I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
With the Sam Raimi-directed Marvel sequel, Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness, officially in theaters as of May 6, 2022, let’s rank the director's 5 best films from best to fifth best.
1. The Evil Dead (1981)
Often imitated, never duplicated, Sam Raimi’s 1981 low-budget feature length debut is on countless lists as one of the best horror movies of all time. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If you haven’t, then you don’t like horror. It’s raw (to put it kindly) acting and DIY feel to every frame only add to its everlasting charm. Even if the tree violation causes some to clutch their pearls, it’s still a very effective scene.
But why is this Sam Raimi’s very best film? Because it’s still scary. Even if you’ve seen The Evil Dead countless times, certain images (the Deadite POV!, the Necronomicon!) cause fissions of terror to erupt even though you know what’s coming. To think, Bruce Campbell’s Ashley Williams started off as such a nice boy.
2. A Simple Plan (1998)
One of the best thrillers of the 90s and one of the top 10 films of 1998. Scott B. Smith’s adaptation of his own novel deviates from the source material enough to make it stand alone, satisfying fans of the novel while throwing new surprises as well.
Exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time, the story of 2 brothers Hank and Jacob (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton posting career best performances) and a drinking buddy (Brent Briscoe, the character you love you hate because you just know he’ll mess everything up) finding 4.4 million dollars in a crashed plane and their doomed plot to keep it starts out simply enough.
We know what they’re doing is wrong, yet we still want them to succeed. Raimi puts us in their shoes. Raimi makes us accomplices. Every wrong move feels logical, like they might get away with it even as the bodies pile up. The audience might guess as to where the story may go, but they’ll be wrong more often than not. A thriller that stays with you.
Billy Bob thinking
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Way before there was a superhero movie released every two weeks, taking up half the screens in your local megaplex, Sam Raimi’s sequel to 2002’s Spider-Man brought depth and heart along with all the action you’d expect from a big-ticket blockbuster.
A comic-book movie with actual stakes featuring a villain with more than one shade. The breakaway train sequence is one of the best action pieces of the aughties, mainly because you genuinely care about the people involved, instead of soulless special effects (most Marvel climaxes, e.g.).
Kirsten Dunst’s final declaration is some of her finest work and caps off a near-perfect viewing experience. Too bad there was Spider-Man 3.
4. Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987)
The sequel some think is a remake is continued gory fun, even if it feels like you’ve seen this all before. Thank goodness there are just enough differences to make this sequel feel as indelible as the original. Ted Raimi ruined the name “Henrietta” for a generation of horror movie lovers. Chainsaw sales went up exponentially after screenings of this movie (not empirically proven).
A tad funnier than The Evil Dead, even if a bit less scary. Bruce Campbell gives his best performance as Ash, bringing him unexpected gallows depth in a perfect merge of actor and role. Though the ending takes the Evil Dead series into a new direction, we’ll always have that cabin in the woods.
5. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi’s return to horror after completing the Spider-Man trilogy has a title that could be considered a spoiler. Drag Me To Hell is a fun PG-13 horror flick featuring a talking goat and Justin Long as a professor of something. The talking goat is more plausible.
Co-written by Sam’s brother, Ivan, Drag Me starts out as a morality play with dire consequences. Once you get the assault in the parking garage, the film rarely lets up. You don’t even mind the PG-13 rating because the horror is so relentless.
The ending is set up well enough, although the poster more than hints at what happens. Sam Raimi has said there will be no sequel. We can still hope, even there’s no chance in hell.
Though Sam Raimi’s most famous work has been in horror and Spider-Man, his work has been diverse enough so that he’s not just a two-trick pony. Before his newest film Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness opens, be sure to rewatch some of Raimi’s best films.
© 2022 Noel Penaflor