WHY ARE THE NEW BREED OF HORROR MOVIES - YOU KNOW THEM AS "PSYCHOLOGICAL THILLERS" - SO POPULAR? BECAUSE IT'S FUN TO BE FRIGHTENED.

Sam Raimi, firmly ensconced as the Peter Parker-like keeper of the Spider-Man franchise, never intended to make his reputation, much less his fortune, as a director of horror movies. As a child, he preferred to tell oddball tales with Super-8 cameras and 10-buck budgets - stories about the Civil War, about missing mobsters, and later about a crazed college student who terrorizes a campus before finals.

Most horror movies didn't interest him, although some managed to frighten him. "They scared me terribly," says the polite, thoughtful, soft-spoken man who would be known for years as a maker of horror movies - or at least horrifying ones such as Evil Dead, which features a character who replaces his demonically possessed hand with the same chain saw he used to remove it. "I always made comedies and melodramatic movies in high school, but Rob [Tappert, his moviemaking partner] said you have to make a horror movie to break in," Raimi recalls. "So Rob took me to see Halloween, and the audience was screaming. I said, 'I don't think I can do that.' I didn't know horror movies were that good. So then we saw the other horror movies at the drive-in. Most people are inspired by things that are great. I was inspired by these things that are awful. After we saw those movies at the drive-in, I said, 'Yes, Rob, I can make a movie better than that.' "

Thus the Evil Dead trilogy was born. Thanks to home video, these three movies, including the 1981 original, the 1987 sequel, and 1993's Army of Darkness, have made a small fortune and spawned an enormous cult. More important, they've made Sam Raimi a wealthy, powerful player in a genre he was once too scared to touch.

Raimi is now a partner in Ghost House Pictures, maker of the kind of thrillers that appear at No. 1 in box office receipts seemingly every week before quickly vanishing into the ether like a vengeful specter. Among its releases are 2004's The Grudge (debuted at No.1), starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as an American nurse in Tokyo surrounded by poor suckers who succumb to a rancorous curse; Boogeyman (also debuting at No. 1), about a traumatized guy who returns home to face his (literal) demons; the upcoming Rise, in which a reporter wakes up in a morgue and finds herself among the living dead; Scarecrow, in which spooky ­doings unsettle a family who have taken over a sunflower farm; and 30 Days of Night, a vampire tale based on a cult-­favorite comic book. Then there's the just-announced remake of Evil Dead, which Raimi will not direct because he's too busy prepping the third Spider-Man movie. The man has become his own fright franchise.