This afternoon, Shock – along with three other horror outlets – jumped on the phone with Sam Raimi.
The man who gave us the Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies is producing, through his Ghost House Pictures outfit, The Possession, opening in theaters August 31st.
The production company has allowed Raimi, with his producer Rob Tapert, to keep a finger on the pulse of the genre while he tackles other endeavors (he’s currently at work on Oz The Great and Powerful). Possession takes its cue from this L.A. Times article and concerns a young girl who inherits a Dibbuk Box, but this seemingly innocent, archaic object comes with a price. Directed by Ole Bornedal, the film is a perfect fit under the Ghost House banner and certainly carries Raimi’s sensibilities.
In the interview you’ll find after the jump, Raimi discusses Possession‘s development, his role as producer, the Evil Dead remake he’s overseeing and what makes the horror audience so special. He even hints at his own return to horror as a director. Always cordial, honest and a thrill to talk to, here is Sam…
Question: The Possession didn’t quite have the spook-a-blast stuff of Drag Me to Hell, but it had the same energy to it. Is this a sort of branding for Ghost House you collaborated with Ole on or did he bring this in on his own?
Sam Raimi: The style is all Ole Bornedal. He’s a great director and he’s made a lot of films. He has his own unique style. The type of film it is is reprentative of the kind of films that Ghost House Pictures likes to make. I really like supernatural horror films, that’s what we set out to make with the company. Not, like, realistic slasher pictures or real tales of murder, but more a fantastical story with the supernatural. I think, in that way, it probably represents a Ghost House picture, but everything has to do with the style. Half of it’s the script. Juliet Snowden and Stiles White wrote a really great script. They wrote Boogeyman for Ghost House Pictures, they also wrote Knowing and I think they’re working on another project for Universal, Ouija. They contributed a lot. And then Ole was the main influence of the style on the picture.
Question: Why was Ole the right guy for this material?
Raimi: Well, I knew Ole from his earlier film, The Substitute, which Ghost House had wanted to remake for America. We’re still involved in that, we’re just delayed a bit in the script process. What I came to know about Ole is that he’s a brilliant director of actors. In fact, some of the children’s performances in The Substitute are some of the best kid performance either in a horror movie or another type of film for that matter. To me, that speaks of someone with a great eye for casting and someone who really knows how to work with the actors. That is a quality that was most important for us and this picture at Ghost House. That is, 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’re looking for someone with that strength as a director and Ole really connected to the material. I couldn’t be more pleased.
Question: How involved as a producer were you?
Raimi: Very involved at different points and not involved in others. I was very involved in working with different writers while developing the screenplay and trying to find the right way to crack the story. Our goal was to stick to the absolute true story – because that’s what was so unique about this is that it was a terrifying true story. But every writer we brought in, sticking to the true story, were true to the story but it didn’t make for a great, dramatic film. Finally, we came upon these great writers – Snowden and White – we said we’ll step away from the absolute truth of the story, unfortunately say just “based on a true story,” and at that point they were free to crack the story and make it into a great screenplay. I was instrumental in finding the director and Ole was our first choice. Bringing him on board was my greatest contribution to the picture. Then, after that, it just became a question of protecting him from those who may have disagreed with him. Ole had some very unusual casting choices. The actor, Matisyahu, who is the hip-hop, reggae, I think Israeli, Rabbi in the picture is a really strange choice for the studio and the other producers. But 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. This is how it could happen.’ He was fearless in striking out for original choices and my job as a producer was not choose the actors but protect him. I would watch all of the dailies, but I wasn’t on the set giving him notes. In the editing, I would give him notes and contribute. He was really in control of the picture and I tried to be as supportive as possible and then when the studio had doubts about this or that, I asked them to go Ole’s way because he was our visionary. I believe films are made by directors and this film is no exception.
SHOCK: Did you ever flirt with the idea of directing yourself given how involved you were in the development of the script and seeing it gets to the right place?
Raimi: No, I never really desired to make the picture 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, I understand the conflict in getting what they want interesting, I think it’s great when they succeed and get exhilarated when the character reaches their goal. As a director, that’s all that I’m interested in, because all a director really does is, all they have to do is understand the character. If I know who the character is, I know how to direct a scene. I can 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.’ I know the camera has got to be angry and capture that emotion. And if it’s just a cool story and series of events – which the Dibbuk Box was – it’s just the possibility of something cool. 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 and we had Ole and he was getting interested. So, I didn’t entertain the possibility.
Question: Have you see a cut of Fede Alvarez’s take on Evil Dead?
Raimi: I saw a really early incomplete thing that was before the editor’s cut. He still had three weeks to shoot and it was great. It was really scary, gut-wrenching, low budget and I think it’s going to be a great horror film. I read what Bruce said [yesterday] and I can’t remember what he said, something like ‘[Fede] didn’t just repeat what we had done.’ He took the flavor, the way in which the original affected people and made his own movie. It’s really a great combination, I’m super excited about it. He also got great performances from the actors.
Question: When you’re considering a horror film, do you feel you have to change things up because audiences have evolved? Especially for something like Evil Dead?
Raimi: Absolutely, they 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. 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. They don’t want a sequel like most audiences which want to see what they’ve seen before. The horror is 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. 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 and 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 you’re now associated with big films like Spider-Man and find it hard to switch between the two?
Raimi: 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 and 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 thrilled to be making bigger budget movies for the studio, it’s a blast. I’ll put Oz The Great and Powerful in that category. I’d like to make another horror movie, I’m writing one with my brother right now. I’m really looking forward to it. I love that crowd, for that original audience I was speaking of, and have it be successful. To do something they like, when a horror crowd really likes your movie, it’s so much fun. Telling a ghost story to guys that like ghost stories and they’re getting scared, it’s the greatest thing in the world for me.
SHOCK: A two-parter… In another interview, someone asked you about Drag Me to Hell and you sounded despondent and disappointed by the film in some respects and added that you learned a lot from making that. What did you learn and how did you pour what you learned into producing The Possession. Also, have you had any involvement in this Evil Dead ride they’re creating at Knott’s Scary Farm this year?
Raimi: I’m not involved in the ride, I’m honored they’re going to use The Evil Dead for one of their rides. I don’t know much about it. It’s really surprising and cool. It might be FilmDistrict who arranged that and they’re handling prodction on the new Evil Dead film, we’re partners with them on it. I don’t know much about it, honestly. As far as Drag Me to Hell goes, I learned about the importance of character and we didn’t have enough of it in Drag Me to Hell. 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. The lack of character that Drag Me to Hell might have suffered from pointed me in the right direction. In that way, I guess I learned something.
SHOCK: I disagree with you in some way about the lead character in Drag Me to Hell, I thought she was well-realized. I’m a big fan of the movie. [other journalists chime in with mutual love]
Raimi: Thanks, guys! I feel better now. [laughs] Thanks so much.