Five Non-Horror Gems from the mind of Sam Raimi

Between web-slingers and gross-out gags, much fine work has been done by this man...

Sam Raimi's earlier contribution to superheroes...

1) American Gothic (Executive Producer, 1995)

American Gothic was gripping TV and a mould breaker partly due to the evil lead character trying to corrupt a young child!  Sheriff Buck was played perfectly by a scene-stealing Gary Cole – you couldn’t help but like him, in spite of yourself. It was not a simple tale of right and wrong, good and bad characters – they all had baggage, and they all had redeeming features since they all cared about something. The supposed good guys had all done questionable things in their past, and no one was entirely innocent. 

Week after week you wanted anti-hero Buck to get his comeuppance, but nothing so bad as to stop him from being in the show! You couldn’t help but be amused by the sheriff tricking his Trinity townsfolk, with femme fatale Selena flirting away in the background through every episode. There’s no denying that the show lost its way toward the middle of the series, but it found the way back to a very fitting ending.

It was a show that shifted mood and pace effortlessly, and truly was ‘edge of your seat’ TV. Watching it again for the first time in years, I’ve also realised how much the series is about family, albeit a highly dysfunctional one. The relationship between Merlyn and her brother was touching, and Buck did genuinely care about his boy, even if he had a strange way of showing it. American Gothic is one of the greatest TV series ever made, with multi-layered characters, supernatural themes, twists and turns in the story, and very unclear morals. It didn’t preach to its audience, and we were allowed to make up our own minds.

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A little afterthought for you…

Living in the UK I got to see the weird and scary promotional Channel 4 adverts with the words ‘There’s someone at the door’ written in blood. Funnily enough, I’m sure that’s also what Rod Hull and Emu used to say in Grotbags Pink Windmill on ITV. Now if only the writer Shaun Cassidy could have merged those two concepts perhaps we could have made it to Series 2 of ‘American Gothic Pink Windmill’!

Rod Hull and the Pink Windmill – There’s somebody at the door!

2) Hercules / Xena / Jack of All Trades (Executive Producer – 1995-1999, 1995-2001, 2000)

These shows are like Marmite – you either love them or hate them. Thankfully for me I loved them. The first time I saw Hercules I was in Florida and caught the show late night on a cable channel. I was instantly hooked on the camp storylines, naff humour and ropey effects. I thought the show was great even before I realised it employed my former Evil Dead dream team of Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell. 

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The regular cast, including Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless, were joined by many recurring characters including Bruce Campbell as Autolycus and Ted Raimi as Joxer. Unlike the Evil Dead films each series was aimed squarely at a family audience, although the humour often worked on an adult level also. This technique was quite unusual back then, though now almost all children’s animation films try to appeal to both audiences. 

The shows were definitely a guilty pleasure, and when Hercules started it was at least fresh if nothing else. But sadly, by the time Bruce Campbell’s Jack Of All Trades took the timeslot in the USA, it was a stale concept that even the chin couldn’t save. Jack Of All Trades only ran for one series and out of the three shows has probably aged the worst. Great to see Bruce headlining a show, but the format never quite worked as well as Hercules or Xena did. Sam Raimi’s TV shows were great fun, but very much of their time; they haven’t aged as well as his movies, which are timeless, but remain a good trip down memory lane.

Hercules – Bruce Campbell /Autolycus rehashing a classic moment from Army Of Darkness in the Hercules TV show:

Xena Bloopers Series 4 – Look out for the Ted Raimi outtakes…

Jack Of All Trades – Guess why I think this is one of the best episodes of the series?

Part 2

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Part 3

3) Lunatics – A Love Story (Executive Producer – 1991)

Before Josh Becker completely shamed himself with Alien Apocalypse in 2005, he did some really good work, including Running Time and, of course, Lunatics – A Love Story. Whereas Running Time is a mainstream movie, Lunatics is a completely off-the-wall B-movie, a mixture of genres that’s very hard to categorize. The film features a blend of slapstick comedy and ropey effects, which the lead performers take in their stride. Ted Raimi recently said on his website that out of all his movies, Lunatics was one of the ones he is proudest of.  

