Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. The time, we enter the hyperkinetic geek-friendly mind of Sam Raimi.
For quite a few years, it seemed like audiences would never get to see another Sam Raimi film ever again. Sure, he’s produced an extensive catalog of horror movies over the past decade and has directed episodes of Ash vs. Evil Dead and the Quibi original 50 States of Fright.
However, it’s been since 2013 that we’ve had a full-length feature by Raimi, whose low-budget shocker The Evil Dead is considered a hallmark of the horror genre. While he’d been in talks to helm various movies in the years since his last one, they eventually never came to fruition.
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That is until Scott Derrickson shocked Marvel Cinematic Universe fans by announcing his departure from Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the sequel to his 2016 film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. (Derrickson would later direct an adaptation of Joe Hill’s The Black Phone, due for release in June 2022.)
Even more surprising was his unexpected replacement by Raimi, whose extensively-documented problems making 2007’s Spider-Man 3 fueled speculation that he would never make another superhero movie again. It sounded too good to be true for many of the director’s fans; after all, working with such a major studio arguably led to a lot of the drama behind Spider-Man 3’s development. However, the stars somehow aligned, and we are about to be graced with his first film in nine years.
To celebrate the release of Multiverse of Madness, Consequence has gone back to examine Raimi’s cinematic formula of camp, blood, and one-liners. We’ve taken a close look at what makes him one of the most iconic genre directors through his extensive filmography: From Super-8 student projects to classic splatter-fests and even a sports melodrama, here’s our definitive ranking of the works of Sam Raimi.
— Erin Brady
15. For Love of the Game (1999)
Runtime: 138 minutes
Plot: Billy Chapel is a 40-year-old baseball player for the Detroit Tigers. Although he has had a successful career, he finds it coming to a rapid close with a losing record and a recent franchise sale. Even worse is that his relationship with his girlfriend Jane has also seen better days; she has decided to leave him because she thinks he doesn’t commit enough time to her and has accepted a new job in London. As the pressure continues to build, Billy becomes committed to ending his baseball career on a high by pitching a perfect game.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, J.K. Simmons, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox, Rick Reed
Does Bruce Campbell Have a Cameo?: Bad news for anyone who was expecting to see Campbell play America’s Pastime: He does not appear in the film at all.
Raimi Family Matters (Are Sam’s Brothers Ivan and Ted Raimi Involved?): Much like Campbell, Ivan and Ted were not involved in For Love of the Game in any way.
Wildest Camera Movement: There unfortunately are not a ton of unique camera movements in For Love of the Game. I guess the closest is when Billy pitches Ken Strout at the 27th batter and a whip pan shot shows the ball in the air?
Best Cameo by a Notable Baseball Personality: I can’t deny that hearing former Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard’s voice wasn’t nice. Yes, this movie centers around the Detroit Tigers, but Sheppard was a legend and some respect should be put on his name.
Most Important Prop: The autographed baseball Billy gives Gary Wheeler that has his retirement announcement on it. How unnecessarily dramatic!
Most Memorable Quote: “What if my face was all scraped off and I was totally disfigured and had no arms and legs and I was completely paralyzed. Would you still love me?”
The Verdict: For Love of the Game is Raimi’s Music of the Heart, and any fellow Wes Craven fan will completely understand what this means. For those who don’t, this means it’s a tone-shifting melodrama void of almost anything that makes the director notable. Kelly Preston gives a fine performance, and the overall look of the movie was standard for its type. However, it is still bogged down by a terrible Kevin Costner performance and a painfully generic plot.
If it was made by nearly any other director, it would probably just be forgotten in the bargain bins of history. Unfortunately, it was directed by Sam Raimi, a director known for his distinct directing style and stories. For Love of the Game’s biggest issue is that it is generic as hell, barely skirting by using sports drama cliches and the bare minimum of artistic uniqueness.
While there are certainly worse films out there, what makes this Raimi’s worst film is the fact that you can barely tell it was made by him at all. Being a bad movie is one thing, but being a forgettable movie amidst a filmography of unforgettable ones is even worse. — E.B.
14. It’s Murder! (1977)
Runtime: 70 minutes
Plot: A bumbling and unnamed detective is investigating a strange murder case involving a dead husband, his sons, and his twin elderly brother. However, it seems that at every turn, something strange and unusual regarding the case comes up. The detective must keep watch over the murderous family as he tries to survive the case. Meanwhile, one of the sons tries to discover the truth about his inheritance.
Cast: Scott Spiegel, Sam Raimi, Cheryl Gutteridge, Richard Smith, Matt Taylor, Bill Aaron, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Ivan Raimi
Does Bruce Campbell Have a Cameo?: Have you ever wanted to see Bruce Campbell play a police officer on a bicycle? No? Well too bad, because that is exactly what you get here in It’s Murder!
