I had hoped that once you sinners had made that choice with her, that like it or not, you would know in your heart that the thing that had been sicked upon her was not just coming for her, but deservedly so, for you.
Oh Sam Raimi. You’re so charming and yet so evil. The thing about Raimi is that he is extremely intelligent, very humble, and as you can tell from his films, has a rather odd and peculiar sense of humor. He walked into our interview room for Drag Me to Hell dressed in a suit and tie (of course), and with a handshake began by saying “Hello, I’m Sam.”
Well Sam, you’ve made quite the movie. In fact, you’ve made the movie you were always meant to make. Now tell us what it was like…
(Note that following interview does not mention his upcoming projects because we already posted that in our first Raimi interview which talks about Spider-Man 4, Monkey’s Paw, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.)
This film was fun to watch and looked like fun for you to make. Were you just having a blast on it?
SR: Yes. It was not even flexing our muscles. It was really just a team of entertainers and artists and technicians coming together. I believe having a really great creative collaboration, all the crew members really contributed to this story and we were under a very tight budget and time schedule, not for most filmmakers but for me it was short because I’m very slow with the way I work. Everyone contributed. I think everyone understood that we were making a fun entertainment for people. At least that was our goal. We’re going to try to make it a fun, spooky blast of a film for people. It was really clear that we weren’t making an art picture and everyone really got into that. I had a wonderful time.
There are great Easter eggs for Evil Dead fans. How did you decide when to go there?
SR: Well, I tried to stay away from duplicating the Evil Dead horror as much as possible but there’s always a moment or two you can’t help yourself. When you get a monster’s eyeball, it’s hard, like anyone knows, not to put it in your leading lady’s mouth.
What was the inspiration for old Universal logo at the start of the film?
SR: Well, the reason that logo was there was the opening scene takes place in 1969 in Pasadena. My editor, Bob Murawski thought it would be cool and appropriate if we started with a logo from that era as a way to say this is not a flashback. You’re in 1969 and here’s where that opening scene is. That was really why we started with that, plus we think that’s a really cool logo. Love that old Universal logo.
Was there a difference between major franchise and a smaller production such as this?
SR: With those Spider-Man pictures, which I love making, there’s still a lot of responsibility on the Directors shoulders and the producers, everyone’s shoulders, because you’re dealing with a character that has been around for 40 some years, is much loved by people throughout the world and people not just have a sense of ownership of Spider-Man, rightfully so, but they look up to him as a hero. Generations of people do. So you have to be careful with how that portrayal takes place. You have to have a lot of respect for the ownership of everyone which they do have over that character and so I was using the word responsibility of the responsibility to present him in a proper light. And that’s a great job but it’s much more freeing to take a break from that and work with your own characters in a place where no one has any expectation of them because they don’t know them. You’re really free to do anything you want. So there’s a lot more freedom’s that come with the independent picture, Drag Me to Hell.
People will recognize the in your face style that’s unique to you. How do you see this as different?
SR: I really wasn’t trying to avoid it. Actually, I was just trying to do original pieces with this picture from any picture that was ever made. I was just trying to tell a different story that hadn’t been told before with a lot of familiar elements that I love in horror pictures. It’s not that I was trying to make something so different as much as I was just trying to tell this story the best that I could. I tried to be true to the characters and how they might really react, try to build a good suspense sequence here and there, tried to deliver a surprising scare in a way maybe that I hadn’t done before, that the audience hadn’t quite experienced before. Tried to approach the soundtrack in an original way that I hadn’t felt a lot of horror film had before.
Was it intentional to comment on the economic crisis? A lot of people will relate to the old lady.
SR: That’s true. I think that is a coincidence though. We just wrote this picture as a short story many years ago and recently turned it into a screenplay but without paying attention to what was happening in the bank situation in the country.
The ending was rather surprising, was that always the ending always the ending you had in mind? Did anyone ever challenge you on it?
SR: That was always the ending of the picture. We felt it was always where the story had been heading with the main character. We felt that anything else would just have actually been more horrible if you think about it, because she’s really a despicable character. She starts out with the idea that she’s a good person. She thinks she’s a good person. Hopefully the audience can buy into that illusion because they’ve got so many things that they can identify with. She goes to work every day. She’s sweet to people. She’s pleasant and attractive. She’s got a boyfriend that is a sweet, intelligent fellow. But when push comes to shove and she’s got to impress the parents, she feels that this job promotion would really help her.
At that point, when we all have a chance to be greedy or not, when it’s important, she’s cruel to this old lady for her own betterment. She sins with greed and forces her out of the house, hiding under the rules of the bank. Because I wanted the audience to make this choice with her. I wanted to present her as a nice person. She is a nice person. We all are nice people but we’re all sinners too. And I wanted you, the audience member, to make this choice with her, when the old woman was unpleasant looking, was absurd, I wanted the audience to say, “Yeah, just deny her the loan and get her out of the office for crying out loud.” Because I had hoped that once you sinners had made that choice with her, that like it or not, you would know in your heart that that thing that had been sicked upon her was not just coming for her, but deservedly so for you because you had made that choice with her. And that ending when it came for her, although it may be a surprise or not, you’d know that it could’ve come for you too.
