Producer Sam Raimi Talks The Possession, Evil Dead Remake, and a New Horror Film He's Writing
In support of the release of the upcoming supernatural thriller The Possession, Dread Central and several other outlets recently participated in a conference call roundtable with producer Sam Raimi.
The iconic filmmaker who's behind such beloved cult classics as Evil Dead 1 & 2, Army of Darkness and Darkman, the mega-blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy as well as a few often overlooked gems like A Simple Plan, The Gift and The Quick and the Dead spoke with us about his choice to direct The Possession - Ole Bornedal - as well as his thoughts on modern horror, the new horror project he's collaborating on with his brother, Ted Raimi, and his thoughts on what he felt was lacking from his grossly underappreciated 2009 flick Drag Me to Hell.
Check out the highlights from our roundtable interview with Raimi below, and look for more on The Possession next week!
Question: I noticed that even though The Possession didn't quite have the spook-a-blast feel to it like Drag Me to Hell did, it still felt like it had some of the same energy to it. Is this a sort of branding for Ghost House that you then collaborated with Ole on, or did he bring this feeling in on his own?
Sam Raimi: That style is all Ole Bornedal; he's a great director and he's made a lot of films. He has his own unique style, and the type of film The Possession is is representative of the kind of films that Ghost House Pictures likes to make. I really enjoy supernatural horror films myself; that's what we set out to make with our company. We don't like realistic slasher pictures or real tales of murder but something with more of a fantastical story that incorporates the supernatural and those elements.
I think that in that way The Possession probably represents a Ghost House picture, but everything has to do with Ole's style. Well, there's the script, too, because our writers, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, wrote a really great script; they also wrote Boogeyman for Ghost House Pictures and wrote Knowing, too. I think they're also working on another project for Universal, Ouija. So our writers contributed a lot, and then Ole was the main influence of the style on the picture.
Question: I really enjoyed how Ole took time with his story and character development in all the right places, which feels a bit "old school" and balanced nicely with the scares; because that isn't the normal approach to genre stories these days, can you talk about why Ole's approach made him the right guy for this material?
Sam Raimi: I knew Ole and his work from his earlier film The Substitute, which Ghost House had wanted to remake for America; we're actually still involved in that, but we're just delayed a bit in the script process right now. But what I came to know about Ole is that he's a brilliant director of actors, and in fact, some of the children's performances in The Substitute are some of the best kid performances either in a horror movie or any other type of film for that matter. And to me that speaks of someone with a great eye for casting and someone who really knows how to work with the actors.
That was the quality that was most important for us and this picture at Ghost House. That is, because this is a story based on a true story and is written about a family who is torn apart and how they have to find the love in their hearts to come together and defeat this evil, it really needed someone who honored the story and could direct a great performance and make those relationships real to the audience. That was the strength of the script, and we were looking for someone with that strength as a director. Ole really connected to the material; I couldn't be more pleased with his work.
Question: How involved as a producer were you?
Sam Raimi: I was very involved at different points and not involved at other points at all. At the beginning I was very involved in working with different writers while developing the screenplay and trying to find the right way to crack the story. Originally, our goal was to stick to the absolute true story because that's what was so unique about this, that it was this terrifying true story. But every writer we brought in, while sticking to the true story, was true to the story, but nothing they did made for a great, dramatic film. So finally we came upon these great writers, Snowden and White, and we said we'll step away from the absolute truth of the story and just unfortunately say "based on a true story." At that point they were free to crack the story and make it into a great screenplay.
I was also instrumental in finding the director, and Ole was our first choice; bringing him on board was my greatest contribution to The Possession. After that it just became a question of protecting Ole from those who may have disagreed with him. And Ole had some very unusual casting choices; Matisyahu, who is this hip-hop, reggae guy, as a rabbi in the picture is a really strange choice for the studio and the other producers. But I knew that Ole really believed in him, and he said, "Look, we can't just go with what's in your mind and what we've seen before; it's got to be new, and this is how it could happen." He was fearless in striking out for original choices, and my job as a producer was not to choose the actors but to protect him and his vision.
I would watch all of the dailies, but I wasn't ever on the set giving him notes; then in the editing I would give him notes and contribute like a normal person would that was involved with the film creatively. But he was really in control of the picture, and I tried to be as supportive as possible; then when the studio had doubts about this or that, I asked them to go Ole's way because he was our visionary. I have always believed that films are made by directors, and this film is no exception.
Question: Did you yourself ever flirt with the idea of directing The Possession taking into consideration just how involved you were in the development of the script and seeing that it got to the right place?
Sam Raimi: No, I never really desired to make The Possession myself; I'm primarily attracted, as a director, to actors and the main character in the piece. I'm attracted because I understand the main character, I know what they want and I understand the conflict in getting what they want. I think it's great when they succeed, and I get exhilarated when the character reaches their goal. So, as a director, that's all that I'm interested in because all a director really has to do is understand the character, and if I know who the character is, I know how to direct a scene.
