by Steve Habrat
If Sam Raimi failed to properly mesh campy humor with horror in Evil Dead II, he more than gets it right with 2009’s superb horror outing Drag Me To Hell. It was nice to see Raimi return to horror, a genre he happens to do quite well, after his trio of big budget Spider-Man films that seemed to be wearing out by the third installment. Scaled back and armed with a smaller scope, Raimi’s return to the genre is triumphant, as he makes a film that is bursting with sheer terror all while retaining an old school aura. It helps that he uses the Universal Studios logo from the 1980’s and uses a retro looking Ghost House logo to begin the whole experience. Then, Raimi dives head first into a bottomless pit of body fluids and demonic torture, filling his frames with tributes to his Evil Dead series and putting his star Allison Lohman through a truly arduous experience that had to have left her covered from head to toe in bruises. I can only imagine what the stunt double looked like after the shoot was complete.
Drag Me To Hell introduces us to bank loan officer Christine Brown (Played by Allison Lohman), a sweet girl who seems to have everything going for her. She is up for a promotion at work, favored by her boss Jim Jacks (Played by David Paymer), and is in a relationship with successful young professor Clay Dalton (Played by Justin Long), who also happens to come from money. It doesn’t appear that Christine has a nasty bone in her body until she has to put up with her competition at work, the kiss-ass Stu Rubin (Played by Reggie Lee), who is also trying to snag the coveted promotion that Christine so desperately wants. That nasty bone also pops up when an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Played by Lorna Raver) shows up at her desk hacking phlegm into a handkerchief and begging for a third extension on her mortgage payments. To prove herself worthy for the promotion, Christine denies Sylvia another extension, meaning that Sylvia will loose her home. Sylvia unleashes a violent attack on Christine and then proceeds to put the curse of the Lamia on Christine, meaning she will be ferociously tormented for three days by a demonic force and on the third day will be drug to the fiery depths of Hell.
After the sweeping Hollywood productions that were the Spider-Man films, Raimi once again seems back at home with a smaller film. Drag Me To Hell is filled with techniques that he applied so skillfully in 1981’s The Evil Dead. Raimi resorts to his old restrained moments that are broken by tantrums of horror that are maxed out. Every demonic attack in Drag Me To Hell is presented as a grand finale, making the audience ask, “What can Raimi possible do to this poor girl by the end?” It turns out, quite a lot, and you better believe he comes armed with a final second twist that is wickedly delicious. It’s also quite coincidental that Raimi sets his sights to demonic haunting and loose possession after swinging around New York with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He terrorizes Christine much like he did Ash in The Evil Dead, Christine always by herself when the Lamia lashes out against her, usually resulting in Christine being knock around a room or terrorized by guttural growls and clanking, mocking inanimate objects. I don’t want to ruin all the fun in spotting all the references to The Evil Dead in Drag Me To Hell, but during a sequence where Christine enters a shed in her backyard, keep an eye out for a very cool nod to his masterpiece.
Much like Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead, Allison Lohman is up for the beating that Raimi dishes out, making her a worthy successor to Ash. Christine retains the glowing persona that Ash had at the beginning of both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, a seemingly sincere person who is always trying to do the right thing. Yet when she cuts someone down to get ahead, she faces forces beyond her comprehension. She barely stands a chance to overcome the relentless Lamia. It helps that with a B-movie premise such as this; the actors are all game to approach the material on the material’s terms. No one here is going for Oscar gold, which actually makes everything more fun than it already is. Long is having a blast as a concerned boyfriend who is skeptical of everything happening to Christine. Raver’s Sylvia is sublimely hellish, popping up like a rotten jack-in-the-box to rip out a handful of Christine’s blonde hair. Lee is hysterical as the kiss-ass Stu and I would have loved to see more of him. Paymer plays his role straight, a bit left out of the schlocky events, although he does get a good one-liner when he is showered with blood spraying from Christine’s nose. Dileep Rao shows up as an overly mysterious fortune teller and Adriana Barraza shows up as a damaged medium that does battle with the wicked beast that is the Lamia, a sequence that is the standout of a film that is packed from beginning to end with standout moments.
A smart burst of nostalgia from a man that helped shape the horror genre way back in 1981, establishing himself as a low budget master of horror, Drag Me To Hell is bursting with moments that will have you chewing your fingernails clean off. He crams his frames with deranged special effects that are both unspeakable and merrily creepy. It was also nice to see Raimi trade his gallons of blood and guts in for gallons of pus, vomit, and phlegm, all which are sprayed manically on the audience. Drag Me To Hell is truly awesome because Raimi finally understands how to mix black humor with drippy horror, making the moments that he wants to be creepy sequences that reduce us to quivering piles of flesh and bone. It’s evenly balanced unlike the slapstick heavy Evil Dead II, which was more concerned with the chuckles rather than the teeth chattering. Of all the recent horror films that are either comatose remakes or uninspired garbage, Drag Me To Hell ranks as one of the best horror films of recent years, wetting our appetite for more horror from Raimi, a living legend. Sometimes it takes a living legend to show these new kids how it is done and Drag Me To Hell schools the new school of horror.
Drag Me To Hell is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.