Filmmaking on the Fringe
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This article comes from the book Filmmaking on the Fringe: The Good, The Bad, and the Deviant Directors by Maitland McDonagh ©1995. The title is pretty self-explanatory -- the book includes interviews with directors of the persuasion mentioned above (Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Wes Craven, etc.).

Filmmaking on the Fringe is in print, and available at

Buy Filmmaking on the Fringe


Were you surprised by the success of Darkman?

I was, because Universal told us it tested really badly. Some people rated it the worst film they'd ever seen... or maybe there was one film that beat us and kept Darkman from achieving that honor. We were one of the worst-scoring pictures in Universal's history. And then there was the problem with the editor Universal gave me. About eight weeks into the rough cut, when he wasn't following my story-boards and saying, "Please, you have to let me cut it myself, " he came to me and said he couldn't finish, nothing would cut together, and he was having a nervous breakdown. It was a nightmare. He had a nervous breakdown and left.

And then there were the other problems: the hero has a hideous face, he doesn't get the girl, and he's a terrible failure at everything he does. But Universal came up with a brilliant marketing campaign, starting way ahead of the film's release, with this silhouette and the question "Who is Darkman?" That was a stroke of genius, because they took the fact that audiences didn't know who this Darkman was and made a mystery out of it. The marketing made the film a money-maker.

Did that success open up opportunities for you?

Absolutely. All of a sudden I was being offered scripts that weren't strictly horror.

But you didn't take any of them.

No, because I'd made a deal with Dino to make Army of Darkness when things were very bleak. It was my only job opportunity at the time. Maybe now, if there's any residual success from Darkman, which there may not be, since success is fleeting in Hollywood, I can get another job. I really would like to do something out of the horror genre. I love comedy, for example... Horror and comedy look as though they're totally opposite things, but I find that building a suspense sequence for a scare of a comedy sequence for a laugh are really very similar processes.

Evil Dead 2 both took the first film a step further and made fun of it at the same time. Did you have trouble figuring out what to do with a third installment?

I had originally written a story for Evil Dead 2 that took place in the middle ages, but when it came time to make Evil Dead 2, we realize there was no way to make a period piece for $3.2 million. So we put the medieval story on hold and decided to tell another story that took place back in the cabin. That's why Evil Dead 2 was set where it was: we couldn't afford anything else.

With Army of Darkness, we finally got the money to tell the medieval story; Dino sold the American rights to Universal and sold off the foreign rights territory by territory. I think he's the last of the old-time moguls. He really can make a decision about financing a picture--yes or no--without consulting a board of directors or getting the opinions of his underlings. He's a tough dealmaker, but I found him to be fair, so I enjoyed working with him. Dino and I had a very good relationship on Evil Dead 2, so I think he figured he could trust me, and most important, I think he felt I could make a good movie that would make money for him.

Why was the release of Army of Darkness delayed for almost a year?

Because Dino got in a lawsuit with Tom Pollack about the sequel rights to Silence of the Lambchops ¹. My understanding is that they had a verbal agreement and both had a very different understanding of what that agreement was. Army of Darkness got put on hold for about eight months, which was terrible because we couldn't take any other jobs and wound up putting our own money into this picture. Universal wasn't going to pick it up, so they weren't putting any money into it, and Dino, uncertain about his American distribution deal, wasn't putting in any money either. But we still had to meet our mix dates and finish the film, so Rob and I both put in a lot of cash. Not pleasant. The movie was a labor of love, and now I have to get a job that's really going to pay me, because I'm just about busted. I need to support my filmmaking habit.

Evil Dead IIYou had very substantial MPAA rating trouble with Evil Dead 2, even though you tried during production to tone down the horrific elements. Did you have the same trouble with Army of Darkness?

Yes. I think the fact that DEG [De Laurentiis Entertainment Group] was a small company and that I had rubbed the MPAA the wrong way in the past had a great deal to do with the X for Evil Dead 2. I don't have anything to substantiate it with, but I feel it's not a level playing field, that some big moneymaking, PG-13 rated pictures have harder things in them than the ones without big backing that get R ratings. I think the MPAA might be swayed when they're dealing with multimillion dollar conglomerates where their friends work.

But I really thought that the cut I submitted of Army of Darkness deserved a PG-13. There's no blood and it's very clean; it's all skeleton armies, like the ones in Jason and the Argonauts--fantasy oriented, comedic, and very low on gore, but they gave it an R. So I went to New York to speak on behalf of the film, still thinking that maybe I was exaggerating things in my mind and they didn't really hold the other two pictures against me. I walked in front of the ratings board and said my piece about why I thought it deserved a PG-13, and when I was done, Richard Heffner got up and spoke on behalf of the picture getting an R. He began by saying something along the lines of "Mr. Raimi, twice in the past you've thrown our ratings back in our faces..," so I realized they do have a memory and they do hold grudges.

I personally don't have any bad feelings about the MPAA; I just want to be treated fairly. And I guess they think they are treating me fairly, but I disagree. I mean, I love Steven Spielberg pictures, but when he pulls a heart out of someone ², it's much more realistic than anything I would make. In Batman Returns, the Penguin's parents throwing their baby into the river because it's deformed is a concept that's much more horrible than anything in Army of Darkness, which is just a bunch of skeletons attacking a castle.

In addition to working on various projects with your friends, from Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert to writer-directors Scott Spiegel and Josh Becker, I notice that you've worked with both your brothers.

