Sam Raimi: The TV Years (Rake, Ash vs Evil Dead, 50 States of Fright)

So, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) is Sam Raimi’s most recent feature film until DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS comes out in a few months. It’s like he accidentally took one too many drops of the potion and woke up in a whole new world.

But not really. In the interim, as always, he’s been producing movies for other people, including Fede Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD remake (also 2013) and DON’T BREATHE (2016). And of course he’s developed movies to direct that just haven’t gotten off the ground for one reason or another. There have been announcements of him directing movies based on the video game The Last of Us, the books Love May Fail, The Blade Itself, The Next 100 Years and The Kingkiller Chronicle: The Name of the Wind, plus a remake of A PROPHET. All of these seem to have fallen away, as such things often do.

Throughout his career as a director he’s also been prolific as an executive producer of TV shows including M.A.N.T.I.S., Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American Gothic, Spy Game, Young Hercules, Jack of All Trades, Cleopatra 2525, Xena: Warrior Princess, Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus. But in 2014, about a month after OZ came out, he finally directed his first TV show.

It was a Fox dramedy called Rake, based on the Australian series of the same name, which lasted five seasons. The American version only got one. A “rake” is, according to Wikipedia, “a man who was habituated to immoral conduct, particularly womanising,” and the titular one of those is Keegan Deane, a gambling addict fuckup lawyer who mostly defends guilty clients, played by Raimi’s THE GIFT cast member Greg Kinnear. (The original character was played by Richard Roxburgh.) Raimi directed episodes 1 and 4 out of 13.

The first episode is “Serial Killer,” written by the original show’s creator Peter Duncan. In addition to introducing all the characters, the episode is about Keegan representing media-famous serial killer Jack Tarrant (Peter Stormare) as a favor to his previous lawyer, thinking it will be a quickie just coming in one day to enter a guilty plea. He’s horrified when Tarrant instead pleads not guilty, but then he starts to believe him and becomes passionate about the case.

Though on the surface very different from Raimi’s movies, I definitely see why this would appeal to him. Keegan is similar to the protagonist of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL – a sleazy, lying womanizer who just barely slimes his way out of one disaster after another using his charm, then eventually, reluctantly, finds it in him to do something good every once in a while. And the first half of the pilot is very similar to the first half of SPIDER-MAN 2 in the way it sadistically fires shit sandwich after shit sandwich at this guy’s face (though in this case he deserves it).

The episode is big on dropping us into situations where we think one thing is going on and then find out the full context. In the opening he’s at a crowded bar with his friend Roy (Omar Dorsey, the sheriff in HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN KILLS) cheering on some sporting event. He celebrates a big play by buying the bar a round of drinks. There’s a one take walk-and-talk as Keegan and Roy head to the restroom discussing wives and stuff until Roy suddenly bashes Keegan’s head against the wall. Roy is Keegan’s friend, but also an enforcer trying to collect $59,000 from him.

Though Keegan returns to the bar with cuts on his face, he manages to leave with a woman who was checking him out (Chasty Ballesteros, VIGILANTE DIARIES) and there’s a montage of driving around in a cool car, walking through some high roller party looking awesome, ready to— oh, wait, there’s a card game going on in a room over there, so he ditches her for that.

So anyway he owes a ton of money to dangerous people. Also his car is impounded. Also he’s staying with his college friend Ben (John Ortiz, FAST & FURIOUS) and Ben’s wife Scarlet (Necar Zadegan, UNTHINKABLE), who are both exasperated after offering to let him stay for a couple days that have turned into four months. Scarlet asks him to make himself useful by taking her SUV to drive the kids to school, but he gets pulled over with a suspended license.

Oh, he also owes back salary to his assistant Leanne (Tara Summers, HITCHCOCK). So he really needs to get paid for this one case, but for some reason the guy paid him with a Pacific bluefin caught in Fiji that he can supposedly sell to a sushi restaurant for $20,000. I like when he opens the carton it’s in and asks, “Why is that a fish?”

He has to borrow Leanne’s car to drive it to the restaurant, and the transaction doesn’t go as planned, so he ends up carting around this giant fish in a styrofoam cooler for the rest of the episode as it becomes less and less valuable.

One of those surprise scenes I mentioned is when he goes to visit Mikki (Bojana Novakovic, BEYOND SKYLINE). She’s mad at him for being late, and during their argument we realize that she’s not exactly his girlfriend, she’s a high class prostitute he’s paying $500 an hour. Another one is when his therapist (Miranda Otto, I, FRANKENSTEIN) makes a pass at him but then it turns out she’s not his therapist or making a pass at him, she’s his ex-wife trying to prove a point about him being a narcissist. And they’re at her house and the great punchline is that he came over to give his son (Ian Colletti, MOHAWK) a driving lesson, i.e. get his son to give him a ride somewhere.