Justin reminds her that she had two warnings already. Is there no merit to that?
SR: Sure. There’s all sorts of reasons to be greedy and cruel to other people. They can be justified by logic or you could use the rules of an institution or a government or the military. There’s all sorts of reasons to torment and be cruel to others, justifiable wonderful reasons. That’s another one, that she had been given an extension twice before. Did she really expect a third one? Did she really expect mercy after she’d been shown some? It’s another way for people to hide behind their choices.
How do you keep us rooting for her while making her deserve what she gets?
SR: That’s a good question. I never know if we achieve that balance but I assume that because – - That had a lot to do with the casting of Alison Lohman. She’s really despicable. I don’t mean Alison. [Laughs] Alison’s okay, but she has a very positive charm that works on the audience, that helps us stay with her despite all the terrible things that she does. A lot of people forgive you if you’re good looking too, and Alison is very good looking and has a very nice smile. You get away with a lot I think with that.
But when you think about what he does besides throwing that old woman out of the house, she goes against her own vows and kills that cat to save her neck. She lies to the old woman’s daughter at that house when she tries to get her way and get the old woman to take the curse off her. At the séance, when she’s asked everyone to risk their lives for her, she tries to blame her boss when confronted with the demon that it was really him. She in fact is ready to give that curse to some poor sap at the local Howard Johnson’s or Denny’s. She barely came up with a better idea. She came that close.
I think she was a good person on the outside but when you really start to look at her, when she gets in an extreme situation, the real person comes out. In fact it’s really the old woman that’s the victim in this story and Alison Lohman, I think her character Christine deserved probably what she got. Maybe she was a little over punished. I wouldn’t have been as harsh personally.
So is the fact that she’s so awful why you liked her?
SR: Yeah, it’s what made the character interesting to me, that she was flawed and capable of making mistakes and selfish choices. Unfortunately, I understand her because of that, because I am weak and flawed and scared and selfish and all those things. That weakness fascinates me. I detest it but it’s what interests me. It interests me because I’m flawed because I can sometimes explore the things that trouble me. I think all writers work this way. They take a part of themselves, what they understand as their problems or whatever and they put them out there. I wish I had more noble problems. She’s such an awful character, it’s really embarrassing. That’s how writers work I think.
Could Justin climb down to hell in the sequel?
SR: Well, I don’t have any plans for a sequel. No, I don’t think so, but you never know.
Can’t marry her in hell?
SR: No, I don’t think so. Maybe he can save her. That would be good. That’s a great Greek myth, right? [Orpheus] goes down to hell to save the woman he loves. When do we start production?
How nice a guy is Justin Long?
SR: Justin is a nice guy. He’s such a nice guy in person. I love working with him. He is so funny too. He’s funny on the set and he’s funny in a great way because he’s able to inhabit the character and be funny through the character’s eyes which is really a weird quality. He can be this guy, Clay Dalton, this professor at UCLA and see things that are absurd about the scene or about the situation and remark through the voice of the character which is just wonderful for a director to have an actor that’s as free and versatile and can change their point of view and react in it so well.
You’re renowned for combining horror with humor. What are your influences?
SR: Thank you. It’s hard making those, it’s so hard. I hope the audience likes this movie. I certainly have made plenty of movies that the audience didn’t like and it’s really harsh when you make a movie, whether it’s a horror movie or a comedy or whatever, and the audience doesn’t like it. It’s so debilitating but that’s the game I guess. A lot of it’s luck if you happen to make a movie that people seem to like. I think everyone is really trying to make their movies the best they can. Just sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s so weird and I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve received a lot of positive words on some of the movies that I’ve made so I feel much more fortunate than most filmmakers. Thanks for those compliments. I like mixing comedy – this is the worst answer I’ve ever given in my life – I like mixing comedy and horror.
Were you pushing the PG-13 or did you not know what you were aiming for?
SR: No, I knew I was rating for a PG-13. I definitely, when I was writing the picture with my brother Ivan, didn’t want to rely on what I had relied on in the previous horror films, the Evil Dead films which was outrageous amounts of violence, blood and gore. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction with this one so I said, “Let’s try not to have any of that if we can, blood and violence and gore.” Obviously there’s going to be some violence in a horror picture, and a little bit of blood but more like a nosebleed than gore. We tried to make up for it for the kids with buckets of slime.
Was it a tough choice in a marketplace that supported the Saw series?
