Blu-ray Review: Crimewave

Did you know there was a team that attempted to challenge the dominance of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker? The guys who made the in your face comedies of Airplane! and Top Secret! had competition from a Midwest trio that didn’t go by Coen, Raimi and Coen. Hard it is to believe, Sam Raimi, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen made a flat out slapstick comedy. Instead of a supernatural horror in the woods, they told a tale of cutthroat businessmen, overeager hitmen and a patsy in love. Crimewave wasn’t going to be mistaken for Evil Dead. Sadly enough, it wasn’t mistaken for much with its pathetic exhibition history. The arrival of Crimewave on Blu-ray/DVD combo marks the first time the movie has been released on home video since a VHS tape in 1988. Is this a misunderstood classic or disaster that deserves to be obscured forever?

Vic Ajax is being led out of his cell to the electric chair. He uses this walk to explain how he’s been framed for all the killings. He’s a nice guy. His only hope to live rides with a bunch of nuns zipping around town in the middle of a storm. The story flashes back to a night when Vic was a proud employee off Trend-Odegard Security. While the film seems to be a throwback to the 1930s, Vic installs a security camera to monitor the front door of Mr. Trend (Edward R. Pressmen). Little does Vic know that his company is about to shift with Mr. Odegard planning to sell the company to Renaldo (Burn Notice‘s Bruce Campbell). Mr. Trend decides to block this deal by hiring two pest exterminators (Blade Runner‘s Brion James and Popeye‘s Paul Smith) who have no problem killing huge rats. The duo get a little too kill happy after their first task and the bodies begin to pile up. Eventually they need to take out Mrs. Trend (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman‘s Louise Lasser) when she witnesses the carnage. Vic is completely oblivious to the mayhem. He’s at a nearby fancy nightclub wooing Nancy (Dallas‘ Sheree J. Wilson). She’s too busy being heel talked by Renaldo. Eventually all of the their paths collide in a slapstick overload.

Crimewave is an over the top affair. There’s nothing subtle about the action or the performances. If you approach this as a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, you’re in for a treat. Sam Raimi pushes the extreme. Paul Smith coming after Louise Lasser makes use of the best Chuck Jones visuals. It’s difficult to watch the film without wondering how it’s history would have changed if Bruce Campbell had played the lead, but Birney nails the eager patsy character. The bonus features explain why Campbell had to take the secondary role. The Coen Brothers might not want to admit it, but this movie is the genesis of Fargo. A guy hires two overzealous goons to secure a business deal. The two goons kidnap his wife and contribute to a body count. There’s quite a few Coen trademarks on the screen even if Raimi called the shots. Vic is strapped to the electric chair at Hudsucker prison. The film is as good as anything Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker produced.

Unfortunately Embassy Films had no idea what to do with Crimewave except dump it in a few theaters to qualify for their HBO deal. It was a box office disaster. Luckily the film did not destroy the careers of Sam Raimi and the Coen brothers. Sam Raimi went back “home” to make Evil Dead 2. During the amount of time it took for Crimewave to be shot, reshot, cut, recut and finally dumped, the Coen brothers were able to make and release Blood Simple. How Crimewave failed to do well in videostores is a bit of a mystery. Evil Dead and Blood Simple were popular cult rentals. Why wasn’t this VHS on the same shelf at all the mom & pop shops? Crimewave was criminally under exploited. You had a better chance of finding John Paizs’ Crime Wave on the shelf. Even when all the Coen brothers and Sam Raimi films were getting put out on DVD, Crimewave was locked in the vault. If you’re a die hard Raimi and Coen brothers fan, Crimewave will be a blast of excitement. Let Vic tell you what really happened that stormy night.

The video is 1.78.1 anamorphic. The 1080p image brings out the insanity that Raimi was trying to capture. This is a major upgrade over the VHS. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. You can get the weird voice Brion James used for his goofy goon. The movie is subtitled in English.

DVD has Crimewave and all the bonus features for when you’re not near a Blu-ray player.

Audio Commentary
with Bruce Campbell has Michael Feltcher ask a few questions. Bruce doesn’t need much poking to tell numerous tales from the production. He didn’t seem to get along with Louise Lasser. He does have praise for Reed Birney. He gets excited talking about landing Emil Sitka. He had worked in several Three Stooges shorts.

Trailer (2:23) hypes the out of control comedy action. This appears to have been lifted from an old VHS tape which makes sense since it didn’t seem like Embassy wanted to spend cash on a celluloid trailer.

Interview with Bruce Campbell (15:22) lets him explain “The Crimewave Meter.” He was co-producer on the film so he’s got plenty of stories on what went weird. He breaks down that nagging question of why wasn’t he the lead.

Interview with Producer/Actor Edward Pressman (8:32) has a bit of relief to it as the producer knows his movie is finally getting a bit of respect.

Interview with actor Reed Birney (16:01) lets him not be the scapegoat of the production. He wasn’t the original choice over Bruce Campbell. He explains how he landed the role at the last minute. He got what Sam and Coens were doing with the film. There was no conflicts between him and Bruce. He’s had a fine career since Crimewave. He’s recently appeared on Netflix’s House of Cards.

Alternate Title Sequence
(0L28) has the name Broken Hearts and Noses. Not a great replacement choice since it sounds like a boxing romance.

Photo Gallery are dozens of production pics. There seem to be French lobby cards from when it was called Mort Sur Le Gril.

Crimewave Original Screenplay lets you download a pdf onto your harddrive. They have it set up for both Mac and PC. Read what should have happened in the film.

Crimewave finally gets a proper release that overturns the previous sentence of cinema obscurity. Sam Raimi and the Coen brothers devised a fun slapstick adventure full of pratfalls, chases, killings and a little dancing. The Blu-ray and bonus features finally gives the film a chance to state its case for cult love.

Shout! Factory and MGM present Crimewave. Directed by Sam Raimi. Screenplay by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Sam Raimi. Starring: Reed Birney, Bruce Campbell, Louise Lasser, Sheree J. Wilson and Brion James. Running Time: 97 minutes. Released: May 14, 2013. Available at

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