“Drag Me to Hell” is a film that only Sam Raimi could make. After spending almost a decade devoted to “Spider-Man”, Raimi has finally come home to his singular brand of horror/comedy that manages scares and laughs through B-movie schlock and gross-out visuals that will both shock and tickle the audience like only his films can.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) isn’t a bad person. She’s got a nice psychology professor boyfriend (Justin Long), an inoffensive demeanor, and she’s desperately trying to put her past as an overweight farm girl behind her as she fights for an assistant manager position at the bank where she works as a loan officer. And then some damn evil gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) has to come along and mess it all up. By denying the old crone a third extension on her mortgage payments (in order to prove to her boss that she can make the “tough decisions” like an assistant manager), she is cursed with the “Lamia” which will torment her for three days before (wait for it), dragging her to hell.
Of course, Brown’s story and the story of old dark magic contrasted against our modern world of logic, manners, technology, and personal priorities, is really Raimi’s story. While I love the first two “Spider-Man” movies, I don’t think Raimi could have made “Drag Me to Hell” without those big budget films and then losing control and missing the mark with “Spider-Man 3”. But if the third “Spider-Man” film was Raimi’s downfall, then “Drag Me to Hell” is his redemption. Everything that made the geek community fall in love with Raimi that he showcased in the “Evil Dead” trilogy explodes all over the screen in his latest film (usually out of people’s mouths). In fact, if you’ve never seen an “Evil Dead” movie before, “Drag Me to Hell” is probably going to throw you for a loop. I suspect some audiences may end up hating it to death because they think it’s too cheesy or too cartoon-y or not scary in the way they expected, but if they have ever seen Raimi in his element, they should know that he’s playing it exactly the way he wants: B-movie schlock meets low-budget horror combined with slapstick/gross-out comedy. It’s a combustible mix but Raimi brews it right every time.
At a brisk 96 minutes, “Hell” never lets you catch your breath. It’s either veering wildly into campy comedy to the point where if Bruce Campbell appeared he would be the least insane aspect of this film OR it’s creeping you out with Raimi’s complete mastery of sound. This isn’t a film where you cover your eyes (or at least, you cover them a few seconds too late as he hits us with yet another gross-out gag) but one where you cover your ears because this is a sound design where if you’re not listening to it turned up to full volume, you’re missing out on the experience. Raimi’s either trying to make you go deaf, piss yourself in fear, or pull out a big belly laugh at the complete insanity and absurdity before you. No matter what part of your body he’s trying to manipulate, he makes sure you’re never bored.
The film does have a few setbacks in that Raimi sometimes indulges his new CG toolbox when the film’s retro quality (it opens with the Universal logo from the 80s) would be better served by using more practical effects and the set-ups sometime serve as a defense against the insane payoffs rather than a means of ramping up the tension.
But these are small nitpicks against a film that is signature Sam Raimi and any fan of his older work will be delighted to get dragged around by this flick. If those unfamiliar with the “Evil Dead” movies (especially “Evil Dead 2”) find that they love this movie, then hopefully they’ll start feeling that same odd mix of excitement and disappointment the rest of us Raimi-fans feel when we hear that the director is making a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster when he’s absolutely untouchable if he’s doing a spook-a-blast like “Drag Me to Hell”.
Rating —– B plus