Whether it be through the blood-soaked horror films of his early years, the big-budget superhero flicks in his later years, or the underrated genre movies that were made in the middle part of his career, the cinema of Sam Raimi is almost immediately recognisable thanks to the inimitable style of the great director.
Sparking his passion as a filmmaker at a young age, Raimi was making a slew of Super 8 short films with his friends as a teenager, releasing his very first feature film It’s Murder! (1977) at only eighteen years old. By the time 1981 rolled around and Raimi was twenty-two, he cemented himself as an exciting up and coming director with The Evil Dead, establishing his legacy in the annals of horror history. Over twenty years later, the director was a certified A-list filmmaker in Hollywood, directing some of the most influential superhero movies of all time and proving himself as one of the best and most recognisable directors in the industry.
Though Raimi still directs here and there, his work has slowed down considerably, releasing only two features since 2009. Thankfully, Raimi primarily spends his time lending his name to up and coming directors as a producer, playing a major role in the release of new and exciting movies like 30 Days of Night, Don’t Breathe, Crawl and 65.
Raimi may no longer bless us with his own directed films as often as he once did, but the excitement that presides over a film whenever it has his name attached only goes to show what a true force he is in the world of filmmaking. Regardless of the story, genre or company he is directing for, it is always clear that it is a Sam Raimi picture. Having broken down Raimi’s vast and varied filmography, here is The Film Magazine’s guide on Where to Start With Sam Raimi.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
When it comes to the story of The Evil Dead, there really are three separate places you could start. Firstly, there is the proof-of-concept short film Within the Woods that Raimi directed in order to entice investors into producing a feature film. Then came The Evil Dead, the bloody horror flick that introduced Raimi, Bruce Campbell and company to the world and really kicked off their careers. Lastly, there is Evil Dead II, which is truly the best place to begin with the work of Sam Raimi. Though technically a sequel, it is for all intents and purposes a remake, reintroducing fans of The Evil Dead to its wacky and individualistic world, all the while introducing first-time viewers to the story by rewriting and presenting it all in the first 10 minutes.
For the uninitiated, the Evil Dead 2 follows Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) as he and some friends go to spend a few nights in a cabin in the woods. After discovering and playing an audio tape of recitations from a book of ancient texts, it unleashes a number of demons which possess and torment both him and his friends. A tale as old as time, really.
Though it may be the third telling of this same story, it really is the ultimate version of The Evil Dead. Raimi clearly tightens up the screws and masters his passion project, taking the issues of the first movie being laughably camp and silly and using them to its advantage, in the process creating the entire basis of what makes the series and the character of Ash Williams so memorable and iconic.
Filled to the brim with characteristically witty one liners and memorable moments (such as Ash’s famous catchphrase, “Groovy!”), Evil Dead 2 exhibits Sam Raimi going Full Raimi, allowing his balls to the wall style to take us on a campy horror adventure for the ages.
There may be more accessible watches for first time viewers of the director’s work but if you want a fully fledged introduction to Sam Raimi, Evil Dead 2 is perfect.
A Simple Plan (1998)
A Simple Plan is up there as one of the most underrated films of all time and certainly the most underrated of Raimi’s often praised career. Though he is most notably known for his horror or superhero flicks, Sam Raimi has made a handful of genre films, covering westerns, sports dramas and neo-noirs, as is the case with A Simple Plan.
Set in rural Minnesota, the story follows three hunters – brothers Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob Mitchell (Billy Bob Thornton), and Lou (Brent Briscoe) – who discover a crashed plane containing over four million dollars in cash. What follows is a tale reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” as we watch these three men and their bond unfold as they struggle to keep the money a secret from local authorities and as each of their inner demons come to the fore.
It is perhaps Raimi’s most stripped back film as far as his flashy style goes, but this still feels like a Sam Raimi picture as he expertly navigates us through the lives of the three lead characters and the unbearable weight of guilt that they all feel. This is brought to the forefront by three magnificent performances, the best of which is Billy Bob Thornton’s turn as Jacob, a shy, sensitive and innocent character whose devastating backstory not only steals the show in a beautifully written scene between he and Bill Paxton, but works as the backbone of the entire film and allows for many of the events to transpire in the way that they do.
A Simple Plan may not be Sam Raimi’s most accomplished film, but it very well may be his masterpiece. It is certainly one that is must-see for anyone who wishes to get into the director’s work.
Though Sam Raimi has proven himself to be a master of the sequel with both Evil Dead 2 and Spider-Man 2 (and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, if that’s your bag), it is the first Spidey movie that really proved the director could be a major player in Hollywood and one which works as the most accessible entry point to the legend’s career.
Following the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man – bit by a radioactive spider, given superhuman powers, and now learning that with great power comes great responsibility – it may be a story that we all know by now, but Raimi’s take on the tale is irresistible. Despite his background in horror, the director’s over the top and campy style lends itself incredibly well to ripping pages out of comic books and putting them on the big screen. Not only does he capture the comic book feel that the movie requires, but he delivers to us the most perfect portrayal of Peter Parker ever put to screen in the form of Tobey Maguire. Raimi and Maguire worked together to capture the right balance of nerdy, sappy and courageous needed for the iconic part.
Though the director may have put together some excellent fight choreography, captured a wonderful lead performance, and crafted some of the most visually pleasing montages known to man (Parker coming up with costume ideas will never disappoint), it is the more sincere moments that bring to light the true filmmaking strengths behind Spider-Man. Moments such as Uncle Ben delivering iconic life lessons to Peter, Aunt May’s grief over the death of her husband, and Peter’s love for MJ. We may go into these flicks for the big action set pieces, but Raimi understands that this is a human story and one that deserves to be told with love and respect. Superhero fatigue may be setting in right now, but Raimi’s Spider-Man will never grow old. It is a perfect starting point for anyone who wishes to watch any of the director’s films.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Sam Raimi Movie Moments
Though Sam Raimi could easily be distinguished as a director of horror or superhero movies, and his contributions to both deserve to be respected, his filmography is just as unique as his style, allowing him to stand out as a true master of the craft in his own right. From campy horror films to blockbuster comic book adaptations, from sports dramas to neo-noir thrillers, Raimi’s direction behind the camera can always be felt.