Every Hollywood director has a trope. Whether Guillermo del Toro's love for the macabre or Paul Thomas Anderson's recurring trend of abusive parents—everyone has something that works its way into each of their films. Sam Raimi has an interesting trend that shows up in a significant number of his projects.
Sam Raimi has a long-standing, shall we say, interest in twins, doubles, and doppelgängers. So, anyone interested in going to school on the filmmaker’s fascination with doubling, find a primer below. We showcase every instance of Raimi’s “twins” and the films to see the doppelgängers in action.
Raimi’s first feature, It’s Murder!, is a student film. Shot in black and white for the cost of what gets a family of four dinners at a family restaurant these days, it offers no hint at the career to come. Still, Raimi fans will likely notice the beginnings of several of his signatures in the little over an hour-long film.
Raimi makes his first instance of twining here; in this case, a literal twin. The villain, Uncle Jasper, played by Raimi himself, insists he has a twin. Unfortunately, the apparent identical sibling has a knack for the violent and dangerous. While It’s Murder! never truly reveals whether Jasper tells the truth, the fact that which twin can’t walk keeps changing suggests that Jasper is either deluded or purposely trying to blame a fake brother for his actions.
Evil Dead II
While It’s Murder! saw Raimi’s first attempt at a doubled character, this gonzo horror cult classic features another. Ash (Bruce Campbell) battles for his life as his friends die one by one, the lucky ones simply murdered, the worse possessed by murderous demons.
Covered in blood and feeling more than a little broken, Ash takes a moment to collect himself. He stares at himself in the mirror, attempting to give himself a pep talk. Just as he begins to feel settled, his mirror image leaps from the reflective surface, grabbing Ash. The doppelgänger briefly mocks Ash’s calming words before attempting to choke his real-world self. Moments later, Ash realizes it is his own hands grasping his neck.
Given his mental state and the obvious supernatural occurrences around him, it is impossible to say what is true within the context of the film. The possibility of a mirror Ash trying to kill the “real” version feels just as equally plausible as a traumatized barely holding it together Ash trying to choke himself to death.
When Raimi could not get the rights to any existing superheroes, he went ahead and created one to make a movie about instead. Darkman tells the tale of Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a scientist on the edge of a massive scientific breakthrough, creating synthetic skin to help those with burns, scars, and other physical trauma.
However, before he can correct the chemical equation—the skin degenerates in light, hence “Darkman”— criminals led by Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) attack Westlake’s lab. They’re searching for a file that Westlake’s girlfriend, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) uncovered. Alas, Westlake personally knows nothing about it. Unsatisfied with his honest declarations of ignorance, they kill his assistant and horribly maim him.
Somehow, Westlake improbably survives, albeit physically and mentally damaged. Driven to revenge, he begins to stalk and take out members of Durant’s gang one by one while trying to figure out if there’s any world where he can be with Hastings again, given his physical and psychological state.
The doubling moment comes when Darkman uses masks of his synthetic skin to imitate several of Durant’s henchmen, creating disorder in the gang and luring several of the criminals to their frequently brutal deaths.
Where to Watch It?: Stream on Peacock, digitally rent all over the darn place.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
The Nutt House
Co-writing along with brother Ivan and Bruce Campbell, the trio eventually elected to decline credit, instead saying Alan Smithee, Sr. (Ivan), R.O.C. Sandstorm (Bruce), and Alan Smithee Jr. (Sam) wrote the script. The film’s reception suggests this was a smart decision on their part.
However, the Nutt House forefronts Sam’s fascination as the leads are twin brothers separated at birth. Philbert Nutt (Stephen Kearney) is the fortunate son with a beautiful, rich wife (Amy Yasbeck), a sexy mistress (Traci Lords), and a Presidential campaign in full swing. Meanwhile, his twin Nathan (also Kearney) has spent years in a locked mental health facility due to Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.).
One day, Nathan manages to free himself and finds his way to his successful brother’s home. Soon, he has infiltrated Philbert’s life, and the cases of mistaken identity pile up fast and furious.
Where to Watch It?: Seemingly nowhere, which is probably for the best. If you’re genuinely hellbent on seeing it, though, physical copies of the film are running anywhere between around 40 and 80 dollars. Again though, worth skipping.
Image Credit: Triboro Entertainment Group.
Army of Darkness
Ash (Bruce Campbell, still) returns, and this time there’s no doubt that he has a doppelgänger. Actually, he has several.
