Every famous director has that one movie they’re not proud of. Steven Spielberg doesn’t think too highly of Hook or 1941. When Martin Scorsese showed Boxcar Bertha to John Cassavettes, the late actor-director reportedly called it “piece of shit” and told Scorsese he should work on better things.
Sam Raimi, who has gone in 40 years from a low-budget horror director to a big budget A-lister director, made Crimewave after the success of The Evil Dead. Not only was Raimi helming the movie, but his colleagues, Joel and Ethan Coen, helped him co-write the movie. Ethan Coen, who’s had people worrying if there’s trouble in Denmark by taking a break from filmmaking while his brother goes solo on the upcoming MacBeth, was just an accountant at Macy’s when they wrote the script back in the early 1980s. Joel Coen had worked on The Evil Dead and Raimi helped them make a teaser trailer for Blood Simple. to show potential financiers.
But sometimes, there are problems that arise with even some of the most respected filmmakers. Approached by Embassy Pictures, Raimi budgeted the movie at $2.5 million but underestimated union fees and regulations. The studio didn’t like the original title of The XYZ Murders and retitled it Crimewave.
Filmed during the winter months mostly at night, a climatic scene involving the Detroit River led the crew to use dynamite because it had been frozen so much. This didn’t set well with nearby residents, some of which were ill at a health facility. One story from the set includes a bottle being thrown from a window from a patient who claimed that they weren’t able to get any rest and were getting worse. The patient told the crew the filmmaking was killing them.
According to Bruce Campbell, Louise Lasser, who has top billing but really only a supporting role, was on a cocaine binge and would be difficult on set. Campbell was wanted by Raimi to play the lead role but he was reduced himself to a supporting role himself.
The plot takes place in Detroit where Victor Ajax (Reed Birney) has been sentenced to death being blamed for a series of murders that occurred. As he is led to the electric chair, he recounts his story to the prison officials. Victor was a security guard at an apartment building where he got attracted to a young beautiful woman, Nancy (Sheree J. Wilson), who has been taken out on a date by Renaldo “The Heel” (Campbell).
What neither know is Renaldo is planning to buy the company, Trend-Odegard Security, for which Victor is employed. Victor’s employer, Mr. Trend (Edward R. Pressman) is also not supposed to know that his partner, Donald Odegard (Hamid Dana), is selling. But Mr. Trend hires two “exterminators” to kill Odegard at his office which is across the street from the building where Mr. Trend and Nancy live.
The exterminators, Faron Crush (Paul L. Smith) and Arthur Crush (Brion James) are almost cartoonish in their portrayals of sadistic killers who also kill her pests. Unfortunately, Mr. Trend’s wife, Helene (Lasser) is busy looking out the window wondering why Odegard is working late. So to appease his wife, Mr. Trend walks across the street to the office but is killed by accident by Arthur who had previously killed Odegard.
At a fancy restaurant, Renaldo stiffs Nancy for half of the expensive bill after she refuses his advances causing Victor to stand up to him but get punched by Renaldo. However, this leads to Nancy and Victor getting to know each other more. But while back at the apartment building, Helene inadvertently knocks a plant out her window while watching Faron trying to dispose of one of the bodies and he goes into the building to get her.
What happens next is a mixture of slapstick and black comedy as people are running in and out of rooms, mistaking people for others and the police arresting the wrong person in one funny moment.
It’s hard to describe this movie. I remember seeing it in 1986 or 1987 when it first aired on HBO and thinking it was a crazy comedy. There’s a lot of over the top acting that is common in a lot of movies by both Raimi and the Coen Brothers. When Faron criticizes Arthur for killing Mr. Trend, Arthur replies “Tell him it was a two-for-one sale!” and they laughed. The dark humor probably turned a lot of 1980s audiences off, even though this decade would go on to embrace it.
It’s a period piece movie set in the 1950s as the Coens usually set a lot of their movies in past periods and the slapstick evokes the screwball comedies from which they probably watched as kids. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just not a great comedy. It has a lot of problems.
And some of those problems are the result of studio interference. There’s no telling what Raimi and the Coens had in mind. Raimi refuses to talk much about the movie just calling it a bad experience. Campbell said the movie and it’s production was the type that would usually end a director’s career. The Coens would decide it best to direct their own scripts even though they still managed a good relationship with both Raimi and Campbell.
I don’t know if it was a good idea to dub Smith’s voice. He has a husky deep voice and Dick Afflis, aka Dick the Bruiser, a wrestler dubbed the lines in post-production. It seems too comical. And Smith had played Bluto in Popeye, but I think it was done to make the killers seem less sadistic for a comedy. James speak in a weasely voice.
Birney is both good and bad as Victor. I think Campbell would’ve managed the role better but I think the issue with the studio is Campbell is a bigger guy while Birney looks more wimpish. Raimi would able to handle the type of tone better with Campbell in the Evil Dead sequels as well as Darkman.
Crimewave reportedly set on the shelf for a year after it was completely before it was released. Campbell later said that it was more of an escape. The movie only made $5,101 at the box office and went into video and cable obscurity. Embassy Pictures went defunct in 1986.
Now, Raimi is helmed to direct the next Doctor Strange movie. And the upcoming adaptation of MacBeth, with Joel Coen making by himself is all the buzz. If you’re a fan of Raimi, Campbell or the Coens, I would recommend you watch Crimewave if you haven’t already. This is more of one of those movie’s for fans.