I enjoyed the quirkiness of this show. Stormare is very funny in his guest appearance as a killer who brags that Mark Harmon won a Golden Globe for playing him in a TV movie and is disappointed that there aren’t many reporters at his hearing because the Bernie Madoff trial started the same day. Keegan is kind of a force of comedic chaos, disrupting normalcy with his messy problems, and ultimately working against “the corrupt, disgraceful, fetid body that is the LAPD” when he exposes the lies of a hero cop (Bill Smitrovich, BAND OF THE HAND). The only part that rubbed me the wrong way is that they treat it as a harmless prank when his impounded car is crushed into a cube “Courtesy of City Hall and the LAPD.” That’s a retaliatory crime signaling massive corruption, but he acts like it’s settled because he put the smelly fish in one cop’s car.

Stylistically this is a normal TV show, I wouldn’t say it looks Raimi-esque. But there’s one pretty Raimi staging where new-driver son panics and stops on the freeway on-ramp, and through the rear window we have a clear view of a car coming well before it rear ends him. There are no Ted Raimi or Bruce Campbell cameos, but you may recognize series regular Novakovic as Mrs. Ganush’s daughter in DRAG ME TO HELL, and Mrs. Ganush herself, Lorna Raver, as the judge in this one.

The other Raimi episode, “Cannibal,” is written by Allison Abner (Without a Trace) and Sara Goodman (Preacher), based on the pilot of the Australian series. It was originally meant to be the American pilot, but they decided it was too sad to be episode 1, and presumably they reworked it so that “Cannibal” would introduce everybody.

The surprise opening this time is that he seems to be involved in some S&M, telling Mikki to do something to him with pliers, but it turns out he’s trying to get her to pull out a bad tooth because he has no money for the dentist. No problem – Roy ends up knocking it out after another one of their walk-and-talks. (His debt has grown to $67,000.)

Keegan’s shittiest action this time is listening to a football game during Ben’s father’s funeral. This is probly continuity from a previous episode, but I like the detail that he’s using a phone with a cracked screen and the back held together with duct tape.

His case in this one is defending the mayor’s top economic advisor Graham Murray (Denis O’Hare, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN), an admitted cannibal. This is one of those torn-from-the-headlines premises, clearly inspired by the German case of the cannibal who used a web board to find someone who volunteered to be eaten. When Keegan realizes it was consensual he thinks his client is not guilty of an actual crime. When he talks to Murray’s wife (Rebecca Tilney, U-571) about the evidence and realizes she doesn’t want him to get off, he says, “Well, I’m not saying we should bake a cake, but it appears there was no murder!”

His other best line is when he argues about the case with Ben’s mom (Anne Gee Byrd, PROJECT: ALF) and decides to spoil her fancypants dinner party by saying, “Oh, and apparently it’s true. We do taste like chicken.”

Although this does seem like a fun show, I enjoyed this episode less than the first one because in court he’s a total dick to the family of the guy that got eaten. When he’s a pain in the ass to bad people or people who sort of like him, he can be an enjoyable scoundrel. Here he definitely steps into fuck-this-guy territory.

There is one minor Raimi trademark shot in a cliffhanger at the end of the episode. Somebody tries to run him over, and we get a car-POV camera flying at his terrified face, as his hair blows back. The car also has a color similar to Raimi’s Oldsmobile in the brief glimpse you see, but upon rewind it did not appear to be the genuine article.

As in the other episode, a few past Raimi cast members show up. Bill Cobbs (Master Tinker from OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL) is a judge, Elya Baskin (Peter’s landlord from SPIDER-MAN 2 and 3) is a witness in Keegan’s IRS case, and Joanne Baron (“Skeptical Scientist” in SPIDER-MAN 2, “Mr. Jacks’ Secretary” in DRAG ME TO HELL) also shows up.

Rake was a mid-season replacement series, and it started out playing on Thursdays, but moved to Fridays and then Saturdays, so maybe it’s not a surprise it didn’t get another season or a physical media release (I found it on Vudu). They did at least air all of the episodes that were made. Some of the other directors on the show included Jon Avnet, Amy Heckerling and Adam Arkin.

In 2015 Raimi directed another TV show pilot, one with more specific Raimi-an appeal. After years of developing an EVIL DEAD 4 and not knowing how to fund it, Raimi decided to build some of the ideas he and Ivan had come up with into the TV series Ash vs Evil Dead. The Starz network (who had run Spartacus) agreed to let them do it uncensored. Raimi directed the pilot episode, “El Jefe,” which he wrote with Ivan Raimi and TV writer/producer Tom Spezialy (Weird Science, Desperate Housewives).

Bruce Campbell, thankfully, returns as Ash (not that Arnold Vosloo wouldn’t have been interesting). The pilot catches up with what he’s doing 30 years after ARMY OF DARKNESS, though for legal reasons only the events of parts 1 and 2 can be mentioned. In the grand scheme of thing, that whole battling Deadites thing we know him for was just a brief, terrible part of his life – how long was he in the past, a couple weeks? – and then he continued his miserable life in Michigan. Pretty much the same jerk he was at the end of ARMY, but older.