Finding himself stuck in the Middle Ages, Ash has to find the Necronomicon once more. King Arthur’s Wise Man tells Ash this is the displaced hero’s only hope of returning to the present. During his search, something unseen propels him into a seemingly abandoned windmill. There, he shatters a mirror. Emerging from the shards are several miniature evil versions of Ash, with one eventually becoming a full-sized duplicate.
Ash triumphs over his doppelgänger and slays him. However, moments later, he fouls up the spell to go home. Unfortunately, not only does he not leave, but it resurrects his double. Eventually, the two face off on the battlefield, with “good” Ash leading the human forces against “bad” Ash’s Deadite soldiers.
Where to Watch It?: As with its predecessor, you can Army of Darkness on HBO Max if you’re already a subscriber. If not, it’s available for rent on nearly every digital platform.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
In this film, Raimi finds an excellent vehicle for doubling in Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). The already oft unpleasant industrialist has had his mind shattered by exposure to an experimental serum he developed. The result is an even darker side expressed via Osborn’s new alter ego, the Green Goblin.
Raimi showcases this dichotomy between driven capitalist and outright super villain by returning to the mirror technique from Evil Dead II. The reflection doesn’t leap out at himself, but the tete a tete goes on for far longer with the mirror monster belittling and demeaning an increasingly cowering Osborn.
Jon Watts, director of Far From Home, doesn’t use a mirror, but he borrows from this moment when the Goblin mask degrades a confused Osborn moments after arriving in the MCU.
Where to Watch It?: Subscribers can swing on over to Peacock Premium. The rest of us can rent it digitally on a variety of platforms.
Image Credit: Sony.
The Man With The Screaming Brain
Raimi gets a story credit as R.O.C. Sandstorm on his friend Bruce Campbell’s directorial debut. It’s a wild one.
William Cole (Bruce Campbell), a wealthy pharma C.E.O., is traveling abroad. While in Bulgaria, he ends up entangled with serial killer Tatoya (Tamara Gorski) and her ex Yegor Stragov (Vladimir Kolev). Cole’s wife, Jackie (Antoinette Byron), cheats with Yegor, and Cole kisses Tatoya. This leads to Tatoya badly beating Cole and murdering Yegor.
Things only get stranger from there with more deaths, mad scientists, robots, and brain transplants.
Besides the mirroring of Yegor and Tatoya with William and Jackie, we get two other doppelgängers of sorts. After being pushed to her death, Jackie becomes her own robotic counterpart, with her brain powering a new robot body. That’s tame, compared to William and Yegor becoming, essentially, two doppelgängers in one body. With their brains too damaged to survive without tissue from the other, a doctor combines their remaining healthy brain matter in William’s head.
Where to Watch It?: Amazon Prime subscribers can stream Man for free. The unsubscribed can rent it through Amazon (original recipe) instead.
Image Credit: Syfy.
The alien symbiote, that black goo that arrives on earth via meteorite, gives Spider-Man 3 not one but two doubles.
First, when the alien initially bonds with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), it makes Parker his own evil—or at least kind of gross—double. Sporting an on-trend emo haircut and blowing money on dark suits, this Parker is prone to street dancing, leering, and increased aggression.
Finally realizing how the symbiote is corrupting him, Spidey strips it forcefully off. The dejected viscous puddle finds a new host in the similarly damaged by Parker Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Together they make Venom, Marvel’s classic cracked mirror reflection of the Webslinger.
Where to Watch It?: Spider-Man 3 doubles Spider-Man with Peacock Premium subscribers free to stream it, and everyone else can digitally rent it almost anywhere.
Image Credit: Sony.
Oz The Great and Powerful
Oz the Great and Powerful chronicles the journey of magician-con artist Oscar Diggs (James Franco). We witness his move from the town fair scene of the United States to being the supposed savior of the Land of Oz, the great Wizard. People familiar with the 1939 film Wizard of Oz—read: everyone—will likely already know where this is going. Diggs, to defeat the Wicked Witches of the East and West, “creates” his own doppelgänger, the giant floating head Wizard, with little more than a projector. It may be little more than smoke and mirrors and a trick of the light, but the Wizard certainly qualifies as Diggs all-powerful double.
Where to Watch It?: Available to stream digitally on all major platforms and several minor ones, too.
Image Credit: Disney.
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Image Credit: Warner Bros.
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Featured Image Credit: Sony.