Sam Raimi Returns to Horror Film Roots With 'Drag Me to Hell'

"Spider-Man" director takes a break from superheroes for "Drag Me to Hell."

May 28, 2009, 9:31 AM

May 29, 2009 -- The marquee director of the "Spider-Man" films, Sam Raimi, is returning to his horror-film roots.

Taking advantage of a lull between "Spider-Man 3" (2007) and "Spider-Man 4," which is set for next year, Raimi decided to pursue a project that he and his brother Ivan began years ago: a horror film, albeit with a much smaller budget and crew than he had been accustomed to lately.

"I looked forward to a smaller crew and a tighter schedule but found out it was a big challenge," he admitted wryly in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn" with Peter Travers.

"Drag Me to Hell", co-written and directed by Raimi, is the story of Christine Brown, a bank-loan officer played by Alison Lohman. When an opportunity comes up to give an old woman a loan extension, Christine opts not to do so in order to get into her boss' good graces and earn a promotion. Bad idea, as the woman throws a curse on her, sending a demon creature to ... drag her to hell.

In describing Christine's descent, Raimi, 49, said, "She continues to make worse and worse decisions, morally bankrupt decisions. She begins to lie ... when the demon appears, she tries to pin the blame on her boss. ... Finally, at the end, she tries to figure out which innocent soul to give to the devil, instead of her own."

Raimi, who was born in Royal Oak, Mich., believes the greatest horror films rely on the audience's imagination, which can create more terrifying monsters in the mind than filmmakers ever could. He generates such fear through more subtle methods, "old fashioned ways with sound effects and shadows." To Raimi, the scariest scene in the movie doesn't involve any blood, teeth, gnashing or tearing; it is shadow, spooky sound effects and fear. His horror technique was inspired by Jan de Bont's "The Haunting" (1999) and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960), both of which he said chilled him to the core.

Raimi's own descent into horror films took place in college. His partner and roommate at the time, Robert Tapert, asked him if he could make a horror film because it was the only kind that could be made on a low budget and distributed. Tapert took Raimi to see John Carpenter's "Halloween," which intimidated him. "I didn't know they were that good. 'I'm sorry,' I said, 'I don't know if I could do that;" he told Tapert. Eventually, Raimi learned how to make horror films, purely "out of business necessity," he insisted. His first feature film was "The Evil Dead" (1981) starring the man with the chin, Bruce Campbell. Raimi cast Campbell in the "Evil Dead" sequels, making the leading man an icon and cult figure.

Raimi Thinks First About the Audience

Campbell and Raimi are old friends. They were in the same high school drama class and would make audio tapes together. They used to pool their leaf-raking and snow-blowing money together to make no-budget films. "Bruce was the good-looking one and ended up in front of the camera. ... I ended up behind."

Raimi has made cameos in front of the camera, most famously in the Coen Brother's "Miller's Crossing" and "The Hudsucker Proxy". He has a close friendship with the Coens but living in two different coasts prevents the friends from seeing much of each other.

Raimi's five children are ages 15, 12, 10, 5 and 2, and all are "vocal" movie critics, according to their father. The kind of advice he gets from them: "You have to get a better performance! Why did you put the camera there?" Three of his children (daughter Emma Rose and sons Lorne and Henry) appeared as extras in "Spider-Man 3" during the movie's climactic final battle.

Raimi, a self-avowed comic book geek, said, "I felt I really knew Peter Parker's character inside and out ... admired him and looked up to him."

He is tight-lipped about any speculation on "Spider-Man 4" and would not respond to questions about whether the new villain will be a vampire, simply saying, "I'm not at liberty to discuss it."

Critics' praising or panning his work concerns him but is not a priority. What will always be important to Raimi is the viewer. "I live and die by audience reactions," he said. "They're the people I have to please."

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