The Grudge is not a Sam Raimi movie, but he’s getting all the credit for it. Japanese director Takashi Shimizu made the film, with Raimi producing, but the advertising and opening titles both mention Raimi’s name before the title of the film. This was a necessity of producing the film, though it embarrasses Raimi to no end.
“One of the conditions that I had when we made a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures, the only way we could get it distributed, one of the conditions that they put forth was that my name go in that position,” Raimi said. “I’ve always thought it was very immodest to do something like that, so I’ve never been interested in that or taking those ‘film by’ credits. But they needed to do this and I really wanted to make this movie, so in fact it won’t be the only one. It’s a little embarrassing.”
Raimi has been producing in full force for over a decade, with limited resources. Some have been successful, like the Hercules and Xena TV series, and others fell by the wayside. But suddenly, with one major success, he and partner Robert Tapert are in charge of Ghost House Pictures, through which they can produce movies under Columbia.
“There were plenty of movies I’ve wanted to make and I couldn’t convince anyone to give me the financing for it,” Raimi said. “So what Spider-Man has done for me is allowed me to have, like you suggest, this clout where people will actually give me the financing to make these movies. Like this would be one of them. I’ve tried to make horror films before, but as a producer, couldn’t get them made. But with this company, I can. And the company I couldn’t have ever had unless I had a success like Spider-Man.”
Indeed, there will be a series of “Sam Raimi Presents” through Ghost House. “It’s not something I’m proud of that my name’s so big in front of these movies. But it’s probably only going to be around while the Spider-Man movies are popular, and then I’ll disappear into obscurity again and that won’t be an issue. A few of the Ghost House pictures that we’re making, probably 30 Days of Night, probably Grudge 2. That’s probably already in the deal they made distribution-wise with Columbia. Probably a lot of the Ghost House pictures until I can demand that they not do that anymore. I think when Ghost House Pictures, if it’s fortunate enough to get a name for itself, when the audience starts to understand what that label represents, they won’t need to do that anymore.”
Though it was a long road to get here, Raimi does not look back on any faltered projects that he might want to revive. “No, because they’ve become less important to me as time goes on. It’s not like I’ve had one that I’ve so loved that it’s stuck with me all these years.”
Raimi’s role as producer is deeply embedded into the production of the film. He’s not one of those titular producers who just waits for a check. The list of duties includes “having a say in the casting. Watching the performances of the different actors reading the parts. Making the deal with the studio about how it will be distributed. Watching all the dailies, commenting on them. Watching the rough cut, having discussions with the editor and director and my partners, Robert Tapert and Joe Drake, the producers. Trying to force my sound designer onto the picture because I know he can do it with great quality. Trying to convince Shimizu-san that he really is a great artist. Trying to line up the proper composer which I was able to do for the film. That kind of a thing.”
American studios have jumped on the Japanese horror bandwagon after the success of Dreamworks’ remake of The Ring. Dark Water and The Eye are also in production, but Raimi felt a personal duty to protect The Grudge because the original Ju-On made him re-evaluate his own skills as a horror filmmaker. Raimi is famous for an in your face, edgy style characteristic of the Evil Dead movies, where as Ju-On’s Takashi Shimizu is more subtle.
“I like them both, but I was shown how effective his style is. How creepy and daring it is and I like the fact that it suggests to me he has a great respect for the audience and their intelligence, to allow things to develop in the slow way that he does. He counts on them having the same patience as he does as an individual which I think is admirable.”
To maintain that sense in the remake, Raimi convinced Columbia to let Shimizu do his own remake. “I think a lot of different companies could have remade The Grudge as an American film. What I think my position gave me the ability to do though was insist that we use the original director to shoot it in Japan with the original crew working on it. They have enough trust in me, different companies, now to listen to me about situations like that. And that is the only thing I brought to it that I think would be unique."
As a producer, Raimi was also rumored to be involved with a proposed Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, but he denounced that rumor. There were some initial talks, but Raimi and partner Robert Tapert decided against bringing their Evil Dead character into the Freddy and Jason franchises.
“I have great respect for those franchises. I didn’t see Freddy vs. Jason but I think what happened was, and it’s unclear what happened, but I just think I didn’t want to be in a position where I was protecting Ash, the character that I want to eventually make another movie with one day, protecting him and not allowing the director to do what he felt he had to do. I didn’t want to be in a weird position like that. I have a great deal or respect for Sean Cunningham. I think he’s a brilliant filmmaker. He made some classics. I just didn’t think it was a winning great situation for anybody.”
Raimi is currently at work on an extended cut of Spider-Man 2, called Spider-Man 2.5 with several seconds of new CGI footage. “I’m kind of completing scenes that I didn't have the money to complete when we did the movie. I board out with my artists a lot of sequences in the Spider-Man movies, that I eventually cut down for pacing's sake. Most often times for money's sake. I can't afford them. Now Sony said to me, ‘Oh, we want to release a 2.5,’ because they want to make more money. It's not really that I had some scenes to put in. I mean, the movie really was the best I could make it. It's not like I think I could make it better, but I said okay, well, if you want to spend money and really give the kids a few more action scenes, okay. That's fine. It's the kids' choice if they want to spend that money. And then I think it's fair.”
Then it will be onto Spider-Man 3 along with producing Ghost House movies. He had briefly thought about directing a small film in between Spider-Mans, but even with a January 2006 start date over a year away, “there won't be time. It's such an all-consuming project that the Ghost House pictures… will demand all my time.”
The Grudge opens October 22.