CRIMEWAVE (1985) (Blu-ray/DVD combo)
Director: Sam Raimi
Shout! Factory

Long disowned by director Sam Raimi, CRIMEWAVE – his polar opposite follow-up to THE EVIL DEAD – makes its way to special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo courtesy of Shout! Factory.

As he is dragged kicking and screaming towards his date with the electric chair, security company tech Victor Ajax (Reed Birney, FOUR FRIENDS) continues to plead his innocence, recollecting in a series of flashbacks how he was falsely convicted for a murder spree. When one of his bosses Donald Odegard (Hamid Dana) plans to sell the security company out from under his partner Ernest Trend (producer Edward R. Pressman, THE BAD LIEUTENANT) to professional heel Renaldo (Bruce Campbell, ARMY OF DARKNESS), Trend hires Faron (Paul L. Smith, PIECES) and Arthur (Brion James, BLADE RUNNER) – a pair of exterminators who use electricity to kill all sizes of pests – to rub him out. Trend tells Victor to take the night off and find the love of his life, and he meets cute with Nancy (Sheree J. Wilson, HELLBOUND) when she is nearly hit by the exterminators’ pest-mobile; however, she is currently seeing the dapper Renaldo. Victor is preoccupied by arranging to run into the couple at the Rialto club, but Trend’s plans are further threatened by his wife Helene (Louise Lasser, BANANAS) who has a habit of spying REAR WINDOW-style on the neighborhood and sees that Odegard is still working in his office. Trend is able to distract her while the postmen take Odegard out, but agrees to go down to the office to placate his wife and ends up another victim of the demented pest control men (whose use the same equipment on mouse and man, adjusting the “megahurts” based on the size). Things become complicated for the killers when Faron realizes Helene has seen him coming out of the office and goes after her while the more unhinged Arthur falls for Nancy and kidnaps her, and it’s Victor to the rescue.

CRIMEWAVE is vintage Raimi, vintage Campbell, and vintage Coen brothers; although not in a good way. Raimi’s zaniness seems more haphazardly judged here (as is the Coen brothers’ humor) and Campbell’s shtick isn’t as refined as his EVIL DEAD II and beyond persona. Part noir, part screwball romantic comedy, with plenty of THREE STOOGES-esque slapstick and sight gags, CRIMEWAVE doesn’t really come together as a whole. Victor and Nancy are cookie cutter romantic leads – although well-played by Birney and Wilson – but most viewers will be waiting to see more of Smith’s Faron pursuing Lasser while James commits random mayhem while trying to dispose of the original bodies as well others he picks up along the way (including trying to stuff one down a mailbox), or see more of Campbell’s lounge lizard. The parallel stories come together in major – albeit back-projected – car chase sequence an ambitious (for regional filmmakers in their first studio effort) that is complex and detailed yet not as imaginative was what Raimi and company got up to in the final third of THE EVIL DEAD. It’s more entertaining than I remember from seeing it on video years ago – having seen THE EVIL DEAD trilogy for the first time and wondering how Raimi would approach a comedy – but the various homages to different genres, movies, and gags feels forced (however much Raimi and company obviously love those movies). It is amazing that EVIL DEAD II is so much more refined in style and in execution of its physical comedy. The bookending segments don’t really work, but Campbell reveals in the disc’s audio commentary that those bits were added a year later in Los Angeles. Richard Bright (THE GODFATHER) appears briefly as a cop, and a pre-BLOOD SIMPLE Frances McDormand plays a nun (the Coen brothers and producer Robert G. Tappert also appear briefly). Also onscreen in a brief role is Richard DeManincor (who adopted the name “Hal Delrich” for his role in the original EVIL DEAD as Scott) and Scott Spiegel is one of the “Fake Shemps”.

CRIMEWAVE was late in coming to digital formats stateside (it has been available on DVD abroad) not so much because of its obscurity but because it became part of the MGM back-catalogue via original distributor Embassy. Shout! Factory’s AVC-encoded 1080p24 Blu-ray and standard definition DVD utilize a widescreen (1.78:1) HD master that is, given the budget and the old-school optical transitions familiar both from film noir and screwball comedies, wonderfully grainy and appropriately softish at times. The predominately red and blue gel lighting is saturated without distortion, looking like a garish Technicolor movie during the Rialto scene. The mono audio (mislabeled stereo on the menus) – DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 2.0 on the DVD – is in fine condition.

