Justin Long Saw A Lot Of Sam Raimi In Barbarian Director Zach Cregger

2022 was the year of the little horror film that could. More specifically, it was the year of a few little horror films that could. And by "could" I mean make a profit while providing sufficient nightmare fodder for us all (Have I seen the skin-peeling scene from "Terrifier 2?" No. Is my world bleaker for knowing about it? Absolutely). Whether it was Paramount's surprise hit "Smile" or the uber-violent "Terrifier 2" itself, which made almost $11 million on a $250,000 budget, this past year has further cemented horror as the only other bankable box office genre alongside all that superhero stuff.

But perhaps the most interesting of this year's crop of gruesome cinematic visions is the delightfully refreshing, and genuinely terrifying, "Barbarian." The result of sketch troupe founder and sitcom regular Zach Cregger's first directorial effort in the horror genre, the film raked in a very respectable $44 million at the global box office on a budget of just $4.5 million. No doubt much of its commercial success was down to Disney's (yes, Disney's) novel marketing approach. But more impressively, the movie that A24 must be pretty upset that it ignored reveled in upending the horror tropes we've all grown accustomed to.

All of which has caused a significant buzz around Cregger. Prior to "Barbarian," his standing as a director in Hollywood was pretty much non-existent. Now with his charmingly grim and subversive little movie out in the world, everyone's excited to see what he does next. Whatever it is, if you ask one of the film's stars, Justin Long, it will likely be tinged with the kind of distinctive passion that horror movie legend Sam Raimi brought to his films.

Raimi's childlike enthusiasm

Long himself previously worked with Raimi on the similarly subversive "Drag Me To Hell" in 2009, where he evidently gained an appreciation for the legendary director's keenness on-set. Speaking to GQ, the co-star of "Barbarian"

"[Zach] is so passionate and specific. He reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi in that way. Sam's got this childlike enthusiasm for what he's doing, like he's a kid playing in the sandbox. I think he even used that metaphor with me."

Long went on to talk about how he would watch Raimi on the set of "Drag Me To Hell" and see him "mouthing the lines, moving and contorting his body in the way he wanted Alison [Lohman — the film's star] to be moving." He even likened the director to a "puppet master" due to his close connection to the material, before claiming to see those same characteristics in Cregger.

Barbarian is no Looney Tunes

There's no doubt that Cregger's unorthodox approach in "Barbarian" is reminiscent of Raimi's own distinct style. And it's heartening to hear of an up-and-coming director who feels as connected to, and passionate about his projects as someone of Raimi's caliber.

But while Long obviously sees some similarities between the two directors, he also recognizes the differences. The actor recently spoke to his "Drag Me to Hell" co-star Alison Lohman on his podcast "Life Is Short," where the two reminisced about their time with Raimi. Interestingly, Long says he views "Barbarian" as "a real hardcore horror." In contrast, his recollection of "Drag Me To Hell" is of a movie that's "definitely not true horror" and "more cartoon." He even mentions how Raimi talked about "Looney Tunes" as a reference point for the film.

Considering "Barbarian's" abrupt tonal shift part-way through and its unmistakably humorous moments (most of which are provided by Long's character) it's slightly surprising to hear Long refer to the film as "hardcore horror." The horror elements of the movie are undeniably harrowing, but the aforementioned humor breaks up the "hardcore" stuff enough to provide some respite. Still, it's no "Looney Tunes" episode, which is why Long made sure to tell GQ that whereas Raimi embraced the more fun aspects of his projects, Cregger leaned "more towards the horror, wanting to elicit fear over laughter." That, he did. And he'll no doubt do it again on whatever twisted vision he dreams up next. Let's just hope that if we start seeing more mainstream horror movies like "Terrifier 2," Cregger maintains that sense of humor to give us all a rest between the carnage.