In a few days, we’ll finally get to see Sam Raimi making a comeback to the superhero genre territory since “Spider-Man 3” back in 2007. That comeback in question is “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, the sequel to Scott Derrickson’s 2016 movie. It’s going to be a pivotal Marvel movie this year, with anticipation already reaching a feverish peak.
But before that, let’s take a look at the 8 Essential Sam Raimi Movies Worth Exploring before diving into the Multiverse of Madness!
1) The Evil Dead (1981)
Here’s the movie that started it all. Sam Raimi’s feature-length directorial debut, to be exact, when he was only 20 years old when he made the movie. With only a minuscule budget of around USD400,000 and an unknown cast (yes, even Bruce Campbell at the time), Raimi managed to turn “The Evil Dead” into a cultural phenomenon.
The combination of Raimi’s creative camerawork, coupled with the brisk pacing (it only ran 85 minutes) and an all-out gory horror and dark-comedy vibes work like gangbusters. He also made good use of the single-location remote cabin, which was filmed in Morristown, Tennessee to build an effective atmosphere and ominous dread. Then, there’s the cast, notably Bruce Campbell’s breakthrough performance as Ash.
2) Evil Dead II (1987)
You could say “Evil Dead II” is among the rarities of a sequel where “more is more” actually works better than expected. That means more over-the-top gore, more horror and dark comedy elements and so on. And not to forget Bruce Campbell’s all-out, unhinged performance, where he reprised his role as Ash in the sequel. Even the story is more or less the same, making it feels like an updated remake with better special effects than a true sequel. No matter how you see this in “Evil Dead II”, it’s hard to deny the sheer amount of frighteningly fun vibe throughout its pacy 84-minute length.
3) Darkman (1990)
Twelve years before he made “Spider-Man”, Sam Raimi got his start making a superhero movie in the form of “Darkman”. And it was based on his own short story developed into a feature-length screenplay rather than being inspired from an existing comic book.
The result is a fun, energetic, and macabre cinematic experience. Just don’t expect the kind of mainstream audience-friendly superhero movie associated with his later “Spider-Man” era. “Darkman” also featured then-young Liam Neeson in his unforgettable titular anti-hero role as scientist Peyton Westlake while Larry Drake hams it up as the movie’s sadistic antagonist, Robert Durant. Raimi’s technical prowess is in full display here, with impressive special effects all around and a spectacular stunt sequence involving Darkman hanging on by a rope attached to a moving helicopter. The success of “Darkman” spawned two more movies, albeit inferior direct-to-video sequels with none of them having Sam Raimi involved as the director.
4) Army Of Darkness (1992)
Sam Raimi returns to his successful “Evil Dead” franchise with a third movie called “Army of Darkness”. Armed with a bigger budget compared to his first two “Evil Dead”, he took a huge gamble by deviating the single-location horror-comedy vibe in favour of a medieval fantasy-comedy style. Well, he doesn’t completely abandon his horror roots. It just has a radically different feel than we saw in his earlier works. The story sees the hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) finding himself travelling back in time to fight against an army of Deadites. Raimi clearly has a field day paying homage to the genre, notably the cult favourite “Jason and the Argonauts”.
5) A Simple Plan (1998)
“A Simple Plan” marks a radical departure for Sam Raimi in his rare crime-thriller territory. Instead of something manic and quirky, Raimi proves himself to be a versatile filmmaker after all. Here, “A Simple Plan” is more tonally restrained that emphasises a complex, slow-burning character study. And it works well, thanks to terrifically layered performances from Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. His direction is deliberate, allowing the story of two brothers (Paxton and Thornton) and their friend (Brent Briscoe), who discover a pile of cash worth USD4.4 million in a crashed plane to gradually unfold as he builds tension.
6) The Gift (2000)
An underrated gem worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet. “The Gift” has again showcased Sam Raimi’s filmmaking virtuosity in exploring a different genre. And this time, it’s a supernatural thriller, where Raimi’s restrained and atmospheric direction works well in his favour. It also helps that the movie benefits from Cate Blanchett’s strong central performance as Annie Wilson, a single mum with the titular psychic gift helps the police to locate a missing woman.
7) Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007)
Did you know that James Cameron used to be involved in a “Spider-Man” movie back in the 1990s? He even enlisted Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Peter Parker/Spider-Man role. It sure sounds like an interesting prospect, particularly with James Cameron attached to the project. But Cameron’s “Spider-Man” suffered from development hell and it didn’t work out as planned.
Then came Sam Raimi and the rest, as they say, is history. His take on the first big-screen adaptation of “Spider-Man” combines his labour of love for the comic book itself and an effective blend of virtuoso action, engaging characters and a well-rounded storyline seals the deal. Tobey Maguire may look kind of old playing a high school senior (he was 27 at the time). But his overall innocent charm manages to make his Peter Parker/Spider-Man character truly his own. The rest of the cast is just as memorable, notably Willem Dafoe’s perfectly unhinged turn as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Then, there’s the memorable Spidey and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson’s upside-down kiss.
Two years after Sam Raimi helped put the comic-book/superhero genre back on Hollywood radar in “Spider-Man”, he returns with a better sequel. And personally, I have to agree too as Raimi gives us some of the best action sequences ever seen in the superhero genre. And that is the exhilarating train fight sequence and let’s not forget the introduction of the sympathetic Doctor Octopus played to compelling perfection by Alfred Molina.
Finally, Raimi rounded up his “Spider-Man” trilogy with the 2007 movie that got mixed responses all over. And it’s understandable, given the bloated storyline that Raimi has to (forcefully) shoehorn the Venom (Topher Grace) character into his third movie. Still, “Spider-Man 3” benefits from great performances all around (yes, even Topher Grace) as well as Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman. The third movie, of course, became more popular in today’s meme/GIF culture, thanks to the emo Peter Parker and his infamous dance.
8) Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi’s much-anticipated return to his familiar horror roots in “Drag Me to Hell” is a whole lot of macabre fun. The story: Christine (Alison Lohman) plays a loan officer, who works hard in hopes to land the assistant manager post. But her ill-fated decision of rejecting her elderly client’s mortgage, who turns out to be a gipsy (Lorna Raver) results in a… hellish curse. Raimi goes all out in “Drag Me to Hell”, incorporating various cinematic bags of tricks from tilted angles to close-ups. It’s old-school, it’s atmospheric and it has numerous effective jump scares.
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