Raimi Family Matters: Both Ivan and Ted have roles in their brother’s first full-length film, with Ted also taking on cinematography duties. Ted plays the cello-playing Bradley, while Ivan’s exact role is unlisted in every cast listing available.
Wildest Camera Movement: The over-the-top movements Raimi would later be known for weren’t particularly present in this. However, the occasional close-up shots where characters were breaking the fourth wall, such as when the detective says that the movie being watched had “escaped” rather than been released, were fun.
Most Important Prop: Uncle Jasper’s wheelchair, particularly the way that Sam Raimi steers himself in it like he’s playing Twisted Metal. A very close second would be the dentures Ted Raimi wears.
Most Memorable Quote: “Yes, we are all interested in the due process of the law, hmmmmm.”
The Verdict: Given how it is an ultra-low budget movie not preserved in the best quality, it might seem a bit unfair that It’s Murder! was put so low on this list. That being said, it would still be pretty incomprehensible no matter its preservation state — there are so many characters and plot lines that pop up in a measly hour that it becomes hard to follow.
Thankfully, the early signs of what would make Raimi such a distinct director are still present. Even if it is about as amateur as you can expect, It’s Murder! is still an essential watch for any genre enthusiast. — E.B.
13. Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)
Runtime: 130 minutes
Plot: Well, if the year was 2013 and you were looking to cast a guy to play an unrepentant cad, James Franco was maybe the best possible choice. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Raimi’s last film before Doctor Strange 2 explores the backstory which led to the creation of two Wicked Witches and a magical kingdom ruled by a guy who only ever appears as a giant disembodied head in his palace chambers.
This is all to say that you probably know the story without even watching the film, in which the hot air balloon of a small-time circus magician named Oscar Diggs (Franco) gets swept up by a tornado and deposited in the Land of Oz, where the locals are naive to the true nature of his magic tricks and he’s able to con his way into becoming the literal ruler of the land, taking down the two Wicked Witches to do so, with some help along the way from Glinda the Good Witch. (Of course, the witches live to fight another day, but that’s Dorothy’s problem.)
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox
Does Bruce Campbell Have a Cameo?: Campbell shows up as a Wickie gatekeeper, and dear God — they made his chin even bigger! What a feat.
Raimi Family Matters: No sign of Ivan, but Ted Raimi does have a quick appearance as “Skeptic in Audience” during our introduction to Oscar in Kansas.
Wildest Camera Movement: Because of the film’s reliance on CGI set-pieces, it’s hard for Raimi to include a lot of his flair for organic and wild camera choices. But he does find a way to make the camera dance around Oscar and Theodora (Kunis) as they make their initial run for safety upon meeting.
Most Important Prop: Most of Oscar’s adventures are only made possible thanks to his suitcase, loaded down with all sorts of “modern” wonders. Of course, it’s his ingenuity that’s the real hero here.
Most Memorable Quote: “I don’t want to be a good man, I want to be a great one,” is essentially how we come to know Oscar at the beginning, a man who aspires to become a combination of Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. He does essentially get his wish, at least by Oz standards, even if it also means becoming a good man along the way.
The Real MVP of Oz: The delicate yet feisty China Girl (King) enters the story just as this film was beginning to feel truly unbearable, adding some new human dimension to Oscar as a character and also bringing along her own knife, which is a choice worth applauding. The Land of Oz is a dangerous place. Pack accordingly.
The Verdict: Of all of Raimi’s films, this one stands out as bad in the ways that so many big-budget family-friendly movies of this period are: Specifically, the heavy emphasis on CGI panoramas and other moments of 3-D spectacle completely overwhelm the storytelling.
That, combined with the fact that Oscar is perhaps one of the least sympathetic protagonists in human history, leaves this ill-advised prequel to flounder. A too-long disappointment for Raimi’s career — but one which leaves us hopeful that his next project will allow him to bounce back and reclaim some past glory. — Liz Shannon Miller
12. Crimewave (1985)
Runtime: 83 minutes
Plot: In this slapstick send-up, a man named Victor Ajax is awaiting his execution after being found guilty of murdering several people in an apartment complex. However, he maintains his innocence, saying that he was framed for the murders. During his final hour, the former Trend-Odegard Security employee recounts becoming the scapegoat for the bizarre deaths made at the hands of two bumbling exterminators with a strange killing tool. Will his name be cleared, or will this story be written off as the wacky ramblings of a madman?
Cast: Reed Birney, Louise Lasser, Paul L. Smith, Edward R. Pressman, Brion James, Sheree J. Wilson.
