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Crimewave (1985)

Shout! Factory
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/14/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/27/2013

When The Evil Dead arrived in theaters in 1981, and subsequently on home video the next year, I'm sure that there are those who watched the film and assumed that those behind it, especially Director Sam Raimi, were depraved individuals who reveled in violence and gore. If they only knew that Raimi and his partners (actor Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Tapert) were actually more obsessed with silly, slapstick comedy and the work of The Three Stooges. Raimi got a chance to prove this with his second feature film, Crimewave. However, the movie had problems from the get-go and was hard to find until now, as Shout! Factory has brought the film to Blu-ray Disc.

Crimewave takes place in a deteriorating urban landscape in an indeterminate time-period. Mr. Trend (Edward R. Pressman) runs a security company along with Mr. Odegard (Hamid Dana). When Trend gets word that Odegard is going to sell the business, he hires two exterminators -- Crush (Paul L. Smith) and Coddish (Brion James) -- to kill his partner. Meanwhile, Trend & Odegard's lone employee, Vic Ajax (Reed Birney) is installing a video surveillance system in Mr. Trend's building. There, he meets Nancy (Sheree J. Wilson) and asks her out. Unfortunately, Nancy is already seeing Renaldo (Bruce Campbell), who is a "heel". Undeterred, Vic goes to a nightclub that night with hopes to woo Nancy. Meanwhile, Crush and Coddish have decided that they can't leave any potential witnesses alive, so they are going on a killing-spree in the area.

I was a die-hard fan of Sam Raimi's early work (trust me on this) and I can remember being very excited when I finally got to see Crimewave sometime in the mid-80s. I can even remember buying a used VHS copy from a video store which was having a clearance sale. (I think I paid $1 for it.) And if you look at it objectively, the movie sounds like it would be great. Raimi had made a name for himself with The Evil Dead and he was again working with Producer Robert Tapert and while Bruce Campbell wasn't in the lead role (not Raimi's decision), he was in the film lending his support. Joel Coen had met Raimi when he was Assistant Editor on The Evil Dead and he and his brother Ethan had made a serious impression on filmgoers with their debut effort, Blood Simple. So, if all of these young players in the world of independent cinema joined forces, the result must have been great, right?

I know that many Raimi superfans and apologists claims to love Crimewave, but I've got to tell you, this movie is a mess which is borderline unwatchable and exists today as only a curiosity piece. Many stories have been told about studio tampering, budget problems, and uncooperative actresses, but the bottom line is that the movie simply doesn't work.

The problems here are numerous and can be spread around to all parties. The Coen's influence can definitely be felt in the fact that it's hard to tell when the movie is taking place. Some parts of the film look like the 1930s, but Vic installs a modern-looking (for 1984) video camera. The double-cross and back-stabbing between Trend and Odegard actually feels similar to Blood Simple, but as it's presented here, having Odegard killed doesn't make a lot of narrative sense. The Coen's have always used humor in their films (well, most of them), but Crimewave comes across as silly, and this feels like the work of Sam Raimi. There is a lot of goofy humor here, which is often punctuated by sound effects, and mugging for the camera. The problem is that it's never funny. Continuing with the promise shown in The Evil Dead, Raimi does introduce some very creative camerawork into the film, but instead of enhancing the movie, it really stands out as something which doesn't fit.

Of all of Crimewave's problems, the biggest one is that it simply never gels. This feels like two different movies which someone tried in earnest to edit together. The story of a goofy lovesick guy and two assassins comes across as two sides of two different coins. Raimi would prove in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness that he could deftly mix violence and comedy, but he fails here. Even worse, neither story works on its own either. The Vic and Nancy story is simply too cliched and humdrum to be interesting, despite the fact that it's actually a send up of old movies. The fact that Crush and Coddish A) have terrible dubbed voices and B) never do anything which makes sense makes their story to ludicrous to swallow. The film's finale is a car-chase scene which simply goes on and on, forcing us to watch a lot of bad rear-projection action. This served as a good way for Raimi to cut his teeth for future films, but it's hard to watch.

Here's the bottom line: It's great that Shout! Factory is releasing an old and very obscure movie from one of today's hottest directors, but that doesn't mean that it's going to be a good movie. (It became obscure for a reason in the first place.) Yes, it's always great to see Bruce Campbell hamming it up and the multiple door scene is fascinating, but the rest of the film is an unbalanced mess. If anything, Crimewave should prove that talented filmmakers can bounced back from a failure and find success.

Crimewave tries too hard to bring back the word "heel" on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. Given the work which Shout! Factory puts into their releases, I'm sure that they found the best possible print for this transfer, but it still shows some issues. The movie is notably dark at times -- the action is always visible, but things get questionable in some scenes. The colors are rarely vibrant. There is a fine sheen of grain on the image throughout the film and we get some very minor defects from the source materials here. The level of detail is good, although some shots are soft, but the image doesn't show much depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The actors are always intelligible and the music and sound effects don't drown them out. There are some nice stereo effects during the club scene and the finale.

The Crimewave Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Bruce Campbell and film featurette mogul Michael Felsher. We next have three INTERVIEWS. First up is "The Crimewave Meter" with Bruce Campbell (15 minutes), who has a lot to say about the movie both as an actor and a producer, and his talk is very frank and honest. Next up is Producer/Actor Ed Pressman in "Made in Detroit" (9 minutes), who talks about how he got in the film and his experience with acting. Lastly, it's Reed Birney's turn with "Leading Man" (16 minutes), where he shares memories of the film. The "Alternate Title Sequence" (28 seconds) offers a different title for the film. The extras are rounded out by a PHOTO GALLERY and a TRAILER.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.