Using the familiar closeups and sound effects montage style from when Ash made his chainsaw arm, we see Ash tightening straps and buckles on what turns out to be a girdle. He does a dance, grabs two Magnums and heads to his favorite bar (still driving the Oldsmobile) where he obnoxiously hits on a woman (Jennifer Freed) by claiming that he got his wooden hand saving an 8 year old from an oncoming train. Moments later he’s doing her in the women’s restroom and sees her turn into a Deadite to tell him “We’re coming for you!” Just for a second. (Then he finishes up.)

I think the tone of the show is kind of in between ARMY OF DARKNESS and EVIL DEAD II, which works well for television. Ash is definitely a cartoonish asshole and it’s full of gags, but there’s still an attempt to spookablast you in the face with lots of atmosphere and monster freakouts. I like the joke that he drives to the bar rocking out to “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple, but after the experience in the bathroom leaves sort of timidly mumbling it while darting his eyes around nervously. As soon as he gets home he opens the wooden trunk where, under a porno magazine and stuff, he keeps the Necronomicon. Only after finding a bag of weed inside it does he remember that he got stoned with some lady (Marissa Stott, Power Rangers Ninja Steel) who said she liked poetry so he let her read from the Book of the Dead. Whoops! I love how it quickly it cuts from Ash saying “Fuuuuuck!” to the title logo, with a bombastic orchestra blasting the three note riff that acts as the theme song. The music is once again provided by Joseph LoDuca and I think is a big part of why the show works.

After the title we go straight into the famous POV shot of an evil force flying through woods. It’s cool to see this done the same but different – subtle lighting reflecting on the leaves, beautiful light beams shining from the house it’s approaching.

It’s not a cabin, but a large house, and here we meet one of the show’s new characters, Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones, THE LONG SHOTS), arriving with her partner Carson (Mike Edward, also Power Rangers Ninja Steel) after neighbors reporting a woman screaming. It turns out to be Ash’s poetry friend, who seems to be experiencing the end of her own little chapter of EVIL DEAD. She malignantly turns her possessed head backwards and smacks them around, saying “WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE!” to Fisher (I’m sure that’ll come up on later episodes).

This is a TV budget, of course, but how does that compare to an EVIL DEAD budget? I’m not sure. At any rate, Raimi goes wild DRAG ME TO HELL style, doing old fashioned gore gags with extra digital spice, particularly for live actors having chunks of their bodies missing. (The handless effects on Ash are also a big improvement from the movies.)

He even works in some QUICK AND THE DEAD bullet wound light beams.

If anyone was concerned the violence might be toned down for television, they didn’t have to be.

I love that moments after Carson seems to have saved the day by heroically blowing the Deadite’s head off with his state issued boomstick he gets tossed onto a set of antlers like Linnea Quigley in SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT.

The next day Ash continues to experience weird shit (like his neighbor Vivian [Sian Davis, “Old Woman” in the EVIL DEAD remake] turning into a Deadite) as he tries to get an advance from his boss (Damien Garvey, DAYBREAKERS, DRIVE HARD, the original version of Rake) and skip town. This is probly a rights issue again, but I really like that he works a shitty stockboy job, but not at S-Mart. Not only has he not gotten a more glamorous job in 30 years, he couldn’t even keep that one. He’s the old guy at the job mostly young people work, but for some reason Pablo (Ray Santiago, GIRLFIGHT) thinks he’s awesome. The new hire, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo, A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS) not so much. But the two end up going with him and being his sidekicks for the series after all hell breaks loose.

It starts when Ash is attacked by a doll while cleaning up alone in the stock room. This is great because it’s an animated doll like China Girl in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL vs. Bruce Campbell doing his all-by-himself-pretending-to-fight-a-thing acting. He even starts to break pots over his own head to try to get it off of his nose. And when the doll stops and starts crying (voice of Bridget Hoffman, an animation voice actor who was in Josh Becker and Scott Spiegel’s Super-8 short Cleveland Smith: Bounty Hunter and voiced the computer in DARKMAN) he mocks it saying, “Oh no, are you going to be okay?”

Since Pablo sees the doll (and kills it with a shovel) Ash is able to tell him “something I’ve never told anyone.” 16 minutes into the show he gets to do the cool narration explaining the events of (two of) the films. I love the way the clips are projected onto the boxes of product.

“I was the only one to escape. And for the past 30 years, I’ve been hiding out. Now, because I screwed up, read from that book one lousy time, the evil has found me.”

Like those people fighting the Deadites in 1300 A.D., Pablo believes Ash is a chosen one – the “El Jefe” his Honduran shaman uncle said would rise up against evil. “You got the wrong Jefe, chief” he says, and “let it choose someone else this time.”

