The FAM: De Laurentiis Double Feature

Legendary film producer Agostino (Dino) De Laurentiis passed away this Wednesday at the ripe old age of 91. De Laurentiis’s credits include over 160 films, including Dune (1984), Army of Darkness, Blue Velvet, Manhunter, Serpico, Conan the Barbarian, Barbarella, King Kong (1976), and Orca just to name a few. Two of the films he produced were Oscar winners: La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957) — both by Italian master Federico Fellini. Today The FAM honors this movie titan with two of his schlockier offerings: 1987’s Evil Dead II, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell and Bruce Campbell’s chin, and 1973’s Death Wish starring Charles Bronson , directed by Michael Winner.

First up is Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi’s remake/re-imagining/sequel/whatever to 1981’s The Evil Dead, featuring 100% less tree rape. De Laurentiis had approached Raimi about directing Thinner, part of a multi-movie deal with King which included Maximum Overdrive and Cat’s Eye but Raimi turned it down and instead directed Crimewave a crime/comedy he co-produced with the Coen Bros. It turned out to be a flop and Raimi subsequently had trouble attaining funding for Evil Dead II. King found out about this and personally appealed to De Laurentiis to fund the venture. A cult classic in the truest sense of the word, Evil Dead II is a love it or hate it sort of film. I personally love it and can’t help it if you don’t, Philistine.

Secondly is Death Wish, (based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel of the same name) Michael Winner’s brutal, exploitative revenge thriller about a pansy-ass liberal whose wife is murdered and daughter raped in their apartment, sending him off on a journey to gun down the punks who did it. This movie was originally set to be released by United Artist’s who had Sydney Lumet set to direct and Jack Lemon to star which would have been…interesting. Lumet had other obligations though and UA began to reconsider the nature of the story they had on their hands and eventually De Laurentiis and Paramount took over.

Critics and theatergoers alike were shocked by the violence in Death Wish which made it quite the box-office hit. In cities like New York, where crime had hit startling numbers in the 70s, it was especially popular. Critics, including Brian Garfield, were less impressed and reviews were mixed. Garfield disliked the film so much that it spurred him to write Death Sentence a sequel that focused on the increase and lunacy of vigilantism. Still, it’s considered by some to be a landmark film — the first to portray a citizen taking up arms against criminals in a modern setting. In addition to appearances by Olympia Dukakis, Christopher Guest, Saul Rubinek, and Hope Lange, Death Wish features the debut of Jeff Goldblum, as one of the hooligans who assault Paul’s wife and daughter (specifically forcing his daughter to perform fellatio on him, making for a performance creepier than his usual, creepy norm) and Denzel Washington as an uncredited punk-who-wants-to-rob-Charles-Bronson-but-gets-shot-instead (see Part 5 around 8:50 in the above play-list).

Perhaps there are better, more well-respected films that could represent Dino De Laurentiis’ career (see the aforementioned Fellini) but I’ll always remember him for having the willingness to get behind movies that others were too timid to touch even when the movies were complete bombs (see the aforementioned Dune). When no one else wanted to deal with the headaches of the image of a man cutting his own hand off with a chainsaw, amateur vigilantes, or Dennis Hopper, he was able to see the their value, in turn making the careers of people like Sam Raimi, David Lynch, Charles Bronson, and Dennis Hopper. He was one of the last of the old guard, financing films in less than upstanding ways and throwing money at directors purely on instinct. It may not have been the best way to go about business, but it certainly made of interesting results and for that, he will be missed.

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