After shooting three ‘Spider-Man’ films in a row, Sam Raimi needed a blockbuster break. And while the filmmaker has previously dabbled with more serious endeavors with films such as “A Simple Plan” and the amazingly underrated “The GIft,” Raimi went back to his “Evil Dead” horror origins with the exhilarating new thriller “Drag Me to Hell.”
“The horror genre is the best audience in the world. They go there to be thrilled and I feel like they have a really fun attitude in their hearts when they see these movies,” Raimi says. “Not that normal audiences aren’t special, but the horror audience is really special. Even better than a comedy crowd, they want to be entertained.”
Speaking to the press a few days before crossing the Atlantic for a special Cannes Film Festival screening of “Drag Me,” Raimi admits he also enjoyed the freedom of working with new characters that didn’t have the weight of a franchise on their shoulders (or his for that matter).
“With the ‘Spider-Man’ pictures there is still a lot of responsibility on the director’s and the producer’s shoulders because you’re dealing with a character that has been around for 40 something years and is much beloved by people throughout the world,” Raimi explains. “People not only have a sense of ownership about Spider-Man, rightfully so, but they look up to him as a hero. A generation of people do. You have to be really respectful of the ownership of everyone has over that character. [There is a] responsibility to show him in a proper light. And that’s a great job, but it’s much more freeing to work with your own characters in a way, in a place that no one knows them. You’re free to do whatever you want.”
Originally a short story he concocted years ago, Raimi and his brother Ivan turned “Drag Me” into a contemporary motion picture full of Raimi’s trademark mix of comedy and horror. But, be warned, it’s also a slyly disguised morality tale that might make you think twice about our “hero,” the friendly and attractive Christine (Alison Lohman). Working as a mortgage lender at a Los Angeles bank, Christine is desperately trying to impress her boyfriend’s snotty parents who think of her as nothing more than a hick who grew up on a farm. Faced with the opportunity to impress her boss, and possibly snag the bank’s assistant manager gig, Christine rejects an appeal from an old woman (splendidly played by Lorna Raver) to save her from eviction. Shamed and humiliated, the old woman places a curse on Christine which gives a demon three days to claim her soul and — literally — drag her to hell. Unless, of course, she can pass the curse off to someone else.
As Raimi notes, “We’re all nice people, but we’re all sinners too. There all sorts of reasons to be greedy and cruel to other people. They can be justified by logic or you could use the rules of an institution of the government or the military. There are all sorts of reasons to torment and be cruel to others.”
But are there consequences? Spoiling would ruin the fun, but the films deeper themes is one reason it was invited to show out of competition at Cannes.
Raimi recalls, “Universal PIctures said, ‘We should show this to the Cannes viewing committee.’ At the time I just didn’t think it was a good idea, but I didn’t want to say anything. And then I was really surprised when they accepted the picture.”
“Drag Me” is already receiving positive reviews across the board and it must be a relief for Raimi who admits he takes criticism on all his projects to heart, including the disappointing “Spider-Man 3.”
Raimi says, “I definitely want my films to be liked by the audience, I don’t make an artistic type of picture that says, ‘Even if the audience doesn’t like it, it stands as a work of art and will be appreciated years later and has meaning without the audience.’ I simply am an entertainer and I make pictures for an audience’s participation. And when they don’t like it I don’t have a leg to stand on.”
Some of the biggest salvos on the last “Spider-Man” picture were too many villains and convoluted storyline. Raimi couldn’t promise any specific changes for “Spider-Man 4” because the screenplay is currently be written by New York playwright David Lindsay-Obare.
“He should be done with his script in four weeks. I think I would be better prepared to answer that question once I’ve read that script and know what the movie is,” Raimi clarifies.
What the director would reveal is that he only wanted to come back for a fourth go around with star Tobey Maguire back in the fold. The filmmaker explains, “My interest is living the character with Tobey in a deeper way we ever had before. There comes with the familiarity a knowledge of a lot of the basics which I think is really going to let us delve deeply into him as a human being which is really why I am into it this time.”
He also says he wanted to work “in a new way and a new direction.” That lead to recruiting Lindsay-Abaire after Raimi became a fan of his Pulitzer Prize winning play “Rabbit Hole.” Most importantly, “Spider-Man” fans should take to heart that Raimi sound sincere in his desire to make this sequel better than the last one.
“I am really looking forward to it. I feel like I’ve been on vacation. I feel like I’ve learned a lot working with time constraints and without all the toys and tools I’ve been granted on those ‘Spider-Man’ pictures,” Raimi says. “I remember often times in this process my [“Drag Me”] assistant director would come to be and say things like, ‘Sam, you have an hour left and you’ve got eight shots. What do you want to do?’ And I’d say, ‘Omigod, we’ll just shoot it tomorrow.’ ‘You ain’t coming back here tomorrow, you’re never come back here. The budget won’t let you come back here. You now have 55 minutes, what do you want to do?”
Considering the fine results of “Drag Me,” something suggests Sony Pictures will be very pleased with the creatively energized filmmaker returning to their “Spider’s” web.
“Drag Me to Hell” opens nationwide this Friday, May 29.
Catch a taste of “Drag Me to Hell” by watching the trailer below.