The Lesser Seen 07: Sam Raimi’s ‘Crimewave’

crimewaveCrimewave was Sam Raimi’s follow-up to his debut, the critical and financial hit, The Evil Dead. It’s a very different type of film, being a rather broad comedy. It opens with a man called Victor Ajax about to be executed via electric chair. Pleading his innocence, the story then flashes back to the circumstances that led him here. He was working as a technician for a company co-owned by Mr Trend. Upon learning that his partner plans to sell the business, Mr Trend decides to hire two ‘exterminators’ who advertise that they ‘kill all sizes’ to take his partner out of the picture.

One of the most intriguing things about Crimewave is that it was written by the Coen brothers (with Raimi). It does contain some noticeable Coen hallmarks, a comic film noir inspired plot, odd character names, a howling fat man, but unlike most of their work the humour here is derived from slapstick scenes. People are thrown across rooms into tables of food, crockery is hurled, an absurdly long row of doors are smashed through one by one, and more. It’s all, deliberately, very cartoonish. Gone is the wit and intelligence of other Coen works, replaced with a man being stabbed in the nose with a fork, it often feels very juvenile. One could say it feels like something the Coens wrote in their youth, but the fact that Blood Simple emerged a year prior invalidates that. Similarly there is some sense of Raimi’s energetic camera work here but not to the same extent as in The Evil Dead.

This may all be the result of infamous studio interference however. Both Raimi and the Coens have distanced themselves from the film, reportedly citing displeasure with the finished product. The whole production was apparently riddled with problems as the studio tried to take more and more control away from Raimi, replacing the lead actor, (who was originally cult favourite and Raimi regular Bruce Campbell, still scoring some laughs in a supporting role), and not allowing him final cut.

After all its production trouble, Crimewave didn’t secure a wide release and failed at the box office. Afterward, Raimi went on to make Evil Dead II, crimewave_postercombining slapstick humour with violence in a deliriously inventive way, and the Coens made Raising Arizona, and rarely ever let others direct their screenplays. The trio also collaborated, on the vastly superior The Hudsucker Proxy, not released until 1994 but written at the same time. Nowadays Crimewave is only really notable because of the involvement of Raimi and the Coens, and is probably only worth checking out for completest reasons. So we know the finished product is not what the artists intended, but based on what’s there, it does seem rather unlikely that Crimewave would ever have become a classic like Raimi and the Coen’s work contemporary to it.

2/5

‘The Lesser Seen’ is a feature in which I highlight a lower-profile film or two by a well-known director.

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