Born in Royal Oak, Michigan in 1959, Sam Raimi grew up in a family of creative people. His older brother Ivan Raimi would grow up to be a screenwriter and his younger brother Ted Raimi would grow up to be an actor. Both would frequently collaborate with Sam, who had his own aspirations as a director.
Raimi would often use his father’s Super 8 camera to make movies with childhood friends like Bruce Campbell in the seventies, including a feature film in 1977 called It’s Murder! while he was still in college. The movie was co-written by Sam Raimi and his other friend Scott Spiegel and Raimi and Spiegel starred in the film alongside Campbell and Raimi’s brother Ted. The film was about a young man (Sam Raimi) who inherits his uncle’s fortune, while a detective (Scott Spiegel) investigates the uncle’s murder.
This film, along with Raimi’s indie horror short films like Clockwork and Within the Woods, were noticeably low-budget, but Within the Woods got a positive reception when Raimi convinced a local theater manager to screen it alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This positive reception inspired Raimi to tell a feature-length version of the story with a larger budget, and that film would end up being The Evil Dead.
Released in 1981, the horror film The Evil Dead focused on five college students vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods before accidentally releasing a bunch of demons who end up possessing some of the members of the group, mostly leaving Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) to clean up the mess. Made on a budget of $375,000 and making millions of dollars at the box office, the film was a major hit and a cult classic for many horror fans. It grabbed the attention of film producer Irvin Shapiro who helped screen the film at Cannes, and even horror author Stephen King praised it, which gave New Line Cinema the confidence to distribute it.
Its success led to a sequel six years later called Evil Dead II (1987), which, in my opinion, was even better than the first film. Once again Raimi would direct and co-write with Spiegel while Campbell returned to play Ash. It was also widely acclaimed by critics and horror fans who loved the humor, gore and raw entertainment of the ridiculous but absorbing story. A follow-up called Army of Darkness (1992) which Raimi directed and co-wrote with his brother Ivan Raimi features Bruce Campbell returning as Ash trapped in the middle ages and looking for a way back to the present, all while battling an undead army. Obviously this was the film in the Evil Dead trilogy with the highest budget.
In 2013, Raimi produced a reboot called Evil Dead directed by Fede Álvarez, and in 2015 the TV series Ash vs Evil Dead starring Bruce Campbell and set three decades after the events of the original Evil Dead trilogy premiered on Starz and ran for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. The film Evil Dead Rise is set to premiere on HBO Max later this year, and the series even spawned a number of video games and comic books, plus a rock musical that, according to theater critics, wasn’t bad.
Of course Raimi was more than just a horror guy. He was also a comic book fan and a superhero fan, and he had always wanted to make a film based on either The Shadow or Batman (by all accounts he still does), but when he was unable to obtain the rights to those characters, he created his own superhero with Darkman (1990). Distributed by Universal (and itself an homage to the Universal monster films of the 1930s), Liam Neeson played the title role of a violently disfigured scientist who gains superpowers while attempting to treat his injuries. Raimi’s first big Hollywood film received good reviews and box office success, leading to two direct-to-video Darkman sequels which Raimi produced.
One of Raimi’s most critically acclaimed films was neo-noir thriller A Simple Plan (1998) which stars Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda and follows a group of thieves in rural Minnesota who steal $4 million in cash from the site of a plane crash and agree to keep it a secret, although they later start to have trouble trusting each other. Some people compared it favorably to Fargo, a film directed by The Coen Brothers, who Raimi collaborated with on his 1985 film Crimewave and occasionally collaborated with ever since. Even though most people who watched A Simple Plan loved it, it underperformed at the box office so not a lot of people know it exists.
In the nineties, Raimi ventured into other territories like Westerns with The Quick and the Dead (1995) starring Sharon Stone, and sports drama with For Love of the Game (1999) starring Kevin Costner as aging star pitcher Billy Chapel, but these ventures were not successful. He returned to horror in 2000 with The Gift, a supernatural thriller about a mother with psychic powers, but he really hit a home run in 2002 when he returned to the superhero genre.
Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire and based on the Marvel comic about a New York City high schooler who is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider powers was by far Raimi’s biggest hit. It received love from critics, audiences and comic book nerds alike. Its success led to the even more widely acclaimed Spider-Man 2 (2004) which saw Peter Parker do battle with Doctor Octopus, and the less acclaimed Spider-Man 3 (2007) which introduced Venom to the big screen. Despite its uneven quality, the entire trilogy is still highly popular and beloved by many Spidey and Raimi fans.
After Spider-Man 3, Sam and Ivan Raimi co-wrote the supernatural horror film Drag Me to Hell (2009) which the Raimi brothers wrote before Sony even approached Sam about Spider-Man, so it was kind of a return to form. The film followed a loan officer (Alison Lohman) who gets cursed by an elderly woman who torments the officer relentlessly and threatens to plunge her into Hell, all because she would not extend the woman’s mortgage. It was another critical and commercial success for Raimi.
Disney hired Raimi to direct the perfectly nice but largely unmemorable prequel Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) starring James Franco as the con artist who would end up becoming the Wizard of Oz, but this would be Raimi’s last directorial effort for years until Disney once again courted Raimi to helm Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), another film based on a Marvel comic, this one starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Elizabeth Olsen as the reality-breaking sorceress Scarlet Witch, hot off her self-induced isolation following the horrific events of the Disney+ series WandaVision. The film will likely be a hit with Marvel’s loyal and enthusiastic fan base (especially the Wanda stans) as well as horror-loving Raimi fans.
Raimi also produced Timecop (1994), The Grudge (2004) based on the Japanese horror film Ju-On, Don’t Breathe (2016) directed by Fede Álvarez (who directed the Evil Dead reboot), the reptilian horror film Crawl (2019), the Netflix fantasy film Nightbooks (2021) and many horror films like The Messengers, 30 Days of Night, The Possession, The Unholy and Umma. Plus he created and developed TV series like the FOX sci-fi show M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-97), the ABC action show Spy Game (1997), and the syndicated fantasies Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001) and Legend of the Seeker (2008-10).
Raimi also occasionally acted, including in many of his own films but also in films like Spies Like Us (1985), Intruder (1989), the Coen Brothers film Miller’s Crossing (1990), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) which Raimi wrote with The Coen Brothers, The Flintstones (1994) and The Jungle Book (2016), in addition to the Stephen King-based television miniseries The Stand (1994) and The Shining (1997), which both aired on ABC.