I enjoyed seeing the evil dead shit in new settings. A camera flies through the Value Stop parking lot breaking the windows of somebody’s SUV, and through the trailer park, where Ash’s trailer takes on the role of the cabin in the woods. The show has its “groovy” style audience cheer moment when Kelly is being choked by an arm through the window, says “Help me, help me please” and the music and the serious look on Ash’s face as the camera zooms in on it tell us that he’s about to turn action hero again. In a perfectly ridiculous callback, he has an ax on the wall with an outline painted around it just like the chainsaw from the workshed in EVIL DEAD II (or Christine’s hot air gun or whatever that was in DRAG ME TO HELL). After a beautiful slo-mo ax throw (with Raimi’s trademark side view of its flight) the attacks continue and we see the evidence that Ash has in fact stayed prepared for this to happen. He re-straps his holster and steps on a button that causes his boomstick to launch out of the floor into his hand so he can extravagantly fight and kill a Deadite. I love the dramatic silhouette and angelic choir as he goes to get his chainsaw. Then Deadite Vivian appears and starts beating the shit out of all three of them for a while. This leads to the pilot episode’s money shot, a slo-mo and almost weightless looking reunion of stump and saw.

LoDuca’s score treats it like glorious Spielbergian adventure until the saw connects. Then the rock ’n roll kicks in.

I like seeing this old lady do the popular running-up-the-wall-on-the-way-to-attack-somebody move. I love that move.

A very composited looking shot of Ash graphically sawing Vivian’s head off mid-air is followed by an extra squooshy practical shot of her head splatting on the ground and nasty, thick blood gushing out of the stump. The best of both worlds.

This is clearly a TV show, but it’s much more cinematic than many. It’s an undeniable Raimi feel, with all the cool camera moves, P.O.V. shots, fast pace and unique goo ‘n giggles mix we look for. The d.p. for the pilot is Dave Garbett, who Raimi must’ve known from his work on Spartacus. He went on to do 12 more episodes as well as the upcoming Ash-free movie installment EVIL DEAD RISE. Bob Murawski edited only this episode, and he’s also an associate producer. Lucy Lawless (“Punk Rock Girl,” SPIDER-MAN) has a brief appearance talking to Fisher in a diner that I think I assumed was a cameo at the time, but she will turn out to be a major character as the series continues.

I really like this episode, and I think this is a good show. It’s funny, has cool ideas and stirs in some new elements like J-horror influence and stuff. It tells us more about Ash’s life (we even meet his asshole dad, played by Lee Majors) which is pretty funny since they obviously never thought about that stuff when they made the earlier movies. There’s also lots of good use of classic rock and even, to my surprise, “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” by Funkadelic. The pilot is about 40 minutes, but I believe many episodes were around half an hour, which I thought really kept things at a legit EVIL DEAD pace instead of a boring-ass, padded out normal television one.

However, for some reason I only watched the first season. I saw either one or two episodes of the second and even though they were good, but something clicked in me that said, “You know, I think I’ve had enough of that.” Watching the pilot again makes me want to revisit that decision, though with the knowledge that some of my friends absolutely hated where the show eventually went (owing to Tapert’s disagreement with the showrunners about their storyline and abruptly abandoning what they had been building up to). We’ll see if I find the time.

Raimi didn’t direct any more Ash episodes, but in 2020, before his return to multiplexes, he gave us one more small screen horror joint. I’m talking very small screens, because it was made for Quibi, the asinine money-wasting fiasco founded by former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. Aiming at young people, who they felt had brains made out of overripe avocado, their programming was released in 10-minute-or-less episodes called “quick bites,” and initially could only be watched on a fucking smart phone app. They raised $1.75 billion for the company and for a couple years got some of the entertainment press played along with the storyline that this only sounds like the stupidest fucking idea you ever heard and is in fact the future of entertainment that we’ll eventually bow at the altar of.

When the app was finally released it rode a brief spurt of curiosity before dropping out of the top 50 downloads in one week, and they closed up shop in less than a year. R.I.Q.B. (rest in quick bites). Hilariously, Katzenberg blamed the lack of interest on Covid.

Fortunately, the defunct company dumped off their “content” to Roku at fire sale prices, so I was able to watch 50 States of Fright, a horror anthology in which a variety of directors (including some hot shit up-and-comers) tackle short stories based on urban legends from different parts of the United States. Raimi directed (and co-wrote with Ivan) the first three “quick bites,” “The Golden Arm (Michigan),” parts 1, 2 and 3, which basically amounts to a 22 minute short.

Here’s the first one – you can watch them all for free online.

