The old-school Sam Raimi fans are having a ball this weekend (I hope) with the director's long-awaited return to horror, the very cool Drag Me to Hell. And of course all of you know Mr. Raimi as the director of the Evil Dead trilogy and / or the Spider-Man trilogy, but it's easy to forget that this filmmaker has one rather impressive batting average. Doubly so if you're into good-time matinee-style genre flicks! So here's a chance to look back over some of the man's other films, mostly ones you've heard of (and probably seen by now), but flicks that are certainly worth a fresh look every now and again. I'll start with one of my true favorites ...
The Quick and the Dead (1995) -- Raimi's ode to the old-school western is an addictively entertaining mixture of A) a great ensemble, B) tons of nifty visuals, and C) tongue-in-cheek affection for the old-fashioned western tales. Plus it's not every day you see Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio shoot it out amongst themselves. And if you're a fan of character actors, this movie is an all-you-can-eat buffet of colorful performances: Keith David, Kevin Conway, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell, Pat Hingle, Gary Sinise, and on and on it goes. Great fun, especially if you love westerns.
Darkman (1990) -- Long before he was handed the keys to Spidey's cinematic web, Sam Raimi was already thinking about superhero movies. And he didn't even bother going with an established character! He and his brother just created one called Darkman! Just about everything that works so well in the Spider-Man series is included here, from the playful tone and stylish action to the crafty compositions and strong performances. Liam Neeson as a faceless vigilante! How can you not love that?
A Simple Plan (1998) -- Ever seen a movie in which some average schlub discovers a giant sack of money? Yeah, there's lots of 'em. This is one of the best. Plus I always respect a director who gives Bill Paxton a lead role. I'm weird that way.
For Love of the Game (1999) -- Yes, the romance moments are corny, predictable, and sugary to the point of shock, but when it sticks to the sports stuff, this flick has some of the best baseball recreations I've ever seen. Plus, c'mon, at least the mushy stuff is directed at a worthy female: Kelly Preston is so freaking gorgeous in this movie!
The Gift (2000) -- Everyone's calling Drag Me to Hell the director's return to horror, but there's some pretty creepy stuff in this generally overlooked occult thriller. Worth seeing for Cate Blanchett's performance alone, but it also offers Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, and Greg Kinnear in some rather different roles.
Crimewave (1985) -- Neither Sam Raimi nor Joel and Ethan Coen seem to have many strong recollections of this ill-fated farce, but c'mon: Any movie that directed by Raimi and written by the Coens is going to survive as a bona-fide fan-favorite cult item. And it's certainly worth seeing (at least once), even if you do end up agreeing with the filmmakers that the thing is a mess.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) -- Speaking of Coen/Raimi collaborations, here's one of Joel & Ethan's flicks that I just adore to no end. Especially Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Raimi is credited as a co-writer, and one can sense his off-kilter wit in much of the movie.)