Where you know Ted Raimi from probably says a lot about you. If you recognize him from the Spider-Man movies, you’re probably a teen or twentysomething. Recall him from SeaQuest, you’re a shameless nerd. Hercules and Xena – get thou to a Ren Faire. Shout “I’ll swallow your soul!” at him on the street, and you’re an Evil Dead freak beyond repair (and good for you). Of course, if you have a mutual friend who tells you that Raimi is something of a cocktail aficionado and that you two should talk, well, then you probably have a blog looking to do a booze-and-blood festival.
I have to thank Ted up front for being one of the first people to enthusiastically jump aboard this train while the station itself was still in the planning stages. It’s often hard to believe that the perpetually boyish Raimi – younger brother of director Sam and writer Ivan – has more than thirty years of show business under his belt. A native of Detroit, he got his first break in industrial films for local businesses, specifically the big auto makers. Then, of course, came brother Sam’s classic Evil Dead series (which isn’t on our list only because you all should have seen it already), which made cult icons out of Raimi the director and star Bruce Campbell. Poor Ted, however, was hidden behind make-up or lost in “Fake Shemp” roles. That position wasn’t to be held for long, however, and Ted became a noticeable actor with name recognition, especially in the sci-fi and horror arenas. Reviewing his career, I think his enthusiasm for all aspects of the business – along with his undeniable likability, of course — has been central to his success.
With more than 80 acting credits covering every conceivable genre under his belt, Raimi has recently stepped behind the camera to create, write, and, direct the new web-based horror series, Morbid Minutes for Break.com. “I wanted to do a horror anthology show,” Raimi told FEARnet, “but one that was less [focused] on blood n’ guts and more in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone. I felt like the gore stuff was getting out of control, and I wanted to bring it back to classic storytelling techniques.” There are no monsters in Morbid Minutes, just bite-sized morsels of tangible terror like “I just woke up surrounded by dead bodies” – you know, everyday kind of problems.
Such as –
Another common situation that I’m sure we’ve all had to deal with is a bad psychotropic trip which transforms us into a primitive ape man and causes us to run amok at the zoo feeding upon the animals. At least, that’s a problem for Dr. Edward Jessup, protagonist of Altered States (1980), the film Ted has chosen for our festival.
Based upon the novel from legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Marty, Network) and directed by the visually tempestuous Ken Russell (Tommy, The Devils), Altered States follows the journey of Dr. Jessup as he pursues the roots of human consciousness and the soul via a series of sensory deprivation experiments. Starring William Hurt in his first big screen role, Blair Brown, and the always grounded Bob Balaban, the film juxtaposes the very real tribulations of a pair of brilliant yet emotionally detached scientists whose relationship falls apart because they can’t agree on primordial theory and the origins of the Self. Through his research, Jessup seeks to find both the Self and God.
Raimi comments on the film: “Released in 1980, long after Timothy Leary’s concept of ‘freeing your mind’ was popular, Altered States took a psychedelic and horrific look into what makes us all alike and what makes us all monsters. Like Frankenstein, the movie is about a scientist who tries to advance mankind’s physical limitations – a modern day Prometheus scientist who is the first to delve into the mysterious limbic systems of our brains and come back with not anthropological facts but with primitive, primate horrors. It’s hard to believe that the man who wrote the bittersweet teleplay, Marty, and the wry television commentary Network could also write one of the most insightful psychological horror films of all time.”
A good deal of the horror in the film comes not from Dr. Jessup’s internal voyage but from what he sees there. The “trip” sequences, directed with Russell’s signature voracity, are a Salvador Dali-Matthew Barney-Terrence Malick extravaganza which really should be experienced on the big screen. Wild, surreal, and heavily religious, they present the realm of the subconscious and primordial mind. Time magazine’s Richard Corliss said of the film: “This one has everything: sex, violence, comedy, thrills, tenderness. It’s an anthology and apotheosis of American pop movies: Frankenstein, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Nutty Professor, 2001, Alien, Love Story. It opens at fever pitch and then starts soaring—into genetic fantasy, into a precognitive dream of delirium and delight. Madness is its subject and substance, style and spirit.” “This film is a classic horror picture not for its scares but the thought it leaves us with: Am I just a violent primate with a civilized man’s visage?” Raimi contends. “After seeing this movie you’ll never take a sedative the same way again!”
Finding the humanistic roots of horror is a subject which deeply interests Ted. “With Morbid Minutes, I’m trying as hard as I can to create a show that will touch at more of the base horror in all of our lives. Things like, ‘You had a lot of money, now you have to live on the street.’ Things like that that are purposefully shocking to many of us, things that we don’t want to think about.”
One way people have traditionally avoided dealing with the things they don’t want to think about is to escape, a la Dr. Jessup, to a different plain of consciousness – and what better way to do that than with Absinthe, the most notorious of liquid spirits. The great thing about working with a cocktail connoisseur like Raimi is that he came replete with drink in mind. “How about Death in the Afternoon?” he offered. An excellent choice — one which we’ve been long remiss in chronicling here.
Death in the Afternoon
1 oz Absinthe
4 oz Champagne
Add absinthe to a champagne flute
Top with chilled champagne
Gently stir to combine
Featured Glassware: Farmhouse Touch Champagne Flute by Villeroy & Boch
Contributed to the 1935 quasi-serious celebrity drink tome So Red the Nose by Ernest Hemingway and named after his earlier account of Spanish bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is a remarkably simple drink to throw together but one which is also delicious and a bit alluring, as most people remain suspect of Absinthe. You can use an Absinthe substitute like Pernod, Herbsaint, or Absente, but you may want to scale back its proportion, as real Absinthe (specifically the Kübler we recommend) is more subtle than the stand-ins.
Hemingway recommended that we “drink three to five of these slowly,” but one always needs to take Papa’s bibulous advice lightly. Still, after four or five of these, you may not need the film to find your own altered state.
Esoterica: While Ted Raimi’s big brother Sam was in high school, a good friend of his would hang around the Raimi house all day. When Sam went off to college, the friend still came over and hung out all day, so Ma and Pa Raimi put him to work babysitting young Ted. The friend was Bruce Campbell.