Raimi was executive producer of the overall show, and even narrates the introduction like he’s Rod Serling. Somehow within the months that the service existed they had what they called two seasons, with 24 episodes. But that’s even fewer of the states of fright than it sounds like because that’s including each “quick bite” as an episode. The states they got to after Michigan were Kansas, Oregon (from THE MORTUARY COLLECTION director Ryan Spindell), Minnesota, Florida (from JUAN OF THE DEAD director Alejandro Brugues), Iowa (from A QUIET PLACE writers/HAUNT directors Scott Beck & Bryan Woods), Washington (from EVIL DEAD RISE director Lee Cronin), Colorado (from CAM director Daniel Goldhaber) and Missouri.

In “The Golden Arm,” Travis Fimmel (THE BAYTOWN OUTLAWS, WARCRAFT) stars as Dave, a humble Michigander whose passions in life are

1) hand-crafting furniture from trees he grows and chops down on his own property and

2) keeping his wife Heather (Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) – “the prettiest girl in Alpena County” – happy. He has trouble keeping up with her lifestyle financially, but always says “We’ll find a way to pay for it.”

Then one day (in part 1) he makes a huge fucking mistake. His partner/episode narrator Andy (John Marshall Jones, Rectify) isn’t able to help him with a tree he needs to cut down, so he convinces Heather to do it, and there’s a horrible accident where the tree falls wrong and crushes her arm – a nasty stunt with massive blood spray that gets on his face!

That’s Raimi doing what Raimi does, but it hits different because of the long scene of her realistically screaming and crying as he tries to pull the arm out. Then he decides he has to chop it off, and the blood is even more over-the-top, filling up the lens and distorting the sound of her cries.

By the way, if you watch this (which I recommend – it’s free), it’s better on a web browser than on a Roku. Each chunk ends on a big moment to hook you into the next episode, but on a Roku they have a countdown that pops onto the screen ten seconds before the end of the episode. So the surprise and the rhythm are spoiled and your view of the money shots is blocked. Very, very stupid move there, but I guess that means it’s in the spirit of the whole Quibi enterprise.

In episode 2 poor Heather “is like a different person.” According to Andy the problem is that she was used to being the prettiest girl around and thought she wasn’t anymore because of her injury. She punches a mirror with her stump, grosses out some very insensitive children, lays up all night crying, keeping David awake to stew in his guilt. He decides to use his design skills to create a fancy prosthetic arm for her, and she insists on it being made out of gold, so he has to take out a second mortgage and sell a tractor and stuff.

He looks reluctant as he melts down the bars of gold, but the thing is beautiful and she loves it. Eat your heart out, Ash!

Like Darkman, Spider-Man, Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus before her, I feel like she could’ve benefited from professional medical help rather than having her husband have to make a prosthetic for her, but this is kind of a fairy tale, and it makes her feel beautiful again. One catch: it also poisons her with fatal “pulmonary gold disease.” She could survive by taking it off, but she refuses, dies, and is buried with it, as requested.

With the recession killing the market for handcrafted furniture, widower Dave can’t afford to pay his bills (including her medical bills) so one night he’s playing piano and drinking whisky in the dark and he says “I need it back” to her photograph. Then we get another version of the chainsaw montage:

Walking to the barn with a flashlight. Opening the barn. Pulling a shovel and an ax off the wall. A tire spinning out as his car heads for the cemetery. And yes, of course his car is the familiar Oldsmobile we saw in all three EVIL DEADs (plus the remake), CRIMEWAVE, DARKMAN, THE GIFT and SPIDER-MAN.

So parts 1 and 2 are the set up, part 3 is the traditional horror jam where he digs up the grave, takes the arm back, hears creepy sounds at the house and is attacked by zombie Heather moaning “wherrrrre issss my goldennnn arrrrrrrmmmm?” (I love that she always refers to it by its full name: “No. I can’t take off my golden arm,” “When I die, bury me with my golden arm,” etc.)

In the end (spoiler) he gives her back her golden arm, but she still flies at him like a Deadite…

slashes his throat with the ax…

…and he dies on the bed holding hands with her corpse. Beautiful! Andy explains that they buried them with the arm and everybody in town knows it’s there but “ain’t nobody damn fool enough to dig it up.”

Apparently this folktale dates back at least 200 years and was retold by everyone from Mark Twain on a reading tour to Andy Griffith in an episode where he goes camping. It has versions in England, Germany and France and doesn’t seem to actually be connected to Michigan, as far as I can tell.

But as far as the storytelling it’s very true to an urban legend/campfire story type feel, or a Tales From the Crypt type story. Though Fimmel and Brosnahan’s great performances ground it all in an emotional reality, these are intentionally simple characters in an outlandish situation, and it’s cynical and judgmental in the way it gets across its moral. There’s something uncomfortable about using this crude gender stereotype of the suicidally vain woman and the poor husband who loses everything to enable her when they’re intentionally not playing any of it broadly. But I love that clash of more naturalistic performances than Raimi’s other horror movies and a story that goes to completely far-fetched places (even before anything supernatural happens). He also gets in a couple three-exclamation-point gore moments. Those things fit together weirdly, and I love it. It’s a great little horror short from the master.