Yeah... my brothers used to beat the heck out of me when we were kids. Even though one was older and the other was younger, they were united against me. But I got them both back. They've both suffered... I fixed them good. Ivan is writing for the studio now, and I put Ted in the awful rubber suit in Evil Dead 2 ³... Actually, Ted had always been in my pictures, doubling for hands and sometimes doing small speaking parts, even when he was eight years old. All kidding aside, I love working with my close friends and family; there's a shorthand that goes on. My friends and my family are my strength, both personal and creative.

How did you get involved with John Woo's Hard Target?

A number of years ago, back before Bloodsport had been released, Rob and I tried to produce a project called Atlas, with the writer Chuck Pfarrar and Jean-Claude Van Damme. It was a futuristic version of Spartacus; a slave from the penal colony of the moon comes to earth to take part in the great games... Anyway, we brought this project to Universal and they passed on it; they were like, who is Jean-Claude Van Damme? Who's Chuck Pfarrar?

Jean-Claude went on to become a big star and Chuck went on to write Darkman--he did the first draft--and some other movies that made some money, and Universal wanted that team-up again. They hired Chuck, got Jean-Claude, and looked to Rob and me to produce it, really just because we'd brought them that package years before. Check did a script based on The Most Dangerous Game. John Woo was actually brought in by the studio, but I'd been watching his films for years and I thought he was a brilliant filmmaker, just right for the United States. I applaud Tom Pollack for his willingness to go with John; hiring him may not seem like a gamble from an artistic point of view, but from a production executive's point of view he's an unproved quantity in the U.S. market, so it's risky business.

Once they become directors, most filmmakers don't want to produce, write for other people, or act, because they see themselves as directors. But you've done just about everything...

No, they all really want to act, because directors are big hams. But you're right about the rest, and I don't understand why. I love all those jobs; they're all the best jobs in the world. How many studio films are released each year? Not many, right? So to be one of the feature film directors is such a privilege ... It's harder to be a feature film director than it is to be a senator, so I'm always honored when I get to do a film, because there are 100,000 talented people out there waiting for their chance.

In addition to having co-written it, you're working on The Hudsucker Proxy, which the Coens produced and directed.

Right. I'm shooting the garbage the boys leave behind. I'm cleaning up after them, shooting everything from an elephant in the jungles of Africa to cigarettes being put out in ashtrays; from old newsreels in black-and-white to pieces of big montage sequences the boys are doing. It runs the gamut, but mostly it's the smaller stuff that they didn't have the time for. Usually, they shoot a sequence and say, "Sam, can you pick up the close-up on the paper when he reads the want ad?" Stuff like that.

You and the Coens started off in a similar way, but your careers have taken different directions. The Coens have been typed as high-art directors who don't appeal to a mass audience...

And I've been typed as someone who makes low-ball movies the public doesn't want to see, boring bloody things... I just thought I'd finish that sentence for you.

We've always worked together. They always helped me with my scripts on the side and vice versa; we give one another pointers and tidbits and help. We've always been secret collaborators.

Don't you ever look at their reviews and wonder why people don't say things like that about you?

Evil Ed

No, I don't. I don't expect movies like Evil Dead 2 to get good reviews. My movies are more about entertainment, the Coens' movies are made more for you to think about afterwards. The nature of what they're going for is more likely to get them good reviews. For me, it all boils down to whether or not the audience is having a good time in the theater. I live for audience reaction.

Do you sneak into theaters to see your films with audiences?

I don't have to sneak. Actors do, but the director can just go. I try to get to every kind of theater, except drive-ins, because there you're so isolated in your car. It's a great learning experience; that's where you find out what plays and what doesn't. The best reaction I ever saw was to the first showing of Evil Dead at the Rex theater, during the Paris festival of fantasy and science-fiction films. That crowd wants to love any film that's trying to please them, and Evil Dead was trying hard. They went insane, jumping up and down and throwing things at the air. The second best was Darkman in Westwood, where I just went into a theater to see how it was doing, and the audience was totally into it. The worst response was to Crimewave, at a test screening, I knew it was bad when the actors were fidgeting. That's a bad sign.

You stared out very much as Steven Spielberg did, making amateur films and showing them to audiences, rather than going the film school route. Can you imagine winding up the kind of mogul he is?

He's an excellent filmmaker, but his sensibilities are totally different from mine. Somehow my taste only seems to appeal to a limited number of people. Maybe if I decide to make happier, more positive, love-story, upbeat kinds of movies instead of putting these monster faces in front of the camera, I might have a less limited audience. I don't know what I see for my future, though I guess I should have some kind of plan. I just want to keep making pictures.

Do you worry that you've had your time in the sun and you got it when you were a kid?

I knew that question was coming someday. [laughs] It's funny you should ask it. It means I'm getting old. Maybe I've had my time in the sun... It's hard to say. I know one thing. I've never really been in line with the taste of audiences overall, and either audiences will get even further away, or they'll begin to turn toward what I like. I guess it's beyond my comprehension to answer that question. I can see exactly ninety minutes into the future. About the length of a motion picture.


[1] Raimi is alluding, of course to The Silence of the Lambs. De Laurentiis's company, DEG, produced Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon; it introduced the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who took center stage in Harris's next novel, The Silence of the Lambs, which became Jonathan Demme's multiple Academy Award-winning film in 1991

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[2] Raimi is referring to the controversial human-sacrifice scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). With Joe Dante's Gremlins, released that same summer (and which Spielberg produced), that film is considered to have prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating.

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[3] Ted was Henrietta, a fat old lady demon

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