Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen, Sam Raimi
So you guys know how there are certain films that have nightmarish production stories, where everything goes wrong and they turn into total fiascos? Well, that’s what happened with Sam Raimi’s Crimewave. This was Sam Raimi’s film after he showed the world what he was capable of doing behind the camera with Evil Dead (1981). This was also the first time that Raimi worked with a real budget. Not money from his dentist or from his friends. Nah, this was a real true blue Hollywood production, with professional actors and producers. Would Raimi adapt to working in a studio production when he was so used to artistic freedom? Would the ensuing film be worth watching?
This is like a long lost gem for me because I watched it a lot as a kid when it was first released. I discovered it because HBO played it a lot back in 1985. Sad part is that Crimewave is a film that everyone involved wanted to forget about. The studio didn’t like it, test audiences didn’t like, the studio decided that Bruce Campbell wasn’t big enough of a star to star in the film and to top things off, the film went over budget and had a couple of the actors go on drug binges. Brion James and Louise Lasser would hault production because of their drug problems! So yeah, things didn’t go well for Raimi and Crimewave. Thing is, I think the way the film was treated was total boloney. This film is not without its merits!
The story is about this guy called Vic Ajax, a regular every day Joe. Sadly, this every day Joe gets blamed for a bunch of murders that these two crazy rat exterminators committed. Yes you read that sentence right. Anyhows, Vic is sitting in the electric chair about to get zapped away for crimes he did not commit. The film transpires as he tells us the story of how everything went down. Will he survive? Will his innocence shine through? Will someone save this poor dope?
What I absolutely love about this movie is the film noir feel it has all throughout. There isn’t a second of film on Crimewave where you don’t feel like you’re in this big, dark, lonely metropolis in which lots of evil things happen in every dark corner or alley. To make things even spookier, it’s always stormy and windy…a lightning storm is about to strike! The wind cries in the middle of the night and newspapers fly through the air, it is definitely not the kind of night anyone wants to be out and about. So there’s always that feeling of dread all throughout the movie. The city exudes this feeling of emptiness…as if everyone is hiding away, looking out through their windows, peeking at the evil things scourging in the night; kudos to Sam Raimi for successfully maintaining that feeling of dread all through the film.
And yes, I said Sam Raimi, he of Evil Dead and Spider Man fame. You see, this here film was his sophomore effort and his first studio film, with a budget. The great thing about Crimewave is that it has all of that Sam Raimi style and flare. Lots of camera tricks, lots of movement and lots of composite shots…basically, this movie has a lot of what I love about Sam Raimi, a lot of what I miss about this filmmaker. You see, when he became an A list director, he sort of lost that zany style he was so known for in order to play the Hollywood game. I personally loved low budget Sam Raimi because he was free to do all these crazy things with the camera. Thankfully, Crimewave was a small enough picture that it allowed Raimi to show off his comic/kinetic style in spades! In other words, this movie is extremely cartoonish and feels a lot like a Three Stooges sketch. The whole film is made up of camera tricks, unorthodox angles and cartoony situations.
All the characters in Crimewave behave like cartoon characters. We got the snake, we got the nerdy guy, we got the damsel in distress and we got the two crazy villains! Now these two crazy villains are special, they are so over the top that they end up being the real stars of the show. There’s a reason why they are on the poster, it’s because they are the best thing in the movie! One is played by Paul L. Smith who some of you might remember as the guy who played Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) and the other is played by Brion James, better known for his role as Leon the Replicant in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). He’s the guy who tells Harrison Ford “Wake Up! Time to Die!” So anyway, these two guys are basically rat exterminators. And how do we know this? They drive a truck with a huge rat on top of it that’s how we know! They kill rats during the day but work nights as Hit Men. So they kill whoever they have to kill in the same way they kill rats! With a machine that generates bolts of electricity called ‘The Shocker’! Trust me; these two guys will have you cracking up.
Bruce Campbell has said that with Evil Dead they learned all about success and that with Crimewave they learned how to fail. Well, the film might have failed at the box office (hell it was only released in Kansas and Alaska) and the studio might have had no faith in it, but there’s a lot to like here. It was written by the freaking Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi! It has style and fun to spare! Its film noir! It’s cartoonish! It’s dark and gruesome fun; this is dark humor of the best kind. Of course a lot of people might be put off by seeing some of the unrealistic cartoonish action, but for lovers of that sort of unrealistic silly fun, well, you’re in for a treat! This movie was made for you! It’s a real shame that Crimewave has been treated like some sort of unwanted step child. I mean, yeah the studio messed around with it and cut it to pieces, still, a fun film shines through. A similar situation happened with David Lynch’s Dune (1984) and many adore that film, myself included; same thing with Crimewave. This is a very kinetic film, visually, you will never be bored. There’s always some gag going on. It might have been a nightmare to make, but it sure is a pleasure to watch. Enjoy this forgotten gem, you won’t regret it.
Rating: 4 out of 5