And it’s all the Sam Raimi we have until a couple months from now. So now we wait. Thanks for going along on this three week reviewablast with me. It was really enlightening for me to chronologically dig into this body of work I’ve loved for so long and get a fuller understanding of how these films connect. Raimi remains one of my favorite directors, and I think this television excursion shows that he still has it – the style and humor of the young man, but with more of an interest in characters and the lessons they learn than in his younger years, plus a “the-guy-who-did-SPIDER-MAN” understanding of integrating digital effects in fun ways. I’m excited to see where he goes in the future. (Hopefully not the post-apocalyptic future from the director’s cut.) Hail to the king, baby.


P.S. I of course decided to check out the Washington episode of 50 States of Fright, which is titled “13 Steps to Hell.” I was impressed because the title immediately reminded me of being in middle school when my friend told me about something called “13 Steps To Hell,” which I remember being described as a stairway carved into the clay of the earth near a place called Maltby Cemetery, and it was believed to be satanic and maybe a portal to Hell and people would try to get up the guts to walk down them or something. I don’t believe I ever went there, but sure enough the episode specifically names Maltby Cemetery as the place it takes place.

The episode is decent. It stars Lulu Wilson of The Haunting of Hill House, etc. as a girl who drops her brother’s stuffed animal down the steps and dares to go down to get it. The graveyard is portrayed as a grown-over place in the woods, which I don’t think is what the real place is, but I could be wrong.

I suspect all or most of the episodes aren’t shot in the actual locales, and I’m not sure if anyone besides Raimi is representing their own state. Cronin is from Dublin, for example. The story of this one is told by Rory Culkin (SCREAM 4), whose hair and flannel shirt are maybe meant as sort of a grunge thing. I believe there’s a rack of cassette tapes on the wall, so maybe this is meant to be the ‘90s. I think he’s doing a little bit of an accent, which makes me wonder if that’s how people see us, but maybe it’s accurate and I just can’t hear it. The silliest touch is that his bedroom is decorated with posters of the Seattle skyline, Mountain Rainer, and a very generic looking blowup of a postmarked Seattle World’s Fair stamp. Who the fuck would have any of that in their room?

Oh well. Nice effort, everybody. It was a cool idea for an anthology (despite the short chunks).

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2022 at 11:48 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “Sam Raimi: The TV Years (Rake, Ash vs Evil Dead, 50 States of Fright)”

  1. I recently rewatched the pilot of ASH and I think it might be one of Raimi’s best works. Before the show started, Rob Tapert talked in an interview about how he told the other directors to go wild with their ideas. If they would come up with any crazy camera angle or stylish shit, they were encouraged to put it in there, but none of the other guys ever came close to anything as cool or interesting as the spinning flashlight or the bloodsplatter against the blinders.

    The show itself was fun. I would go so far and say that season 1 was the weakest. As much fun as I had with it, its formula of “Ash and friends arrive somewhere, then shit gets gory” went a bit old quick. The biggest problem of any season was that the behind the scenes problems were VERY obvious. So many storylines randomly disappear (I don’t think we ever find out what’s up with the sinkholes that appear all over the US) and characters are introduced with big fanfare, then get killed GAME OF THRONES style shortly afterwards. At least, despite what you might have heard, the show has a real ending. The season three finale is a good ending to the whole Necronomicon story. Unfortunately they start then in the very last scene another plot, which of course never gets solved. But I accept what comes before as the ending of Ash’s decade long fight.

    Shoutout by the way to Ash’s new sidekicks. I think we all hated the idea of giving Ash two young, attractive sidekicks, but they work so damn well, I wouldn’t mind seeing them appear in further deadite adventures. Even without Ash.

  2. I’m delighted you took the time to watch this stuff, Vern.

    I definitely watched Rake when it aired, probably because I heard of the Raimi connection, but I can’t remember if I made it to the end of the season.

    I was extremely hyped for Ash vs. Evil Dead, but I never loved it like I did the movies. Maybe I would’ve if Raimi directed more episodes. I watched the first two seasons– I never got around to watching season 3. The locations looked a little uncanny to me, probably because they shot it in New Zealand pretending to be Michigan, and I believe the cabin and surrounding forest was built on a soundstage. I did appreciate that the series contradicts the previous installments slightly, like each movie did before it. This restores the “gang” from the first one, and as you mentioned, legally can’t use any bits originated in Army of Darkness. But if I remember correctly, they retconned Ash’s girlfriend Linda from the original into being just some girl he had barely met/dated before they set out on the trip, which didn’t work for me. Ash himself is a little too goofus-y in this– in line with him becoming cartoonier with each passing installment, but maybe a hair too much. I liked Dana DeLorenzo a lot. And I dug that (spoiler) they brought back Ted Raimi and Ellen Sandweiss. This was also the first time I encountered Samara Weaving, who has gone onto great things.

