Crimewave (1985) – Blu-Ray Review

Crimewave is Sam Raimi’s infamous follow-up to The Evil Dead, and the second Coen Brothers script to be made into a film, released within a year of Blood Simple. The film was a very difficult production for everyone involved, and ended up tonally schizophrenic. But if you’re willing to go with it, you’ll have some fun along the way.

The Coen Brothers wrote it with Raimi, and in a way it was an important film for all of them. The Coens have written scripts for many other peoples’ films over the years, with varying results. This one, however, was a disaster of major proportions—according to Bruce Campbell (although I haven’t verified this) it only had a theatrical release in Alaska and Kansas. They’d made a deal with HBO that ensured the channel would pick it up after a notional theatrical run. But it’s undeniably a film made by these filmmakers at this specific point in time. Raising Arizona was a live action-Woody Woodpecker film, and Crimewave also has a live-action cartoon feel to it. There are scenes that prefigure The Hudsucker Proxy, another Coen Brothers film where Raimi had a hand in the script.

The film has a wraparound story involving Victor Ajax (Reed Birney), a man who is waiting to be executed. Allegedly this was a studio add-on after the film was taken away from Raimi at some point. It flashes back to slightly noirish, very zany comedy that is very much in the vein of Raising Arizona, though not as focused. The lack of focus may be down to working within the constraints of a normal film production, including dealing with unions—Evil Dead’s production process certainly was not normal. Bruce Campbell was supposed to be the lead, but the producers told Raimi he couldn’t have his mate as the star, so Campbell got a lesser role instead.

They were basically trying to do a screwball 30s comedy meets a noir meets a horror film. As Campbell notes in the commentary, if you expect that going in, it’s OK. The plot’s all over the place, making it very sketch-like. But some of it is super-inspired and fantastic. So if you like really out-there comedies, you’ll enjoy it: It would be a great double bill with Hellzapoppin’, a better film but with a similar chaotic energy.

Making Crimewave was such an experience for everyone involved that they all made sure they could work on their own terms from there on out. The Coen Brothers, for example, didn’t wrote another full, credited script for someone else until their script for the il-fated Gambit remake many years later.

The Powerhouse Blu-Ray release features a new HD remaster, plus four different versions of the feature presentation. The new Kim Newman interview included with the disc explains how UK distributor Rank was going to release Crimewave, and someone at the company was secretly feeding him titbits about the production—resulting in Newman getting blackballed by Rank for almost a year. His ban was lifted when Rank invited him to the release screening, having realised that Newman would be the only critic to like it… Most of the other extras are from the 2013 Shout Factory release, including an audio commentary with Campbell and filmmaker Michael Felsher, a 16-minute feature with Campbell talking about his early collaborations with Raimi, and multiple short features from cast members and producers. A new appreciation from writer Rob Deerling, another commentary with Raimi expert James Flower, a promo reel, behind-the-scenes footage, film trailers, image galleries, the pre-production screenplay and a script gallery, and a limited edition booklet with new and old writing on the film complete the set.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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