There are only a handful of people in horror that harness the kind of respect, popularity and recognition that Sam Raimi has. For decades Raimi has remained one of horror’s most revered darlings. His name has been attached to numerous successful projects and he’s one of the few people in Hollywood that has horror brand power...
...Much like Jason Blum, if you have Sam Raimi as producer slapped on your film, it’s guaranteed to grab the attention of horror fans. His latest project, 50 States of Fright, is a fun and creative concept that chronicles the many legends and American horror folklore of each state. The concept is fantastic, and it encapsulates the kind of creativity in horror that really excites the fan in me. That being said, concepts are only as good as their execution. While Raimi has had considerable success, he has also been attached to several failures. Regardless of who is at the helm of a project, having a high concept comes with the high pressure to deliver.
The first episode, The Golden Arm, is split up into three parts. Each part is between five and ten minutes long and are meant to mimic a three-act narrative structure. After a refreshingly brief intro, we find ourselves in Michigan, where a beautiful woman (Rachel Brosnahan) and her high school sweetheart (Travis Fimmel) have nested themselves a nice plot of land and live there happily. He spends his days cutting down trees and she utilizes her time at home to nurse a garden and be the stereotypical housewife. It’s presented in a self-aware syrupy sweet, fairy tale kind of way. Spliced between these scenes is an interview with a friend of the couple, who narrates and gives his account of the following events. Because this is a local tale, he serves as the town storyteller of sorts. As you might expect, things don’t stay hunky dory for long. Without spoiling the proceeding events, I’ll just say that our leading lumberjack man ends up being victim of his lover’s greed and vanity and possibly wrath.
I won’t make any friends by saying this, but I’m not the biggest fan of Sam Raimi. I find his work usually uneven in tone and while I do like The Evil Dead franchise, I don’t put it on any pedestal. For whatever reason, his blending of horror and comedy doesn’t land with me. I find that his horror sensibilities have always been stronger than humor. That’s kind of how I feel about this first episode. The first two acts focus primarily on humor and for the most part it works pretty well. Our poor, wife pleasing protagonist keeps getting roped into buying her expensive dresses and other luxuries that he can’t afford. Fimmel’s reaction each time this happens is priceless, as his face suggest shock, sadness and desperation for approval all in one expression. The third act is devoted to pure horror and these are some of the best horror moments I’ve seen in the past few years. Raimi has always had a knack for producing effective imagery and this is no exception. The imagery is powerful and genuinely frightening. There is a scene where someone’s face keeps changing in a picture frame and it correlates to what’s happening to the character at that moment. It was really creative and memorable. The issue I have (and most of Raimi’s work) is the jarring tonal shift from comedy and horror. The horror comedies that work are those that give us laughs while the horror is occurring. Here, they are separated when they beg to be fused together.
Another problem I have with this episode is the absence of real folklore. When I first heard whispers of this show, I perked up with excitement primarily because I have a particular interest in folklore and urban legends. After doing some research, I found no record of an urban legend in Michigan resembling anything found in the episode. I find this really disappointing because each state in America is rich with history and folklore. There are several legends to choose from, so I don’t quite understand why they wouldn’t choose from a well of material. Even if they were to choose a state-centric urban legend and take liberties to fluff out the narrative, I would have even preferred that.
The first entry of 50 States of Fright is ultimately disappointing. It contains little pockets of truly frightening imagery, but they fail to mesh with the larger whole. It just doesn’t work tonally and that was my biggest fear going in. I want to like everything I watch, so I certainly didn’t watch this with a pitchfork in hand, but as someone who prides himself on journalistic honesty over fake agreeability, I cannot recommend this. It may please long time Raimi fans, but if you’re already lukewarm to his work like me, this first entry won’t win you over.
The first episode of 50 States of Fright is now available on Quibi.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth