Much like a maddening popcorn kernel lodged in your teeth, between the gore-flecked game changer that was The Evil Dead and radiant majesty that is Evil Dead II lies Crimewave, Sam Raimi’s sophomore movie…
Don’t feel bad if, like most people who’s hoovered up both the Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies, you’ve never heard of it – most haven’t and even the most ardent Sam Raimi fan who, like me, embraces stuff like Darkman, A Simple Plan and The Quick And The Dead close to their mischievous little heart (For The Love Of The Game may be a deal breaker, though), there’s a very good chance this forgotten movie has slipped through the cracks. There’s a good reason for that, not least because apparently Raimi himself fucking hates it, but mostly because it was a classic, time-worn tale of a group of young, naive filmmakers running headfirst into the brick wall of the studio system that resulted in a bitterly fought, hellish production.
A violent storm is set to descend on Detroit and Ernest Trend, the co-owner of a security firm, finds out that his business partner is planning to sell their business out from under him and so to protect his investment he hires exterminators and part-time hit men Feron Crush and Arthur Coddish rub him out – and rub him out they do. However, due to a string of mix up’s (and the fact that Feron and Arthur are none too bright), they also end up rubbing out Ernest too, much to the horror of his unfeasibly nosey wife Helen. Meanwhile, nebbish security employee Victor Ajax is looking for true love and suspects he may have found it in the form of Nancy, a fiercely independent woman who nevertheless finds herself stiffed on the bill while dating an unrepentant heel named Renaldo. Stepping in to aid the woman in need whether she wants it or not, both Victor and Nancy eventually find themselves unknowingly drawn into the farcical and hugely silly events of the evening that involves incompetent killers, multiple misunderstandings, hidden corpses and a massively annoying child in an elevator.
By the end of the night, things will have spiralled completely out of control (not that they ever were in control, this is a Sam Raimi movie, remember?) and the events will eventually see Vic strapped into an electric months later chair awaiting execution after being blamed for everything – but what happened? Why aren’t their any eye witnesses and where the hell is Nancy?
As Faron tells a terrified Helen Trend after she spots him performing some heinous deed: “Lady, you ain’t seen nothin’…… YET!”
Not that it especially needs to be said, but I feel like I should warn you that Crimewave (also known as The XYZ Murders and Broken Hearts And Noses) is an exceptionally stupid movie; and by that I mean it’s sillier than a silly person doing a silly thing on Silly Appreciation day. It’s bizarre, throwback tone makes a little more sense when you realise that it’s screwball comedy sensibilities come straight from the brains of not only Sam Raimi, but is co-written by the fledgling Cohen Brothers as well which goes a long way to explain what it’s trying to achieve. In fact the writing trio tried the same trick again when collaborating on The Hudsucker Proxy to greater critical (but not commercial success) but here turned seem woefully unprepared for the world of studio movie making mainly because Raimi and producers Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell’s only previous filmmaking experience was making a dirt cheap horror classic with their mates deep in the Tennessee woods.
Infested with studio interference from the very beginning (the bosses insisted that Campbell would NOT be playing the lead and therefore the greatest chin in B-movies had to settle for the bit part of Renaldo The Heel), and having to butt heads with the unions every day thanks to Raimi’s inexperience with time cards and overtime and such things, it’s a god damn minor miracle that Crimewave turned out to be coherent as it actually is. It even occasionally presents a scene that’s a perfect example of it’s directors slapstick style, but for the most part the movie is as confused and befuddled as it’s goofy main character.
So let’s focus on the good stuff then, because to a Sam Raimi enthusiast such as myself, Crivewave is a fascinating time capsule of a director still finding his extraordinarily distinctive voice and it’s great fun spotting the threads that continued throughout his work. There’s a prominent role for Sam’s Oldsmobile Delta of course, plus Campbell hamming it up magnificently (choice line – “I haven’t seen you round here before, I like that in a woman.”) and a blink and you’ll miss it role from brother Ted but you really get a feel for the director trying to ramp up his Three Stooges style set pieces thanks to an increased budget. Watch the burly Paul L. Smith (over-dubbed with a weird, Pee Wee Herman style voice) rip up a whole carpet with his bare hands in order to drag a fleeing Louise Lasser to him, or the glorious moment where he pursues her into the security store’s “hall of doorways” (essentially dozens of doors in a line) where she pirouettes daintily around, closing the doors behind her as she goes while her pursuer simply smashes through them like a juggernaut. The balls to the wall climax that involves a street fight on, in and around two speeding vehicles may be completely overflowing and contains more shrill screaming than a live K-Pop concert, but it also seems to be a curious blueprint for the similarly, super-complicated train brawl from Spider-Man 2.
The actors struggle gamely and while some are born to it – a post Blade Runner Brion James hurls himself into the screechy role of Arthur with aplomb and forges a decent double-act with Smith – others are a little more hit and miss – Walker, Texas Ranger’s Sheree J. Wilson looks more than a little uncomfortable.
However, those of you who aren’t exactly completists of the auteur’s work may struggle to find a reason to give a shit despite the occasional odd chuckle (come on, when is a hulking, big dude getting stabbed in the nose with a fork complete with a little “spoink” sound effect not funny?), but while the physical humor is nicely effective, some of the verbal stuff doesn’t really connect as well as you’d hope from a script that features the Cohens.
Obviously, time went on, everyone involved learned valuable (and expensive) lessons and both Raimi and the Cohen Brothers eventually to scored huge at their chosen crafts and while Crimewave arguably was rightfully cast into the Pit Of Forgotton movies (the director certainly seems to think so) it’s still nice to unearth it every now and then.
Raimi purists should whack on another star, but for everybody else might find that this particular Crimewave might result in the theft of a valuable ninety minutes.