Informed that his interviewer saw The Quick and the Dead the night before, Sam Raimi gets excited. "How full was the theater?" he asks. "Did they clap during the exciting parts? Did they go for popcorn during the quiet parts? Did everybody generally seem to like it?"
He's told that although the mix of broad comedy and extreme violence took some getting used to, the crowd generally seemed to like it. There were even stray sniffles during one of the death scenes.
"Amazing!" Raimi says. "That's never happened with me before. Usually the only people who cry at my movies are my investors."
Raimi has given them plenty to cry about. Though his low-budget splatter pictures make money on video, and his last big studio film, Darkman, was a modest box-office hit, he's never broken through to the mainstream; in Hollywood, his talent is generally viewed as too peculiar to please more than a small, vocal cult of fans. Which is why, when he got a Western script in the mail two years ago via Sharon Stone's agent--with a note from the actress that read, simply, I WANT YOU--the diminutive schlock artiste's ears perked up. "What man can say no to that?" Raimi asks.
Besides the obvious production challenges--namely, handling a $30 million budget and two stars, Stone and Gene Hackman, with sizable egos--Raimi also had to find a way to prevent the script's dozen or so gunfights from becoming repetitious. "Each has its own distinct cinematic flavor," Raimi says. For instance, during Sharon's first gunfight, we tried to get inside her head. She's told to draw when she hears the first clock chime of the hour. So we faded every other sound away one by one--the wind, the crowd, the creak of leather--so the only thing she hears is the internal mechanism of the clock. I thought that was pretty cool."
Raimi has described a moment of excruciating tension, but he points out that it represents just one of the picture's wildly divergent moods. "There are dark and violent moments, even sad ones, but it's always OK to laugh. Whether people can take in slapstick and melodrama and parody all at once is open to question. What the success last year of Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction told me is that audiences can accept movies that have more than one tone, as long as there's plenty of style to it, plenty of jack, plenty of electricity."
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.