Color, 1985, 86 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Louise Lasser, Brion James, Paul L. Smith, Reed Birney, Sheree J. Wilson, Edward R. Pressman, Bruce Campbell Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Shout! Factory (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After causing a major stir in horror circles with the outrageously entertaining debut film The Evil Dead during its official U.S. release in 1983, director Sam Raimi and company made a strange pit stop at the more mainstream Embassy Pictures before embarking on its famous 1987 sequel. Working in Raimi's love of slapstick comedy (especially The Three Stooges) and mashing up genres including hardboiled crime, dark comedy, and horror, Crimewave was a rocky production notable today for its script co-written by none other than Joel and Ethan Coen, who had just broken through with Blood Simple. Released in multiple editions (barely) around the world with a variety of alternate titles including the shortest version from Columbia in the U.S., the film became something of a curio among Raimi fans who enjoyed spotting flashes of his familiar style in its hodgepodge of genres and very stylized visual scheme, not to mention the chance to see Ash himself, Bruce Campbell (originally intended as the lead), in a different kind of role here.
About to be fried in the electric chair, former security tech guy Victor Ajax (Birney) explains how he ended up in the slammer thanks to his job with Trend-Odegard Security, with Trend (Pressman) trying to outmaneuver the sale of the company by his partner by bringing into two exterminators who also works as assassins, Faron Crush (Pieces' Smith) and Arthur Coddish (Blade Runner's James). For a while, Victor is distracted from the mounting body count thanks to a love triangle involving Nancy (Wilson) and the object of her affections, Renaldo (Campbell). How long can Victor and Nancy evade the murderous duo and hopefully escape with their lives?
Somehow intended to be a mainstream comedy by Embassy, Crimewave can be a very odd viewing experience without any context but serves now as a fascinating detour in the careers of everyone involved, including loads of little in-jokes connected to Raimi and Cohen films that already existed, would come to be in the future, and never ended up being realized at all. Given the fact that the film was taken away from Raimi and regular producer Robert Tapper (with Campbell also on as a producer) before it could be edited, the result is diverting enough and has some flashes of inspiration, including some crazed murder sequences and a wild climax that foreshadows projects like Darkman. It also looks great with lots of saturated gel lighting and audacious camera flourishes in the familiar early Raimi style, resulting in a film that will probably play best late at night when you aren't so concerned with things like consistency of tone.
First released on U.S. VHS in its doctored form in 1986 by Embassy, Crimewave also turned up in variant editions in the U.K. and Japan with additional and alternate footage here and there. In 2013, Shout! Factory released a Blu-ray and DVDfeaturing the longest edition of the film with its original soundtrack (versus the somewhat modified mix heard in the U.S.). The transfer looked great and restored the original vibrant look that was lost on past transfers, making it a fine way to reappraise this curio with fresh eyes. Of course, the fact that the release featured a new audio commentary with Bruce Campbell in conversation with Michael Felsher would be enough to justify its existence alone, and the actor doesn't disappoint with one of his very best tracks here. As one of the few people around who can actually tell the story of how the film was made (and most definitely part of the smaller group of those willing to talk about it), he's chock full of stories and has fun ribbing the listener about some of the more out-there moments (such as his cigarette smoke trick). The disc also features the trailer, a lengthy gallery (7m12s), and three worthy featurettes: "The Crimewave Meter" (15m23s) with Campbell talking more generally about his early days with Raimi and the process of getting involved with this film and its Detroit shoot; "Leading Man" (16m4s) with Birney, who's full of good anecdotes like his casting (thanks to the first choice getting slugged in the cheek) and a big subway fight scene cut from this film but ended up being recycled for Spider-Man 2; and "Made in Detroit" (8m33s) with Pressman, who's much better known as a producer and distributor, a capacity that allowed him to watch this film unfold in all its messy glory after he first met up with Raimi at Sitges.
In 2021, Indicator premiered Raimi's film on U.K. Blu-ray with a greatly expanded special edition that ports over nearly everything from the U.S. disc while adding some welcome, substantial new additions as well. The transfer itself looks very close to the U.S. one apart from boasting minimally deeper blacks and more vivid color timing, while the DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track (with optional, newly improved English subtitles) sounds as good as it possibly could. In a nice touch, you can watch the film four different ways: the same Crimewave 87-minute version from the earlier Blu-ray, that cut with the earlier alternate titles of Broken Hearts and Noses and The XYZ Murders, and the U.S. version (82m3s), back in circulation here if you want to check out the little variations in how it was cut down and remixed (with a sliver of alternate footage to boot). All three 87-minute versions feature the Studio Canal and Embassy logos at the beginning, while the U.S. cut retains only the Columbia Pictures one. The Campbell commentary and all three featurettes appear here along with the regular trailer, but you also get a new audio commentary by film writer and "Sam Raimi expert" James Flower who notes right off the bat that this is a companion piece to Campbell's track and should be listened to second as he offers a general overview of the film's history, its place in Raimi's filmography, and the complex story of how the intentions behind it evolved so drastically on the way to the finished product. He also mentions quite a bit about the initial shooting script, which is included on this disc in its entirety as well. In "Rank Outsider" (9m39s), Kim Newman cheerfully recalls his own first exposure to the film and its odd relationship to its British distributor, The Rank Organisation, who had banned him for a while until this film came out... but you'll have to watch to get the rest of that story! Then in "Too Much for Comfort" (7m14s), comedian, musician and writer Rob Deering offers his own appraisal of the film and his fondness for its "nightmarish" comic tone and wildly exaggerated style. Also included are a VHS-sourced reel of fish-eye-lensed production footage (11m12s) from Birney's archive (including the preparation of a very familiar-looking car), a fascinating Embassy promotional reel (13m37s) designed to sell the film including some unique narration and music cue choices, the French (Mort sur le Grill!) and U.S. home video trailers, and two new galleries (91 promotional images and 29 behind-the-scenes shots). The hefty insert booklet comes with an insightful essay by Amanda Reyes ("The Crimewave That Broke Hearts and Noses") making a case for the film's significance, an excerpt from Campbell's autobiography, a breakdown by Flower of some substantial differences between script and screen, a very colorful selection of archival cast and crew interviews (with James admitted he was drugged out of his mind at the time), and a trio of critics' responses from the original release.