I first met Sam Raimi on the set of the first “Spider-Man” film and my memory of him was as an exceedingly polite filmmaker who asked if I might consider not mentioning that he was smoking cigarettes because he was worried that he might be setting a bad example for youngsters. I didn’t have any idea that day in downtown Los Angeles that Raimi’s superhero franchise would make Hollywood history by ushering in this modern era of massive and faithful comic-book adaptations. He’s at work now on the fourth film in the franchise but his attention at the moment is on his return to horror with “Drag Me to Hell.” Gina McIntyre, our horror specialist here at Hero Complex, caught up with the filmmaker for this cover story in today’s Los Angeles Times Calendar section. — G.B.
Sam Raimi does not seem like a gleeful sadist. During a recent morning interview in the sparsely populated Culver City production offices of “Spider-Man 4,” he’s exceedingly polite and far more modest than the average A-list director whose blockbuster comic book movie franchise has grossed almost $2.5 billion around the world.
But lurking beneath that gentle, Midwestern exterior is a man who, in the interest of ratcheting up the tension in his new horror movie, “Drag Me to Hell,” opening Friday, dreamed up a gantlet of physically punishing torments for his star, Alison Lohman.
“So much happens to her,” Raimi says, recounting the various tortures he inflicted on the actress. “She has pumps placed inside her body to spew blood, inside her nostril, when she’s got this big bloody nose scene. I have dummies that were made with extra wide jaw openings . . . to suckle her face with slime oozing out of it. And then I had to bury her in about 800 pounds of mud. And then we had puppets that were designed just to projectile-vomit maggots inside her mouth.”
“Sometimes I would look at Sam and say, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Lohman says later. “It was kind of unbelievable at times. It almost didn’t feel like making a movie, but I was on ‘Survivor.’ He didn’t ever let up on me.”
Somehow, Raimi’s dark side hasn’t done any injury to his reputation as a gentleman filmmaker. The 49-year-old Michigan native has managed to become one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, building a reputation over the last 10 years as a technical virtuoso who believes in emphasizing story over spectacle — even when that spectacle involves a costumed superhero facing off against, say, a menacing villain possessed by a mind-altering bodysuit from outer space.
His ability to craft smart studio tentpoles like the three “Spider-Man” films and quiet dramas such as 1998’s Oscar-nominated “A Simple Plan” has made him a favorite among critics, who, judging from early reviews, seem to be equally enthralled with his latest offering, which played at the Cannes Film Festival last week.
Given the events that set the story in motion, “Drag Me to Hell” couldn’t be more topical: Bank officer Christine (Lohman) attempts to impress her bottom-line-minded boss by refusing an old gypsy woman’s request for a third extension on her mortgage. The gypsy (Lorna Raver) takes her revenge in the form of a curse designed to put a serious damper on Christine’s afterlife. The plot taps into real-world fears over the collapse of the world’s financial markets, soaring unemployment and the burst of the housing bubble, but the timing is sheer accident. Raimi and his brother Ivan adapted “Drag Me to Hell” from an unpublished short story that they had written together years ago…
— Gina McIntyre
RECENT AND RELATED
Top photo of Sam Raimi in 2009 by Ann Johansson/For The Times. Bottom photo of Raimi in 2004 by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times.