Most of you know Sam Raimi as the director of the three Evil Dead movies and original Spider-Man trilogy, but the imaginative filmmaker also helped form Ghost House Pictures in 2002, a production house dedicated to the financing, development and distribution of high-concept genre films.
Raimi's latest movie as a producer is The Possession, which opens in theaters on August 29. The PG-13 horror film is based on a true story and follows a fractured family that must unite when the youngest daughter becomes possessed by Dibbuk—an ancient malevolent spirit certain Jews believe can be trapped in a Dibbuk box. The little girl unwittingly releases the evil, and the father (Dean Morgan) implores the help of a Hasidic Jewish exorcist (Matisyahu) to save his daughter.
We caught up with Raimi as he is busy working on post-production of Oz: The Great and Powerful and chatted him up about the origins of The Possession, what he wants to do with the Dibbuk box, and if his new Oz movie has scary flying monkeys.
Movies.com: The Possession is based on a real Dibbuk box that was for sale on eBay and the terrible things that happened to the owners of it. Tell us how you came to learn of this little bit of Yiddish folklore.
Sam Raimi: My partner in Ghost House Pictures, Nathan Kahane, read an article in The Los Angeles Times called "A Jinx in a Box?" written by Leslie Gornstein in which she detailed the events on the website about the Dibbuk box. That is how I came to learn about it. Then I tuned into that website, because it was terrifying.
Movies.com: You are Jewish. Had you ever seen a Dibbuk box before or heard stories about them growing up back in Michigan?
Raimi: No, I had no idea there was such a thing. I had heard about a Dibbuk—an Old Testament evil spirit that would possess people. That also made me curious—finally here was a horror story based on the lore of my religious beliefs.
Movies.com: What possessed you—pardon to the pun—to not direct The Possession yourself?
Raimi: I thought the website and article outlined a very scary series of events, but it wasn't yet a movie about characters that I knew, understood, could root for, and be frightened by. That's really how I make the decision about what's right for me to direct. The writers [Juliet Snowden and Stiles White] turned it into a really great horror movie because of the family dynamic—the family breaking apart and having to find the love in their hearts to come together and defeat this thing. It became that, but it wasn't that when it started.
Movies.com: If one could trap a demon in a box, why would anyone keep such a thing in his/her home?
Raimi: I have no freaking idea! I don't know a lot about the tradition of Orthodox Jews regarding a Dibbuk. All I know is that I have never heard of any other Dibbuk box except this one story.
Movies.com: Is the Dibbuk box used in the movie a prop?
Raimi: That's right. We tried to tell the true story of the Dibbuk box, but it kept being an undramatic and poorly constructed screenplay even though it was all true events—it seemed fragmented and didn't have any structure. So I finally said, "Unfortunately, even though this isn't my favorite idea, we're going to give up saying 'this is a true story' and just say 'based on a true story.'" The Dibbuk box appears with the same qualities and the same things happened, but we constructed an artificial family and created a beginning, middle and end—a real story.
Movies.com: Was there any contact with the real-life people?
Raimi: I didn't have any contact with them, but I know production did. We had to purchase the underlying rights for the material, including the article from the L.A. Times; we had to contact this person that had the website and make a deal for their story and the other people involved in the story. That was all done through attorneys, so I didn't have anything to do with that.
I think there was talk about whether we should purchase the actual Dibbuk box itself as a promotional item when we took the movie around. Now, we do have it and I will be sending it to you… in person. Will that be a problem? I think you'll be able to do a more complete story if you examine the thing in person. It's coming tomorrow UPS.
Movies.com: Thanks, but no thank you, sir! We heard some strange things happened on the set like lights exploding. Can you tell us about that?
Raimi: I developed the script, hired the writer, supervised the casting, and then gave notes to [director] Ole Bornedal, but I wasn't on the set. That was in Vancouver, and I was shooting my movie [Oz: The Great and Powerful]. I heard exploding lights did happen, but that happens on a lot of sets. Lights are always exploding. Sixteen of them exploding all in one morning was unusual! No, that didn't happen [laughs].
Movies.com: Please give us a status update on Oz: The Great and Powerful. Does your Oz have flying scary flying monkeys like The Wizard of Oz?
Raimi: I'm in the middle of post-production and there is a tremendous amount of animation and effects supervision that I'm doing with my animation director, visual effects supervisor and editor.
There are more like flying baboons in this picture. They were seen in the teaser trailer that the studio released, and they are the Wicked Witch's minions. But we also have a flying monkey; Zach Braff plays the voice. So we have both the darker, baboons and one pretty nice flying monkey.