It’s difficult to sum up this film in a paragraph but here goes: it’s a story about Hank, a man suffering mental illness, who – while off his medication – imagines spiders crawling around his brain and hallucinates that mental asylum staff with big needles are trying to take him back.

To avoid them he spends all his days in his apartment, covered in foil to shield him, but he still has to contend with the imaginary psycho rappers who appear in his apartment. He hasn’t left the apartment for over six months and spends his time writing poetry and avoiding the outside world. One day, he tries to phone a sex-line, but accidentally misdials. Nancy, who is on the run from a gang, answers the phone instead. They are both very damaged individuals who need help, and she joins him in his apartment. Things happen, and he has to brave the outside world as well as his own personal demons to save her.  

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This is a good example of an independent film displaying original ideas, and it has very strong performances from Ted Raimi (Hank) and Deborah Foreman (Nancy). Their relationship in the film is very endearing, and both actors bring an innocence and charm to their roles. If you haven’t seen it, and you want to see something unique, then give Lunatics a go. You’ll never look at tinfoil in the same way again!

Lunatics – A Love Story trailer

4) The Hudsucker Proxy – (co-written with the Coen Brothers, 1994)

I’ll put my hand up and admit that first time I saw The Hudsucker Proxy I had no idea that Sam Raimi had co-written it. It has the Coen Brothers’ distinctive and slightly off-kilter style, and – like so many of their other films – deserves repeated viewing. It’s a strange film in that everything about it is spot-on…so why does it not make it into most peoples Top 10 films? Every actor delivers a pitch-perfect turn, and it’s hard to judge who has the strongest performance between Jennifer Jason Leigh as Amy, Paul Newman as Mussburger or Tim Robbins as journeyman Norville.  

The story is simple enough: evil Hudsucker executive Mussburger tries to take over the company by employing Norville to mess everything up so that the stock value will drop and enable him to buy it cheap. Norville starts the story as an innocent with the bright idea of the invention of the hula hoop, a design he carries around in his shoe. Luckily, he has secretary Amy (who is actually an undercover reporter looking for ‘dirt’ on the new guy) there to help him out. It’s a sweet story; at the start she’s the one who needs to change for the better, but ultimately has to save Norville once he gets corrupted by power. Hudsucker is a happy, feel-good film that harks back to the charm of classic films of the 1930s, and for reasons I can’t explain particularly, reminds me of It’s A Wonderful Life

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The Hudsucker Proxy – Watch the shadows in the back for Sam Raimi’s cameo…

5) Darkman (Writer/director, 1990)

I hadn’t seen Darkman for years and when it came on TV, I couldn’t resist watching it again. Watching it now, I noticed things about the character that probably passed me by as a younger viewer. He’s an original creation, not out of a comic book and created for an adult audience. He’s actually out for revenge rather than justice, and although he suffered a great wrong, Peyton’s character does remind you of a cat playing with its prey before he kills it. You also understand his challenges more, as he tries to stay sane and do the right thing by Julie while all the time killing Durant’s gang in increasingly gruesome ways. Liam Neeson is amazing as the tortured Peyton, switching effortlessly between sanity and insanity.  

The story is a bit silly: he’s a scientist who just happens to be working on creating artificial skin, but the effects only ever last 99 minutes. Hideously disfigured after an explosion, he’s unable to feel any pain. His lack of pain also makes him very strong, but he is not a superhero. Peyton uses the artificial skin he’s been working on as a disguise to infiltrate the gang who brought him to his fate, and to discover how far the corruption leads. He also has to protect Julie, who has a strange knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – but remember he must do all these things before his 99 minutes are up!

I really enjoyed this film, and once again, this is a movie that can’t be categorised. It’s not horror, it’s not a superhero movie, it’s not drama and it’s not comedy. But it does have elements of all of those genres, so once again Sam Raimi creates something unique, taking the typical genre movie and turning it on its 99 minute head…

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Darkman trailer

Sam Raimi has also acted/done cameos in several other films including:

Spies Like Us

Maniac Cop

Stephen King’s The Shining

The Stand

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Thou Shalt Not Kill Except

…and this is one of my favourite Sam Raimi interviews. It’s not very enlightening, but it is very, very funny!

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