Does Bruce Campbell Have a Cameo?: Not exactly a cameo, but Campbell does have a small role in the film as “The Heel,” a businessman looking to purchase Trend-Odegard Security.
Raimi Family Matters: Ted has a brief appearance as a restaurant waiter. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any Ivan involvement.
The Coen Connection: You already forgot about who co-wrote this movie with Raimi, haven’t you? Well, you better remember that Ethan and Joel Coen were also involved in this film. Not only did they co-write the script, but they also made brief cameos as reporters at the execution. Oscar winner and Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand also has a brief appearance as a nun.
Wildest Camera Movement: While not the most unique, the POV shot of plates being thrown at Faron Crush, only to be chopped and punched at is still undeniably cool.
Most Important Prop: The primary extermination tool that Faron and Arthur use to kill their targets. How can you argue with a tool that has a specific kill setting for heroes?
Most Memorable Quote: Not exactly a quote, but Brion James’ laugh in this movie is extremely memorable.
The Verdict: Okay, no matter how badly it performed at the box office and how initial reviews were not the kindest, it is hard to objectively hate this movie. Sure, the movie’s plot might be nearly incomprehensible, and the outrageous visual style can become grating. That being said, it’s impossible to not feel bad for everyone involved while watching it.
The core concept has a lot of potential for greatness, but the fact that many different cooks were in the kitchen making Crimewave is as clear as day. Making a madcap mystery comedy reminiscent of The Three Stooges and old cartoons could easily still be an interesting concept today, even if this movie doesn’t necessarily succeed. While still not a particularly good movie, there were glimmers of one shining throughout. It just so happened to get lost as a result of studio meddling. — E.B.
11. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Runtime: 139 minutes
Plot: Avi Arad sticks his nose in Sam Raimi’s creative business and forces him to introduce Venom and Gwen Stacy into an already overstuffed story. A random sludge attaches itself to Spider-Man as a nonrandom convict falls into a random particle accelerator. Spider-Man expresses his turn to the dark side through dance and finger guns. At that point, nothing makes sense, so Spider-Man fights three drastically different, completely unconnected villains. He permanently disfigures his best friend and then lets his uncle’s killer go. The end.
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell
Does Bruce Campbell Have a Cameo?: After naming him and then defeating him in the previous films, Campbell teams up with the web-head as the maitre d’ at a French restaurant who tries to help Peter propose to MJ. Classic miscommunication and bad accent humor ensues.
Raimi Family Matters: Ted reprises his role as the guileless Daily Bugle staffer Hoffman one final time. Ivan, meanwhile, gets a story and screenwriting credit for the first time. And he probably wishes he hadn’t.
Wildest Camera Movement: Raimi was obviously tired of this big-budget, studio-controlled universe at this point, as there aren’t a lot of innovations added to his bag of tricks here. That said, the way he mirrors the camera movements for both the birth and demise of Venom by circling the villain in opposite directions is a quality choice. The whole single-shot of Spidey surrounding Venom in vibrating metal poles at the end is honestly pretty cool.
Most Important Prop: I dunno, Flint Marko’s shirt? It’s pretty much the only thing this movie gets right.
Most Memorable Quote: “You know, I guess one person can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.” — Stan Lee
Sandman’s Soul: Originally, Raimi wanted Spider-Man 3 to focus on two villains: the Vulture (with Ben Kingsley lined up for the part) and Sandman. Due to producers’ meddling, that vision got blinded. There is one moment where we can see a bit of what could have been, however, and that’s Sandman’s origin scene. Sure, it’s comic book-y nonsense, but watching Flint Marko try to restructure himself and find strength in his sadness is just beautiful. It’s slow, deliberate, and powerful, the stuff of classic monster movies at their best.
The Verdict: But besides that, this movie is a mess. It’s abundantly clear Raimi was worn down — by years of only making Spider-Man movies, by the pressure of a follow-up, by studio interference. So little of what ended up on screen makes sense, from the impossibly endless alley air battle between Peter and New Goblin, to Venom’s inconsistent and unbearable screeching, to Sandman being defeated because the script said so, to Norman’s butler’s insane medical knowledge, to New York’s finest British newscaster. Forced to create a movie he never wanted to make, Raimi just got sloppy here and the result was the Amazing Spider-Man reboot.
(Interesting note, Raimi was still game to try for Spider-Man 4, but having learned his lesson, wasn’t willing to budge on the villains. He wanted Vulture again — this time with John Malkovich in the wings — but the studio wanted the Lizard. Raimi walked, and Sony rebooted — with the Lizard.) — Ben Kaye