SR: No, I didn’t go in that direction to avoid any trends. I just wanted to do something different for myself because aware of what I had done before and trying to make it slightly different in a few little ways, that was one of them.
Spider-Man 3 took a lot of criticism even though it was successful. Do you take that into consideration when you’re developing 4?
SR: Do I take the criticism into consideration? Yeah, absolutely. All filmmakers want their films to be liked. I shouldn’t say that but I definitely want my films to be liked by the audience. I don’t make an artistic type of picture that I can say to myself, “Even if this crowd doesn’t like it, it stands as a work of art and will be appreciated years later or has meaning without the audience.” I simply am an entertainer and I make films for audience appreciation. When they don’t like it, I don’t have a leg to stand on. If a critic doesn’t like it, it’s like oh, he hates me or it’s bad, they don’t like it. Every time I get a bad criticism, I just try not to dwell on it but it’s very upsetting. You really want to please people.
I don’t believe you’re not thinking about art.
SR: What the… put ‘em up! Well, I look at myself like a craftsman, like a cabinet maker so I do believe that there is an art that goes into crafting a good cabinet, especially when you’ve made cabinets for years. The exact way that they’re put together and you can learn how to make them better and learn to have pleasing lines and increase the utilitarian qualities of them and make them work with the environment and you’re given a different type of wood and it reacts differently. There’s a whole art to that but that’s how I look at my job more than anything.
But having a tree molest a woman is wonderful art…
SR: Well, that was a desire to shock the audience and give them something they haven’t quite seen before, tantalize them and freak them out. When we were making that picture, that was the goal of that, to try and give them a real thrill, outrage ride.
Isn’t there an artistry to screen violence?
SR: There can be, yeah. It’s just that my process is so like put this sequence together. Then I really want to sit in the audience and see how they react to it. If this part is slow, if they’re not reacting, I realize oh, “they don’t need that bit of information.” I take it back to the editing room, I cut it again and I show it to them again and now they like something. Something’s kind of funny. I have a little more of that shot, I’m going to add a little tail to that shot and show it to them again. That’s really my process. You can call it an artistic process but I don’t know if everybody would. It’s more like a tailor in a weird way. It’s a lot of different things. Maybe it’s artistic.
Taking this movie to Cannes (this interview was done before the film festival)?
SR: I’m super surprised that the Cannes Film Festival wanted the picture. I think it says a lot about the depravity in our society. It’s very disappointing in many ways. No, I’m kidding. Universal Pictures said, ‘Oh, we should show this to the Cannes vieweing committee.’ I don’t know what it’s called. At the time I just didn’t think that was a good idea but I didn’t want to say anything. Then I was really surprised when they accepted the picture.”
As a Director has this given you your horror fix?
SR: I really like the horror genre. The horror audience is the best audience in the world. They want to be entertained. They go there to be thrilled. I feel like they’ve got a really fun attitude in their hearts when they go to see these movies. Not that normal audiences for everything else aren’t wonderful but the horror audience is something special actually. Even better than a comedy crowd, they want to be entertained and appreciate things. I think they’re the best audiences in the world right now.
Are you ready to get back into Spider-Man world?
SR: I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like I’ve been on vacation and I want to come back and I feel like I’ve learned a lot, working with the time constraints, without all the toys and tools I’ve been granted on the Spider-Man pictures. I had a lot less to work with. I remember often times in this process my assistant director Michael Moore would come up to me and say things like, “Sam you’ve got an hour left and you’ve got eight shots what do you want to do?” And I would think. “Oh my god, we’ll just shoot it tomorrow.” And he would say “you’re not coming here tomorrow, you’re never coming back here, the budget won’t let you come back here. You now have 55 minutes, how are you going to get the shot?”
First I’d panic and then I would remember the basics are all I ever needed and I would think, well, what’s the point of this scene, what’s the core of what I’m after? It’s that this character in the story is confronted with this situation, she makes this realization, and that’s where the scene ends. And I can get that with a close up of my actress and a little bit of a lighting effect. Maybe she was going to come outside and see the sun coming down and I was going to have a crane shot and she was going to realize she didn’t have much time.
With a simple rose colored gel and a lamp that’s being faded up and her coming into a close up, she can look off into the direction of the light, suggest she’s seeing the sunset, a little bit of wind with help with the idea of the setting sun and she’ll make a realization in her eyes, at that moment the camera will move in a little bit to underline this realization, a bit of fear will come upon her as she realizes she doesn’t have much time as the light is dimming, and she exists frame. With that shot I remembered I can get everything I needed, that I thought I needed eight shots to get. And it was invigorating. It never should have been those eight shots anyway.
Are you worried at all about any gypsy backlash?
SR: Oh, no. She’s not the villain of the piece. She’s really the victim.
Well there you have it! He left with a thank you and a wave!
Check out our Drag Me to Hell review now and see the film in theaters this Friday, May 29th!