Drag Me to Hell

by | May 30th, 2009 | 5:55PM | Filed under: Theatrical Reviews

Drag-me-to-hell-poster-560x829 Though it my not always seem like it, redblog is a family blog. So allow me to choose my next words carefully.

Sweet holy, barkin’, somersaultin’, lovable, eyeball-poppin’, road-racin’, gum-drop Sally.

Now this is a horror film.

Sam Raimi’s been several different directors in his 28-year career. Wild-eyed genre enthusiast (The Quick and the Dead), somber studier of tragic characters (the absolutely fantastic, minimalist A Simple Plan), and, of course, most famously, kinetic slinger of webs in the blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy.

But for those of us who grew up on the horror films of the ‘80s, Raimi will always be the maniacal puppeteer of The Evil Dead trilogy—the original, grim, low-budget horror-in-the-woods flick; the brilliant laugh-scream slapstick of its sequel/remake The Evil Dead II; and the less horror/more camp follow up, Armies of Darkness.

As you may have heard, that Sam is back.

Drag Me to Hell is something a whole generation of horror-film fans hasn’t seen much: pure, gleeful, slapped-silly gross-out fun. No brooding Japanese ghost stories with pale faced, stringy haired phantoms. (Though Raimi did his part to spread that trend as producer of the American Grudge.) No anatomically grotesque torture-porn sessions, a la the Saw series (and the much better Hostel films). No teenagers hacked up by frustrated handymen.

Instead, Raimi has gotten behind the wheel of his second favorite muscle car and put the pedal to the metal. (And yes, longtime Raimi fans, The Classic is here, in its biggest supporting role since Armies of Darkness.) As written by Raimi and his brother Ivan, Drag Me to Hell is the story of sweet, ambitious, good-hearted Christine Brown, played with wide-eyed, almost-dreamy guilelessness by the terrific Alison Lohman (Where the Truth Lies). A bank loan officer (boo! hiss!) out to impress her boss (David Paymer), Christine turns down an old gypsy woman’s request for a payment extension and in return gets herself a helluva lot of grief.

This plot stuff is pretty thin—it could be covered in about eight pages of an old EC Comics Tales From the Crypt issue. And that's the point: no messing around, no lallygagging. Christine’s character is sketched out quickly and effectively, aided by Lohman’s pitch-perfect performance: she's one of those go-getters we all know—or are—who try to say and do all the right things, support the right causes, and wrap up their ambition and fierce self-interest in oodles of happy smiles and rationalizing Oprah-babble. Until a demon curse from Hell comes along and runs all those rainbows and unicorns right through the wood chipper. Then Christine will do anything to get that promotion, and anything to keep from getting hauled off to the land of fire and brimstone. ("Here, kitty, kitty…")

Dragmetohellgypsy Raimi is a fine weaver and cranker of suspense, but Drag Me to Hell is not really a terrifying film—most of the scares are of the violin-shriek, jump-shock sort. There’s none of that atmospheric dread or nightmare-inducing creepiness that’s going to follow you back home when you turn off the lights for bed.

Instead, this is a soda-spewing, popcorn-choking laugh riot—it’s meant to be a pure horror-ride hoot. And yet, I was the only person in my theater on opening night who was proudly roaring at every wildly inappropriate indignation inflicted on poor Christine. In an act of pure self-preservation, I’m going to say that’s a problem with the audience not realizing it's okay to laugh at this stuff and not an indictment of my taste, or lack thereof.

Lohman deserves a purple heart (and a course of antibiotics) for not only carrying the show, but doing so while under a non-stop assault of body fluids (her own and others’). She has an effortless ‘60s Hitchcockian glamor, giving off a Janet Leigh or Eva Marie Saint vibe—the good girl you can’t wait to see pushed to the breaking point. Justin Long is on hand as Christine’s unhelpful boyfriend; and TV character actor Lorna Raver gives us one top-notch, denture-dropping, banshee-shrieking old gypsy woman. Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza, and Reggie Lee round things out as various spiritual advisers, mediums, and work rivals.