    Tapert did a great thing when he secretly re-edited Darkman, but the changes he pushed for at the end of Ash vs. Evil Dead season 2 led to it being a bit of a confusing hash that didn’t jibe with earlier story threads.

    I didn’t want to watch Quibis on my phone (and it didn’t work on my phone anyway), but eventually they let you watch it on TV. I plowed through as much Quibi as possible in the last month of its existence. And I kind of liked it! My disintegrating attention span appreciated how quick those bites were. Raimi’s Golden Arm was probably the most “popular” thing on there, mostly because of how a clip went viral and folks on social media made fun of it. But being Sam Raimi, of course the goofy parts are intentional, and set you up for the horrific parts. My favorite of the 50 States I saw was the one from the Haunt/Quiet Place guys– probably because I, too, am afraid of ladders, but will follow Ron Livingston anywhere.

  3. Also I would like to say that I really enjoyed the Raimi retrospective, Vern. Raimi has been one of my favourite directors since my teenage years and the last few weeks brought back many nostalgic memories.

  4. After he stepped down, the showrunner of the first two seasons of ‘Ash vs The Evil Dead’ gave an AV Club interview that was surprisingly candid about his battles with Rob Tapert.

    I mentioned this in the Crimewave review too, but one of the writers of the first season, Sean Clements, is a (very funny, IMO) podcaster and he has on rare occasions brought up his experience on the show and it’s always about how odd he found Rob Tapert’s notes. Apparently Tapert shot down a lot of ideas and frequently referred to ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ when explaining why.

  5. I would like to second the comments regarding how enjoyable this series of reviews have been Vern.

    For completists, Raimi did 2nd unit directing work on the Coen Brothers “The Hudsucker Proxy,” as well as co-writing the screenplay. The below is a clip from the movie – excluding the portions featuring Tim Robbins/Jennifer Jason Leigh the entire scene was filmed by Raimi apparently.

    Although I don’t see any easily located bits on the internet about it, for the longest time Raimi was ‘jokingly’ making/filming a documentary about the lives of the Coen Brothers, I remember him stating that he even knew when he would stop filming, because he knew the dates of both brothers deaths.

    Hudsucker Proxy, The (1994) Scene

    The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) scene

  6. This series has been an absolute joy, thanks Vern. I re-watched THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, which I’ve always liked but haven’t seen in a long time, and I was blown away. Thanks for re-kindling my love of that movie.

    Regarding RAKE, the American version sanded off all the rough edges to fit the show into the mold of a network TV legal drama, like HOUSE but with a lawyer. The original Australian TV series is truly excellent; darker, wittier, and a biting satire of the clown-show that is Australian politics. The main character is less of a lovable rogue and more of a cocaine-fueled, self-destructive fuckup, but it’s also way more critical of the institutions that would allow someone like him to flourish. I’d at least give the pilot a go; Hugo Weaving plays the cannibal!

  7. Somehow missed the American version of Rake and Raimi’s involvement in it. Ended up watching most of the original version a few years ago (stalled out during the final season). Can’t imagine American broadcast TV doing it justice…

  8. Have you guys heard the stupid ideas the original ASH VS EVIL DEAD showrunner had, though? Extremely stupid convoluted bullshit that would take up a whole shitload of story space and produce nothing you give a shit about when you tune in to watch a show called ASH VS EVIL DEAD. I’d have fired his ass, too.

    The show was a lot of fun in the moment but I forgot it almost instantly. Three years of content and barely any long-term impact. That’s TV for you: so much more but so, so, so much less.

  9. I found Ash vs Evil Dead engaging enough to stick with it but agree with others here that it was overall pretty forgetable.
    That said, the morgue scene from season 2 is an all timer as far as I’m concerned.


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  10. I will always insist that the first couple of seasons of Hercules and Xena had some real merit. They saved my Saturday afternoons back in my middle school days. Ash Vs. Evil Dead was a gem at the time. I’m glad it exists and personally found it as a satisfactory conclusion to Ash’s story. This fucker will never stop fighting and I think he wouldn’t have it any other way.

  11. Hey, I’ve been preaching for years that at least XENA was was a much, much much better show than most people remember it! It was often deep, dark and deliciously experimental. Yeah, it was also light hearted entertainment about sexy women who fought cheesy looking CGI monsters, but when they went the extra mile, they nailed it at least 95% of the time! Certain story conventions that TV shows still do these days, like seasons that skip years forward or just the dreaded musical episode, more or less originated here.

    And even HERCULES gets some credit for, after a rocky start, being way more tongue in cheek and self-aware than critics often thought. They rarely dared to go as dark and shocking as XENA and their humor was way more miss than hit, but it was for its time good entertainment. And even if Kevin Sorbo seems to be the complete opposite, his Hercules was a great interpretation of the character. A real down-to-earth demigod, who uses his brain and words before he starts punching and doesn’t feel good about seeing the bad guy die at the end.