Co-producer/actor Campbell provides an audio commentary track (moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher) in which he nails down the reasons this follow-up to THE EVIL DEAD was unsuccessful (most of them stemming from the filmmakers’ attempt to get as far away from their debut feature as possible). The plan was to shoot on location in Detroit and use talent primarily from the area (including Campbell as the lead – who had to screen test for the film – although he’s thankful now that he didn’t star in it given its reception), but Embassy insisted on Hollywood talent for the leads; and Campbell does not hold back with the horror stories. Smith was very particular about what he would and would not do (requiring the production to outfit a stuntman in a fat suit and a special mask to double for some actions that they did not determine to be stunts). The fact that Smith was not able to make the post-production dubbing sessions gave them the excuse to redub his entire performance. James had drug issues and Campbell – in an anecdote that apparently also appears in his autobiography “If Chins Could Talk” – recounts how the production got a call from the hotel where James was staying because he and his girlfriend were seeing the ghost of his former girlfriend in the electrical outlets and had pulled all of them out of the walls. Other than Birney’s macrobiotic diet (virtually unheard of in the Midwest at the time), Campbell contends that the other Hollywood talent posed no problems (and Lasser was quite game for being put through the wringer).

Embassy also insisted on them using a Hollywood composer – in this case Arlon Obler (EATING RAOUL) – rather than EVIL DEAD composer Joseph LoDuca (who can be seen as part of the jazz combo in the Rialto sequence). He also mentions that the sound effects were recorded directly from the TV from THREE STOOGES episodes and had to then be filtered to get rid of the TV noise. Campbell is also forthcoming about some of his and Raimi’s misjudgments like trying to strong-arm cinematographer Robert Primes (STUNT ROCK) into quitting – rather than firing him – because they thought he was working too slow (although the studio was satisfied with his work). Campbell now expresses appreciation for what Primes achieved with the lighting and camera movement (including a tricky pre-CGI dolly shot into a close-up of a pair of discarded binoculars and to see through them). Delegated to a supporting role, Campbell filled in behind the camera sometimes as the first assistant director, part-time unit production manager (the guy hired for the job got arrested at the airport with a gun), second unit director for the car chase scene, and liaison with the actors. Of the Coen brothers, Campbell mentions that they were writing BLOOD SIMPLE (which ended up getting released theatrically before CRIMEWAVE, which had the most limited theatrical releases to qualify for an HBO TV deal) at the time and that he and Raimi cut the promo trailer that secured funding for it. Felsher points out some locations that no longer exist in Detroit today and also points out the inability to classify the film as one of the reasons it was unsuccessful.

Campbell also appears in a video interview “The CRIMEWAVE Meter” (15:23) that focuses on the production and post-production problems. It doesn’t feel like overkill since Campbell is just as energetic repeating the information here, and it is focused more on why the film was a failure rather than the shooting anecdotes. You also get the Teamster joke: How does a Teamster tell a bedtime story? Once upon a time-and-a-half... (rimshot). When Campbell is talking about one of the Hollywood producers letting loose on them over the re-editing, he doesn’t name names but the featurette utilizes a clip with Trend who is played by producer Edward R. Pressman. Presumably it wasn’t Pressman since he is also present on the disc for an interview “Made in Detroit” (8:33) in which he expresses admiration for Raimi who he met at the Sitges Film Festival where THE EVIL DEAD was screening (Pressman’s wife Annie McEnroe [HOWLING II] was there for the Corman-distributed BATTLETRUCK). He describes the film as a “live action cartoon” and seems to have had as much difficulty with Embassy as Campbell and Raimi. He reveals that it was Raimi’s idea for him to play Trend and that he required several takes, and that the film was quite successful in Japan.

Lead Reed Birney also appears the interview “Leading Man” (16:04) in which he describes CRIMEWAVE as “a Three Stooges movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock”. He reveals that he got the lead after the original actor had his cheekbone broken by the L.A. casting director’s boyfriend when he walked into a knockdown dragout fight, and that he was aware that the production was being made to use Hollywood actors. He also mentions that there was a subway fight scene vetoed for budgetary reasons which was recycled years later in Raimi’s SPIDERMAN 2, which he first saw on a plane. He remembers the cast fondly, and is diplomatic about the personalities of Smith and James (he also recalls the hotel incident described by Campbell). Like Campbell and Pressman, he was also dispirited by the prolonged editing and reshoot period; he went to France for a year and by chance met the French distributor who asked him to do press for the film (it failed there too). The interview features some home video footage seen nowhere else on the discs, including some of the bluescreen shoots for the car chase sequence. The Blu-ray’s extras also include an alternate title sequence (0:28) under the alternate BROKEN HEARTS AND NOSES title, as well as a photo gallery. The DVD edition features the same extras as well as the film’s screenplay in PDF format and a trailer (2:22) that was likely not upscaled for Blu-ray because it already looked putrid in standard definition (soft, dark, un-detailed, with plenty of interlacing artifacts). Short of having Raimi himself comment on the film or the recovery of cut scenes and behind the scenes video, Shout’s package is probably as definitive as you can get. (Eric Cotenas)