Sam Raimi is Terrifyingly Comfortable
Alison Lohman was sitting alone at home one night when she received an unexpected call from Sam Raimi.
The director was hoping to lure the actress to star in his new movie, "Drag Me to Hell", and asked for 10 minutes to pitch her the idea.
Instead, Lohman says, "the call lasted four hours. He has this scary way of telling stories. By the end of the night, I didn't want to be in the house alone."
Which is just how Raimi likes it. After a seven-year hiatus to make the "Spider-Man" movies, he's back to his roots: horror with a dose of twisted humor.
There's plenty of both in "Hell", which opens in some theaters today and expands nationwide Friday. "Hell" shares much with the "Evil Dead" franchise that put Raimi on the map, though it doesn't share the blood or paltry budgets of those earlier fright flicks.
The dead still torment the living. Graveyards abound. Houses moan with the spirits of demons. And protagonists still manage to crack wise, even when they're fighting for their lives.
What you won't see in "Drag Me to Hell" are the horror devices that have defined the genre of late: torture and graphic violence.
Raimi doesn't watch films like "Saw" or "Hostel". He finds the movies' emphasis on physical pain too disturbing - and condescending to audiences.
"It seems like horror has become a contest to see how much you can show, how much you can shock the audience," Raimi says. "I've always preferred to give people a story that lets their imagination run wild. That is scarier than anything you can show."
Raimi, 49, cherishes fear. He may be part comic-book geek, but he has been a horror junkie since age 10, when he and friends would sneak into the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak, Mich., a suburb of his Detroit hometown.
"I was the kid you didn't want to be sitting next to at the theater," Raimi says. "I've always loved scary movies, and I'd see just about anything that was showing. But I was a screamer. I just got so into them."
He has never lost that passion. He became a marquee director with the "Spider-Man" films, but Raimi cut his teeth making cheap horror films, including "It's Murder!" and "Cabin in the Woods" with high school buddy Bruce Campbell.
When they made "The Evil Dead" in 1981, Raimi won favor with genre fans, who would follow him into the superhero realm.
"There's no type of movie he can't do," says "Hell" co-star Justin Long. "He can do drama like "A Simple Plan", and then do these completely different movies like horror or comic books. Normally, I do a movie because I love the script. I didn't even read this one at first. I was going to do anything Sam was working on."
Raimi will next be working on "Spider-Man 4", due May 6, 2011. He is tight-lipped about any plot points or new villains but says he considers the first three movies a tune-up for the fourth.
"I've been getting more and more comfortable with the characters and story. I've done some things well and made some mistakes," says Raimi, though he declines to list those mistakes.
"But they've all helped me learn," he says. "I know it sounds cliched, but I believe the fourth one can be the biggest and best one we've done yet."
For a competing studio, that's pretty scary.