Sam Raimi's Forgotten Detroit Movie

Mann’s Chinese Theater doesn’t have the handprints of the director behind such classics as Spider-Man, A Simple Plan, and Army of Darkness, but the Detroit Historical Museum does on its Legends Plaza 

That right, the director of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hails from metro Detroit.  


A Detroit Auteur

Sam Raimi’s home often factors into his films, from the Michigan State sweater sported by one of the protagonists in his 1981 low budget breakout hit Evil Dead, to a joke about the Detroit Tigers’ disastrous 2003 season in his latest film. In fact, his second film, the often-overlooked Crimewave was shot in the city and features many local landmarks, including the Tuller Hotel, the John C. Lodge Freeway and the MacArthur Bridge, as well as some Detroit faces.  

Crimewave is a slapstick send-up of classic crime films and tells the story of a man wrongly placed on death row after getting wrapped up in a bungled murder plot. The script was written by Raimi along with future multi-Oscar winners and fellow Midwesterners the Cohen Brothers—Joel Cohen had worked as an assistant editor on Evil Dead establishing an early friendship between the young filmmakers. While it was the first time that the group was working within the Hollywood system, they rooted the film in Detroit, where much of it was shot. As the movie playfully blended the trappings of film from the 1940s, with contemporary technology, the city’s varied architecture provided a perfect backdrop. 


Resurrecting the Tuller

Much of the action is centered around an apartment building, which sharp-eyed viewers might recognize as the Tuller Hotel. Once located across from the western tip of Grand Circus Park, the Tuller Hotel was originally opened in 1906, and brisk business throughout its first couple decades necessitated a series of expansions. However, by that fall of 1983 through 1984 when Crimewave was filming, the Tuller had been shuttered for seven years, and had been in disrepair in its final years of operation even before that.  

For the production, the Tuller’s ballroom, the Arabian Room, was transformed into the ritzy Rialto Café (named in honor of a favorite restaurant in Ferndale). In this space which once hosted Duke Ellington, Crimewaves hero gets into a fight with a romantic rival played by Raimi regular, and co-producer of the film, Bruce Campbell. Of filming late nights at the corner of Park Avenue and West Adams Street between the Tuller and the Kales Building, for the film’s audio commentary track years later, Campbell recalled the late-night noise of filming resulted in angry notes and even bottles being tossed out of windows down to the crew. 

Thrills on the Lodge and MacArthur Bridge

One of the film’s more over-the-top sequences involves a fight scene atop a moving car on the Lodge. Shot between the high walls that line the expressway between 8 Mile Road and Wyoming, the location was likely chosen to avoid continuity errors in background details as the long sequence seemingly takes place across miles and miles of highway. This part of the shoot took eight nights, and according to an interview with the Detroit Free Press, the location was provided free of charge thanks to the intervention of Governor James Blanchard. Thanks to a bit of movie magic, this chase/fight scene on M-10 ends not at Northland Center, but instead on the picturesque MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. Because the shoot was going on in the middle of winter, but the film’s story was not, the crew had to melt the ice underneath the bridge to get the needed shots.

Local Talent

Campbell was originally intended to star in the film, however the studio insisted on a Hollywood actor in the lead role instead. In support of his friend, Raimi expanded the supporting role which Campbell wound up in. Sam Raimi’s brother Ted, who would go on to appear as a regular on the cult television shows SeaQuest DSV and Xena: Warrior Princess, also makes a brief appearance. Dick the Bruiser of Detroit’s Big Time Wrestling fame provided the cartoonishly gruff voice for one of the bumbling villains. WJR radio personalities Jimmy Launce and Hal Youngblood each make cameos. And Trumbull Theatre founder Perry Mallette helps to save the day in his scene. 

A Learning Experience

Unfortunately, Crimewave’s production was fraught with trouble. The young filmmakers struggled with studio oversight and handling a Hollywood production. Ultimately the film received an extremely limited theatrical release simply to meet the qualification for sale to premium cable channels. The Cohens went on launch their careers with their own first film Blood Simple, and Raimi revisited his earlier success by making the beloved Evil Dead 2. After much cult and commercial success Raimi eventually returned to the area as a veteran director to film 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful in Pontiac’s Raleigh Michigan Studios. Crimewave remains a curiosity primarily only known by diehard fans of Raimi, or those looking to see Detroit play a major role.