DRAG ME TO HELL
**** (out of 5)
May 29, 2009
Alison Lohman as CHRISTINE BROWN
Justin Long as CLAY DALTON
Lorna Raver as MRS. GANUSH
Dileep Rao as RHAM JAS
David Paymer as MR. JACKS
Adriana Barraza as SHAUN SAN DENA
Directed by: Sam Raimi
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
To really get Sam Raimi’s new horror film “Drag Me To Hell,” you have to get Sam Raimi. I’m not talking about Sam Raimi, the director of the “Spider-Man” movies. I’m not talking about Sam Raimi who went mainstream with movies like “The Quick and the Dead” or “For Love of the Game.” I’m talking about Sam Raimi, the creative force behind the slapstick horror comedy of the “Evil Dead” series.
“Drag Me to Hell” is being touted by the advertising campaign as Raimi’s “return to true horror,” but that’s a bit misleading. Sure, it’s a return to horror, which he hasn’t revisited since he directed “The Gift” in 2000 (which was more suspense than horror) and “Army of Darkness” in 1992 (which was more of a fantasy adventure). It’s safer to say he hasn’t really directed a true horror movie since “Evil Dead 2” in 1987.
But even though Raimi is a horror icon, he always had a special brand of horror that relied on excessive gore, in-your-face slapstick and a healthy dose of comedy. The “Evil Dead” series at times had more in common with the Three Stooges and Warner Bros. cartoons than it did with other zombie films like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.”
“Drag Me to Hell” begins with a masquerade of horror. It tells a revenge story about an old Gypsy woman who puts a curse on Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a loan officer who rejects her plea for an extension on her mortgage. Over three days, Christine is haunted by an evil Lamia spirit which torments her and eventually wants to pull her immortal soul into the depths of Hell. Over the course of the film, Christine must discover the truth about the Lamia and desperately tries to find a way to escape it.
On the surface, “Drag Me to Hell” is a horror movie. It has all the elements that make it so, often dragging old cliches to structure the story. It has an old Gypsy woman. It has a curse. It has a doting boyfriend. It has an evil spirit. It has a seance. It has a graveyard scene… Shall I go on?
Unlike many horror films you’ll catch in the theater and on DVD, these cliches aren’t crutches of a lazy writer. Rather they are homages to the genre itself. Raimi has been immersed in horror films for so long that he (along with his writing partner, brother Ivan) uses them in the movie to tell a feature-length joke that true horror fans will understand… and find hilarious.
I’ve never been a huge fan of movies done in excess, like the “Crank” films and “Shoot ‘Em Up.” However, Raimi has a real knack for this, and as long as you don’t go into the movie expecting a bloodcurdling thriller, you should have a lot of fun. Ultimately, the audience needs to look at “Drag Me to Hell” as a twisted comedy rather than a scary movie.
Raimi uses all the elements of the cinema to deliver his gag. Most effectively employed is the soundtrack, which bounces between complete silence and ear-splitting volume. The action in the movie is violent and explosive, designed to make you jump from your seat.
It doesn’t take long for the horror-action scenes to turn into goofiness. In one scene, the old Gypsy woman doesn’t just attack Christine in her car. She relentlessly pursues her like a rabid dog. The effects border on the grotesque and include biting, kicking, stapling and stabbing with an office ruler. A later scene literally has Christine dispatch the ghost by dropping an anvil on its head.
Yes, you heard me right… an anvil. Raimi’s love for cartoon violence becomes a bit heavy-handed even here. After all, how many people in suburban Los Angeles keep an anvil in their shed, let alone hanging from the ceiling.
In the end, I found myself laughing throughout “Drag Me to Hell,” often to the confusion of the horrified people around me. But then again, I’ve been watching “Evil Dead” since I was in middle school, so I totally got the joke.
Don’t think of “Drag Me to Hell” as a grisly horror flick. Instead, realize that it is the most hilarious movie of 2009.