To describe Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell as “kind-of scary” is like describing Bruno as “kind-of funny” or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as “kind-of stupid.” Some movies are just made for hyperbolic reviews and Raimi’s latest is one of them: it’s a rollicking rollercoaster ride through Hades that is certain to make teenage boys heave popcorn in the air in gorgasmic delight; teenage girls will shriek both in repulsion and glee; and damn near everyone else will whoop and laugh and holler as if they’ve wandered into a midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Drag Me To Hell is a gin-u-wine endorphin generator that might be a wildcard contender for best film of the year. Too hyperbolic? Well, wait until you see the movie.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a sweet, timid loan officer who is just the kind of horror heroine that is naive enough to wind up in some really awful situation. Her prickly pear arrives in the form of an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver); a one-eyed Romanian who’s about to have her home repossessed. Christine doesn’t want to reject the old lady’s third loan application, but she also needs to prove to her boss that she can make the ‘tough decisions’ and earn that Assistant Manager position at the bank. So she sends grandma packing. I cannot stress enough how much she will regret this decision.
What Ganush lacks in financial savvy she makes up for in gypsy curses, and she dooms Christine to suffer three days of supernatural torment before eventually being dragged to … well, hell. Without giving too much away, Christine endures some of the grossest, funniest, most horrifying physical and emotional torture since Cheryl unwisely decided to stroll through the woods in The Evil Dead. Seriously, Lohman is an incredible sport for putting up with everything Raimi throws at her. With the help of her charmingly concerned boyfriend (Justin Long) and a surprisingly expensive medium (Dileep Rao), Christine attempts to call off the demons. The thing is, these demons don’t take too kindly to reasoning. I’ll stop before I ruin any more of the film. And I haven’t even gotten to the goat yet!
Drag Me To Hell is Raimi’s first horror film since he completed his Evil Dead trilogy in 1993, and I didn’t realise how much I had missed him. The film was co-written by Sam with his brother Ivan before he abandoned the genre to work on the Spiderman trilogy (maybe you’ve heard of it). In the interim, thrill seekers had to resort to whatever Saw sequel or J-horror remake would be playing in cinemas for their fortnightly jumpscare. During that time we forgot that scary movies weren’t simply comprised of creepy children, grizzly torture sequences and female nudity (although they can sometimes be very important ingredients). Raimi exercises both Hitchcockian restraint and Argentian-excess to create one of the most effective horror films of the decade. It’s like the greatest fairground haunted house in the world.
As scary as the film is, it is still downright hilarious in all the right (and sometimes very wrong) ways. I fear that the more casual horror fans won’t quite get the joke; the joke of course being that the entire film is actually One. Big. Joke. Drag Me To Hell is both an old-school celebration of classic eighties horror flicks and a pitch-perfect spoof of modern-day terror-tropes, from its Danny Elfman-aping score to its Ghostbusters-esque spectres. It would all be laughable if it still weren’t so damn frightening. Raimi teases the audience like a master seducer (note one sequence featuring a pesky fly flirting with Lohman’s upper lip). Each moment is almost unwatchable for its intensity, but you’d be crazy to look away. His scattershot Spiderman 3 felt like it came from a director unsure of himself. I think its safe to say Raimi has his mojo back.
I mentioned previously that most audiences might not appreciate the tongue-in-cheek silliness of Drag Me To Hell. They might be expecting an Unborn or a Grudge or something terrible like that, and misunderstand Raimi’s goofy project as laughable. I implore audiences to give the film a chance and understand that Raimi and co are laughing with you. This is a spoof movie of the highest degree; one which stands up as a solid scary movie as well. Drag Me To Hell is a genre-buster; one of the funniest and most satisfying films of 2009, and quite simply a perfect horror film. It also has possibly the greatest final-reel shock since Carrie. I dare you to walk out without a smile on your face. A twisted, demented smile.