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for love of the genre


"I'm very happy with horror films."
- Sam Raimi, 1987

"I've never really been a horror-movie guy in my heart."
- Sam Raimi, 1999

So what happened? Sam Raimi, the demented genius behind such delirious gems as the EVIL DEAD trilogy and DARKMAN, now says he never really had his heart in it? What gives? In a recent ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY interview promoting his new film FOR LOVE OF THE GAME, Raimi goes so far as to say, "I'm proud of those movies and ashamed of them at the same time."

For those who've been tracking Raimi's public statements over the past two years, this is no revelation. In an interview with Rebecca Mead in the November 23, 1998 issue of THE NEW YORKER -- in connection with his then-upcoming A SIMPLE PLAN -- Raimi acknowledged that he got into horror not out of any love for the genre ("I didn't really like horror films -- they frightened me" was one of his more eyebrow-raising remarks) but because of the commercial potential and the opportunity to learn firsthand what made scary movies tick. In retrospect, it now appears, he has always felt this way and let it be known in small ways throughout his career. Raimi found himself talking primarily to horror-movie magazines like FANGORIA whenever one of his genre movies came out, so of course he wasn't going to slam the genre. But even back in 1987, on the eve of EVIL DEAD 2, he told a FANGORIA interviewer, "I knew that if I made a horror picture, I could get the money and make a movie."

Raimi remains cordial about horror; he still respects it as a medium in which to do wild and crazy things. But apparently he's grown up now, and he doesn't do wild and crazy any more. Can it be that Raimi is the Steve Martin of horror? Martin, of course, was revered for his surreal stand-up act before he retired from the stage; now he writes serious plays and comic essays for THE NEW YORKER. Perhaps nobody can be expected to remain wild and crazy forever, and Raimi did expend an awful lot of energy between 1982 and 1995 (when THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, Raimi's last real camera-rocketry movie, came out). However, he doesn't seem to realize that when he dismisses his EVIL DEAD movies, those of us who have loved them over the years may feel that he's dismissing us as well.

At the heart of all this is the continuing disrespect for horror movies as a valid genre. It's fine with me if Raimi wants to stretch and try new things that don't involve chainsaws and airborne eyeballs, but his EVIL DEAD movies are surreal works of art, and he has nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for. It's as if he's in some bad '80s teen movie where he's the guy from the wrong side of the tracks who gets ridiculed by the rich kids before finally winning the heart of the rich girl. Well, Hollywood may be the rich girl, and some mainstream movie critics may be the rich kids looking down their noses at horror, but horror is not the wrong side of the tracks. Yes, nine out of ten horror movies suck, but you can say that about films in any genre, and I'd rather sit through a horror movie that sucks than a sensitive Hollywood drama that sucks (like, say, THE OTHER SISTER).

I can understand Raimi's fear of being pigeonholed: Some directors whose best-known movie happens to be a horror movie are never allowed to leave the genre -- like Tobe Hooper, whose sole excursions away from horror have been horror's slightly more reputable sister, science fiction; or Wes Craven, who is only now breaking out of the genre box with the upcoming MUSIC OF THE HEART. Yet other successful directors in the genre have managed to go back and forth. John Carpenter will go to his grave as "John (HALLOWEEN) Carpenter," but probably only a third of his total output falls into the horror category. David Cronenberg's past splatterfests didn't dissuade anyone from giving him the money to make DEAD RINGERS or M. BUTTERFLY or CRASH.

And Peter Jackson is probably the best example of an energetic director who can move outside horror while still retaining his edge: HEAVENLY CREATURES is a perfectly serious drama, yet it's also as wild and crazy stylistically as DEAD ALIVE or BAD TASTE, and New Line apparently has enough faith in him to give him $200 million to make LORD OF THE RINGS. Jackson shows that you don't have to make watered-down Hollywood product in order to stretch your legs.

So, is Sam Raimi done with horror? Back in 1987, he said, "I'm very happy with any good script, whether it's a love story, drama, anything." A fine sentiment, and I don't think anyone who respects Raimi's work wants to see him half-heartedly doing EVIL DEAD movies for the rest of his life. He's been there and done that. What's upsetting about Raimi's case is that his last two mainstream movies, A SIMPLE PLAN and FOR LOVE OF THE GAME, so completely submerge everything we loved about his work. Thematically and stylistically, they are utterly unrecognizable as Sam Raimi films. That's especially saddening because his earlier movies are so immediately, recognizably his. It's as if he thought he had to cancel out his own personality to make it in Hollywood.

And maybe he's not wrong -- that's the most chilling part. Raimi saw that there was no future in Hollywood making wingnut movies like ARMY OF DARKNESS, and he wanted to continue to make movies, so he took the necessary step. He must have figured that Hollywood would squelch his originality anyway, so he decided to squelch it himself before they got the chance.

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