"Thanks folks, for wanting it to be good," director Sam Raimi told a raucous crowd well after midnight in Austin late Sunday, moments before the work-in-progress screening of his return to horror, "Drag Me to Hell." For two hours, a full house inside Austin's Paramount Theater screamed, squirmed and howled with laughter, cheering enthusiastically when the final scene ended. But, the response at the end of the movie couldn't match the rousing standing ovation Raimi received prior to the showing.
"You're hear to see a Sam Raimi horror film!" bellowed online journalist Harry Knowles, introducing Raimi before the screening. It was the second coup of the night delivered to SXSW by Universal Studios on Sunday, giving select journalists a mini-junket of sorts and offering local moviegoers an early look at two anticipated '09 studio movies.
Ninety minutes earlier, across town, Universal (and the festival) offered a 22 minute sneak peak at a rough assemblage of footage from "Bruno," the latest from Sascha Baron Cohen. Critics and bloggers of all stripes were shuttled by the studio from the brief "Bruno" event at Alamo South Lamar across town to the Paramount Theater for the Raimi screening.
Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie -- opening in late May -- had the crowd laughing loudly during the brief sneak, which featured three extended scenes that will be cut into the final film. Interstitials included Cohen in an editing room speaking directly to the camera and setting up the narrative of his gay character, Bruno.
The heartiest laughter came from the third scene, the infamous caged wrestling match that made national news when Cohen and another actor portrayed fighters who end up stripping down and making out in the ring in front of 1600 Arkansas wrestling fans. Angered by the stunt, the crowd turned on them and began hurling beer and even a chair. In the current cut Sunday, the on-screen scene was set to Elton John's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."
Twittering after the footage was screened, critic James Rocchi enthused that the scenes were, "Wildly, paralytically funny and brilliantly transgressive." On the shuttle ride after, critics and bloggers debated Cohen's approach, but were quite positive about the often outrageous (and quite hilarious) footage.
Raimi's latest seemed equally well received in Austin. On Facebook, indieWIRE critic Eric Kohn wrote of the film, "Sam Raimi blows off twenty years of steam. Slapstick/horror at once absurdly cheesy and amazingly self-aware."
More to come from the Raimi screening on Monday.