  12. BTW, I just remembered that a few years ago, Raimi directed this commercial for Chevrolet. It’s not as great as “Sam Raimi directs a horror themed commercial” promises and it’s definitely not as Raimi-esque as that lottery commercial he once did, but it’s good.

    Chevrolet TV-Spot door Sam Raimi [1080p]

    Review: http://bit.ly/WorldWarIII2016Korte inhoud: TV-spot voor het 2016 Chevy Malibu and Cruze model met extra beveiligingen. De spot werd geregisseerd door...

  13. You guys have some high standards for TV shows. “Yes, it entertained me and I liked the characters and it had some great scenes that I consider all-timers, but was it really GOOD?”

  14. “It just didn’t change my life like Don Draper Vs. Evil Dead.”

  15. I hold TV to the same standard I hold movies. Do I remember specifics of the story, characters, and/or filmmakers? Is this something I want to revisit or is it a one-and-done type of thing? Plenty of movies entertain me in the moment but do not stick with me, and I consider those lesser movies. A handful of TV shows pass that test. Most don’t get anywhere close. I consider that a problem with the medium, not me.

  16. *filmmaking, not filmmakers

  17. And honestly, ASH V ED gets closer to being both memorable and rewatchable than most TV shows. I would still hurl every episode into the sun in exchange for a single 90-minute, Raimi-directed EVIL DEAD film.

  18. I never saw any of these shows, but sight unseen I’m gonna side with the guy who made HERCULES and XENA over some people who think that him giving notes based on his experience making two successful, long-running syndicated shows is somehow weird.

  19. Right? That was my takeaway, too. Bob Tapert’s never been the main creative force or anything, but he been right there on the ground floor of the EVIL DEAD since the beginning. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  20. I also always blame the medium for things I don’t like, as clearly the problem is everyone else. This also works for personalities and why everyone else sucks except for me.

    As for the showrunner, Tapert wanted to get rid of the colon part so clearly he was in the wrong. Did the showrunner have the ending sound convuluted? Sure, but it all was anyway. Raimi has criticized things Tapert insisted on in the past too, Tapert reeeaaaaly loves rapey shit.

    As for the show, I thought it was okay, wish they didn’t have to be so Army of Darkness about it. I did like the new and improved POV stuff shot on stedicams instead of on a board. The first ep was great and I think the second still felt right…the director of that one got the tone, pauses with silences correct. The main thing I was hoping for was a long, drawn out scene of Ash being tormented…seemed in the trailer for the series set the idea that would happen in his trailer but then Kelly and Pablo showed up. And once they get to the cabin in the end it really felt like Evil Dead. The second season had some material that I think holds up every bit as good as the movies, like the killer car and the fight with it. There was some really good moody stuff and creatures in that season. The third I don’t really remember, it sort of sucked as I recall…until the last three episodes which were excellent and I think delievered a nice huge ending to Ash’s storyline.

    The main problem I had with the show was the idea of Ruby…Evil Dead does not need a “villain.” Unseen evil needs to be the villain, having some bad guy reading a book who keeps showing up is a lame idea.

  21. I don’t have a dog in this fight about who was right or which creative decisions were bad. My point is simply that the producer referring to ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ when explaining his notes makes sense to me as 1) that was a long-running and successful show and 2) he produced it.

  22. It’s funny he so didn’t want Kelly to be the daughter for who knows why, and then in the third season they bring in some new girl and have her be Ash’s daughter.

  23. While looking for something else, I finally found my copy of SAM RAIMI CHRONICLES, a German book of everything Sam Raimi, released in 2000. There are some fun tidbits sprinkled all over it, that I haven’t read somewhere else. (I hope they are true, but I didn’t spot any mistakes in the book among the things I knew. Plus the writer was a professional, who also wrote for a bunch of popculture magazines of that time, so I guess we can believe him.)

    For example in the book it’s said that Raimi was offered the director’s chair for ROBOCOP 2 and THE FLY 2. While he wasn’t interested in ROBO, he actually wrote a treatment for THE FLY 2, which was rejected as “too silly” and was about Brundle jr, battling an actual human sized fly.

    Near the end it is mentioned that Raimi is rumored to be on the shortlist for a live-action SPIDER-MAN movie, but he is also a hot candidate for a movie named DOOMSDAY MAN, with Yancy Butler. Apparently the latter one was actually made (Obviously without Raimi), but seemed to be a low budget affair about a man who infects himself with a deadly virus and blackmails the government. Yancy Butler still stars and it has a 3.7 on IMDb. I actually remember seeing the VHS at the record store.

    Ted Raimi signed the first page of the chapter about him, by the way. I remember him flipping through the book, being amazed that it existed and that there were actually a few pages dedicated to LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY. (He loved the German poster, which he had never seen before.)

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