But the real star of the show is Raimi’s nutso eye for supernatural chaos. Mainstream audiences got a small taste of this in Raimi’s Spider-Man II, during Doc Ock’s ill-fated surgery scene. But us old-school Raimi fans will recognize all the familiar tricks—there’s not much here he wasn’t already throwing at us and Bruce Campbell 22 years ago in that Evil-Dead-infested cabin in the woods. (At one point, Long suggests they get away and relax at his parents’ cabin, and I was up on my seat shouting, “Cabin! Cabin! Cabin!”) Animated household objects? Yep. Ghostly giggling? Check. Crazed dolly zooms at dutch angles? Sure. Flying eyeballs? Oh hell yes.

Dragmetohellseance When Christine flees her demonic pursuer and hides out in a tool shed, us Evil Dead II fans will be squealing with anticipation. There are just so many things that can go wrong with power tools these days. Instead, Raimi goes really old school—he’s always been more a disciple of Chuck Jones than John Carpenter. (The only thing missing is an ACME stencil on the side of the anvil, and even that might reveal itself on closer DVD inspection.)

Let me just give you a quick rundown of some of the things that go into, come out of, or otherwise violate someone’s facial orifices in Drag Me to Hell: blood, teeth, mucus, embalming fluid, a whole forearm, staples (our second round this year, thanks to The Wrestler), a ruler (I think… things were happening pretty quickly), various sorts of multi-colored goo, a babushka (in a scene reminiscent of Ash’s struggles with his severed hand in EDII), worms, flies, and yes… a certain beloved pet.

Impressively, all this is done under a PG-13 rating. The violence is pure cartoon and Stooge slapstick, the blood is minimal, and the few actual deaths happen off camera. But don’t worry, it’s made up for with over-the-top foley work on the soundtrack. Comic-book onomatopoeia rules the day as Raimi piles up the plops, gushes, splats, screeches, and rips.

Dragmetohelllohman Thanks to that “teenagers welcome” rating, a generation of budding young horror fans (or just date-nighters looking to clutch one another in the dark) are going to be exposed to a sort of rip-snorting, good-natured, big-howls horror they haven’t seen much of lately. The kind of thing some of us discovered in Poltergeist more than 25 years ago.

Sure, this is a throw-away lark for Sam Raimi. After a decade of skillfully making movies designed to sell toys and fast-food tie-ins, he’s showing off here; masterfully and enthusiastically dancing to a nasty little hurdy gurdy carny tune. Lurid, florid, sordid, and morbid, Drag Me to Hell is the most shameless, disposable fun I’ve had in a theater all year. When the end titles slammed down abruptly and mercilessly, I was begging for 30 more minutes of mayhem.

You know, there was another young, mad filmmaker who burst onto the ‘80s horror scene with hilarious, reckless, blood-gushing, zombie-tossing abandon. Who also has spent the past decade making a big, lucrative, mainstream fantasy trilogy.

Sam Raimi has returned to his demented roots and raised the pot with two eyeballs and a talking possessed goat. Peter Jackson, it’s your turn.

17 Responses to “Drag Me to Hell

  1. Jennifer
    Posted on May 30, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    What a great blog entry! I had no intentions of seeing this movie, but now I’m totally stoked about it. I lived and breathed horror movies in the 80s and have been so disgruntled about today’s quality (or lack thereof). Thanks for this truly great read.

  2. Jill
    Posted on May 30, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    If the movie is as engrossing as this review, I’m in.
    Thanks for a great take on this without really giving away too much…then again, you prepped us for what to expect. and YES YES YES may Peter Jackson please return to his roots! “your mum ate my dog!”
    Congrats to Raimi for honoring the stuff that put him on the map in the first place.

