Crimewave

  • Reviewed by: Dr Adam Jahnke
  • Review Date: Apr 30, 2013
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Sam Raimi

Release Date(s)

1985 (May 14, 2013)

Studio(s)

Embassy Films (Shout! Factory)

Review

When I select a movie for the ongoing JET’s Most Wanted feature on Facebook, I try to be aware of the many reasons that could prevent a title from being released on DVD.  Rights and clearances can tangle up a movie for years.  Often there are technical issues that need to be addressed before a DVD is possible.  Even marketability is a factor.  Studios aren’t going to release a movie unless they believe people will actually buy it.

But usually, at the very least, the people who made the movie want it to be available.  For years, that did not seem to be the case with Crimewave, Sam Raimi’s flop follow-up to The Evil Dead.  Everyone involved seemed content to just let the movie disappear and never speak of it again.  Fortunately, the movie is finally available (on Blu-ray, no less).  And while it’s no lost masterpiece, it’s certainly full of enough interesting elements to justify its availability.

Reed Birney stars as Vic Ajax, a security systems installer who ends up framed for murder and on death row.  The details of the extremely convoluted plot of murder and betrayal don’t particularly matter.  Suffice to say they involve Vic’s boss (played by producer Edward R. Pressman in his only major acting role to date), the boss’ shrieking wife (Louise Lasser), and two hit-men/exterminators (Brion James and Paul L. Smith).

Written by Raimi and Joel and Ethan Coen, Crimewave is a live-action cartoon played so far over the top that you can’t even see the ground anymore.  And while it’s frequently entertaining and boasts several sequences that are genuinely inspired, it is by no means a successful or even cohesive movie.  It feels more like an exercise than a finished film, almost like on-the-job training for Raimi while he tests out ideas and stylistic flourishes that he’d employ to better effect in later movies.  The movie’s relentless screwball tone is endearing for awhile but is ultimately exhausting.  The Coens themselves would do a bit better utilizing this style in The Hudsucker Proxy, a later collaboration with Raimi, although even that movie isn’t exactly a home run.

Still, it’s fascinating to see how a movie with this much talent both in front of and behind the camera can go wrong, and to see what it gets right.  It may actually be a blessing that the movie was unavailable for so long because Shout! Factory is exactly the right studio to bring this cult oddity to disc for the first time.  The Blu-ray exhibits their usual high standards in the technical department.  The combo pack also comes with a surprisingly satisfying batch of extras, starting off with a commentary by producer/co-star/raconteur Bruce Campbell.  Campbell is uniquely gifted in the art of the audio commentary and this track, recorded in conversation with Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher, is no exception.

The disc also includes three new video interview segments with Campbell, Edward R. Pressman, and Reed Birney.  All three are extremely candid and forthcoming about the picture’s troubled production and shortcomings.  It adds up to a brief but eye-opening look at this flawed but fascinating movie.  The disc also includes a trailer, a stills gallery, and the alternate opening sequence utilizing the title Broken Hearts And Noses.

For years, it seemed as though Crimewave would be a lost chapter in the filmographies of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and the Coen brothers.  It’s a real pleasure to finally see it available on disc, warts and all.  It’s an odd, not entirely successful movie but definitely one worth checking out.  It’s a real testament to the talent of these filmmakers when their failures are almost as interesting as their successes.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

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by Adam Jahnke