I can always say to the actor, "I think you'll be much more angry at this point and really storm over there because she broke your heart and you don't want to see it; you'd be mad," and I know the camera has got to be angry and capture that emotion. If it's just a cool story and series of events, which is what the original Dibbuk Box story was, it's just the possibility of something cool happening; it wasn't until we had these writers write these great characters that I would ever be interested, but by that time we were already out looking at directors. Plus we had Ole and he was getting interested so I didn't entertain the possibility.
Question: I know Bruce (Campbell) said his piece on the upcoming Evil Dead remake yesterday; have you seen a cut of Fede's (Alvarez) Evil Dead yet?
Sam Raimi: I saw a really early incomplete cut that was even before the editor's cut; at that point Fede still had three weeks to shoot, and it was great. It was really scary, gut-wrenching, low-budget feeling; and I think it's going to be a great horror film. I read what Bruce said, and I can't remember exactly what he said- something like "Fede didn't just repeat what we had already done." He took the flavor of Evil Dead, the way the original affected people, and made his own movie from that. I think it's really a great combination, and I'm super excited about it. Fede also got great performances from the actors.
Question: When you're considering a horror film, do you feel like you have to change things up because audiences have evolved over the last few decades? Especially when it comes to something like Evil Dead?
Sam Raimi: Absolutely audiences have evolved, but I wouldn't know all of the ways they've evolved. They're much smarter, they're very savvy to the film technique and you can't repeat what's been done before because they've seen all of the horror films. I think the truest thing I can say about the horror audience is they're the most original audience out there; they want to see something never before done, and they don't want a sequel like most audiences which want to see what they've seen before.
Horror fans are like, "No, I want to see something I've never seen before. I want to be freaked out, I want to see what's beyond the grave. I want to know if there is an afterlife." They want the next new thing, and my hat is off to them. Even more than the art film crowd, the horror audience is the one that accepts the newest techniques and filmmakers and are on the cutting edge; in my opinion they're the coolest of the bunch.
I don't know how things have changed, but as a horror filmmaker you've got to really try to come up with something they've never seen or experienced before or put it stylistically in a new way.
Question: Do you want to go back to horror? Or do you find that since you're now associated with big films like Spider-Man that it's hard to switch between the two?
Sam Raimi: You know, I don't feel like it's hard at all right now for me; I've been given a lot of great breaks and surrounded myself with some great artists, and I'm thrilled to be making these bigger budget pictures; I know that won't last forever because Hollywood is a popularity thing. You're in one minute and out the next, and there are always new directors being hired.
But I'm so thrilled to be making bigger budget movies for the studio; it's a blast; I'd put Oz, The Great and Powerful in that category. Sure, I'd like to make another horror movie; in fact I'm writing one with my brother (Ted Raimi) right now, and I'm really looking forward to it. I love that crowd, that original audience I was speaking of, and to have it be successful. To do something the fans like, when a horror crowd really likes your movie, it's just so much fun, and telling a ghost story to guys that like ghost stories while they're getting scared is the greatest thing in the world for me.
Question: I have a two-parter question: In another interview someone asked you about Drag Me to Hell, and you sounded kind of despondent and disappointed by the film in some respects; you also added that you learned a lot from making that. Can you tell us what you did you learn and how you poured what you learned into producing The Possession?
Also, have you had any involvement in the Evil Dead ride they're creating at Knott's Scary Farm this year?
Sam Raimi: I'm not involved in the ride, but I'm honored they're going to use The Evil Dead for one of their rides; I really don't know much about it, but it's really surprising and cool. It might be Film District who arranged that as they're handling production on the new Evil Dead film; we're partners with them on it. But I don't know much about it, honestly.
As far as Drag Me to Hell goes, I learned about the importance of character, and I feel that we didn't have enough of it in Drag Me to Hell so that did influence me, in some way, in working on The Possession because it's a rich character picture - at least for a horror film. Maybe the lack of character that Drag Me to Hell might have suffered from pointed me in the right direction, and in that way I guess I learned something.
We journalists respectfully disagree with Raimi as we're all big fans of the film.
Sam Raimi: Thanks, guys; I feel better now. Thanks so much. (laughs)
Visit The Possession website here!
The Possession centers upon a family who find themselves in possession of a haunted box and their struggles to get rid of its evil curse. The jumping off point is a true story culled from the Leslie Gornstein-bylined Los Angeles Times article "A Jinx In A Box" (July 2004). These photos are from an Entertainment Weekly article about that story.
Look for Ole Bornedal's The Possession starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, and Natasha Calis in theatres on August 31st, 2012.
Based on true events, The Possession is the terrifying story of how one family must unite in order to survive the wrath of an unspeakable evil. Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.
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