixties Batman TV series.

"Sam Raimi is one of us," writes the compiler of a website in homage to the Evil Dead director. "An average Joe, and not some stuck-up Hollywood director. He does his job because he loves doing it." Raimi's CV would certainly seem to bear out this assertion. He has a predilection for acting cameo roles in his friends' movies, and it doesn't seem to matter to him whether their work is cool or crummy.

Raimi has known the Coen Brothers since his college days (Joel was assistant film editor on The Evil Dead), and he played a sniggering gunman for them in Miller's Crossing (1990) and also an advertising executive in The Hudsucker Proxy (which he also co-scripted). He was a meat man in John Landis's Innocent Blood (1990) and a security guard in the same director's Spies Like Us (1985).

They're the prestigious ones. You'd be hard-pushed to find the rest of the Raimi acting back catalogue on the skankiest petrol station video rack. These movies are, however, all products of his good-natured desire to help his mates become schlock auteurs just like him. He was Randy the butcher in Intruder (1988), a supermarket-set slasher flick directed by Scott Spiegel, a student friend who had acted in Raimi's first Super 8 shorts. He played a TV reporter in the ultraviolent, no-brainer Maniac Cop (1988) and its sequel, Maniac Cop 2 (1990).

Both films were artistically inept, but Raimi had a ball with their star (Bruce Campbell, again) and director William Lustig, another old mate. Lustig, who began his career producing and acting in Seventies porn flicks such as The Violation of Claudia and Hot Honey (under the name of Billy Bagg) was later given cameos by Raimi in The Evil Dead 3 (1993) and Darkman. Most recently, Raimi did a favour for William Mesa - the visual effects supervisor on Darkman - when he popped up in a small role in Galaxis (1995), a sci-fi turkey starring the late Fred Asparagus (no kidding) and the invariably dreadful Craig Fairbrass. Schlock, it seems, is where Raimi's heart is.

He is currently in post-production on For the Love of the Game, scissoring Kevin Costner's performance into shape. Many directors would rather be squished by Khandarian demons than work with the infamously self-obsessed star. This is the man, you'll remember, who demanded re-shoots on Waterworld because he thought that his bald patch was too visible. Raimi has this to say about the experience: "He's certainly a guy who knows what he wants. And that isn't always what I want. So we have some conflicts. But he's really put his heart into this movie, and I've never really seen him do that before."

In Hollywood, that might count as an admission of assault and battery. It might also suggest that Raimi will soon be cutting short his vacation from the horror genre, and chasing bloodied teenagers through the woods once more.

`A Simple Plan' is released 21 May

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones