Like most children of the 1960s, Sam Raimi grew up acting out his fantasies with the benefit of an 8 mm movie camera. The film gauge "grew to 35" when Raimi, with the aid of friends and relatives, raised 500,000 dollars to film a horror feature, The Evil Dead (1983). Not your average sliced-up-teenager epic, Evil Dead was a marvelously wicked assault on the senses, belying its tiny budget with several extremely clever (if nausea-inducing) set pieces. Raimi switched to slapstick comedy with Crimewave (1985), a wild Detroit-based crime caper co-scripted by Raimi's friends and fellow devotees of the bizarre, Joel and Ethan Coen. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) giddily expanded the scope and splat-stick humor of the initial installment, and quickly became a cult classic with it s over-the-top gore and imaginative direction. Evil Dead 2 was the mark of a director truly at the top of his creative game, and with that film a foundation was cemented between Raimi and Bruce Campbell that would reach almost mythical status among the hardcore fans of the series. Raimi next came out guns-blazing for Darkman (1990), a comic-book inspired fantasy/adventure representing the director's biggest production budget to date. Though it performed only moderately at the box office, fans clamored to see Raimi's first major release and got an extra kick out of longtime friend and Evil Dead cohort Bruce Campbell in an all-too-brief closing-scene cameo. Also expensively mounted was Army of Darkness (1992), a time-travel swashbuckler that gave evidence of extensive post-production tinkering (notably its skimpy 80-minute running time). A sequel to the first two Evil Dead flicks, the film was released under the more ambiguous title lest it be associated with the outrageously gory previous installments. In the following years the now-established director would hone his talents as a producer with such big-budget action releases as Hard Target (1993) and Timecop (1994). The mid-'90s also found Raimi producing two tele-films that would become the genesis of television's massively popular Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (Raimi would continue as executive producer during the series' four-year run) as well as executive producing Hercules arguably more successful companion series, Xena: Warrior Princess.
In 1995, Raimi once again stepped back behind the camera to helm The Quick and the Dead, a revisionist Western starring Sharon Stone. It earned only a lukewarm reception, and it was three years before Raimi directed another feature. 1998's A Simple Plan was a far greater success than The Quick and the Dead: Starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton as brothers driven to mistrust and paranoia after discovering four million dollars in the woods, it was Raimi's most lauded film to date, earning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for Scott B. Smith and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Thornton. The following year, Raimi submerged himself fully in the mainstream, directing the Kevin Costner baseball vehicle For Love of the Game. Unfortunately, the film met with a very mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike, many of whom longed for the days when Bruce Campbell, demonic mutilation, and possessed appendages reigned supreme. The Southern gothic trappings of Raimi's next film, The Gift (2000), found the director's longtime fan base hesitantly re-embracing the one-time cult figure with its tale of the supernatural and quietly creepy atmosphere. A frightening performance by the usually non-threatening Keanu Reeves caught jaded filmgoers off guard and the decidedly low-key film contained enough scares to prove that while it may have been temporarily dulled, Raimi had certainly not lost his edge.