  3. Peter K
    Posted on May 31, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    You hit the nail on the head… or was it thru my head? I saw this movie Saturday night and, like you Locke, I was the only one howling and ewwwing at the same time. I think the people behind me were more entertained by my wiglle worm antics than the film. Poor them. My favorite scene? How good the Harvest Cake ‘looked’. tee hehehehe.

  4. Holly
    Posted on May 31, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I saw this movie on Friday & it was honestly one of the Worst horror movies I think I have ever seen. The only thing that was remotely “scary” was ever chance they got they did the whole Jump Out & Scare You thing. And unlike most horror movies you didn’t have any warning so that’s all that made the movie Kind of scary. Don’t waste your money at the theater get it off RedBox if you have to see it.

  5. sean
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

    i was about to pass till I saw that Sam Raimi directed it, then I was ready to go see it in theatres that night.
    But no Bruce Campbell :( that is the only draw back of the movie thus far. not even a cameo role.

  6. jovani ricks
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    you guys do not know wat you are talking about i saw this in theater and i loved.It was funny and scary, this the first scary pg-13 i have ever,.And most of u did not like it cause your not into stuff like this.i encourage people to see.it is scarycause i almost had had a heartattack.

  7. chanel
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    this movie is terrible. last time i checked, horror meant scary…….and it wasnt funny enough to be a comedy movie! sucked all around!

  8. Michelle
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    For anyone born before 1980, horror does not mean scary…it means horror, as in a girl getting killed by an open curling iron (ala S-A C) I cannot wait to see this movie!!!

  9. Carla Grant
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    this movie was great. i love movies that are exciting. drag me to hell capture the audience attention.not once you even wanted to move for refeshment or the restroom.

  10. Rachel
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I have never walked out of a movie before in my life, but this was the worst all around movie I have ever seen. I am shocked and amazed at how pathetically low the human race has stooped. –Honestly, have we all turned into 13 year old boys???
    I almost lasted through a solid hour, then demanded my money back. And the amazing part was, when my group stood up to leave, I was surprised at how many people followed us out, unable to finish it as well.
    –As a whole, if your contemplating seeing Drag Me To Hell, or simply contemplating SUICIDE I recommend the latter!!!

  11. Angie
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I totally agree Locke! This movie was awesome! I’m a huge Sam Raimi fan as well, and really that was the only reason I was even interested in seeing it in the first place. I love the Evil Dead series, so I went into this movie fully expecting it to be insane. And how very right I was! This movie is ridiculous on every level, which makes it all the more entertaining. The shock value is what really made this movie what is. Definitely in a league of its own compared to other recent “horror” films….Sam Raimi doesn’t disappoint! I was a little saddened that Bruce Campbell wasn’t in this at all. He’s notorious for at least making a cameo appearance in all of Sam Raimi’s work…so that was a let down and quite surprising. But believe me, if you are a fan of shocking horror films that will make you shriek and laugh at the same time, then this is definitely for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a scary movie with a deep plot…you may want to look somewhere else.

  12. Whitney
    Posted on June 10, 2009 at 10:23 am

    wow this movie looks so goos its freakin amazin lookin

  13. Noel
    Posted on June 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I am curious as to whether Mr. Raimi is sticking with his slapstick comedy/horror genre. On its face I would say that DMTH is an instant redbox rental. Who can argue spotting a buck to watch the Mac guy battle evil monsters.

  14. Damaris
    Posted on June 12, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Ok I saw this in the theatre on my birthday and I loved it, the only thing as for me was that at the end I knew how it was going to end before it got to the end. It wasnt a surprise for me. But other than that I loved it. Its a great movie.

  15. cindy whheler
    Posted on June 14, 2009 at 8:06 am

    why rated p-g 13? stupid with ust the name of the movie-i wont let my 14 y.o boy see it and many fights have started over it!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Howler
    Posted on June 17, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Great review. I, too, enjoyed this film. I think I found both a Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell cameo, though. Very subtle ones…
    I think Ted Raimi is the off-screen doctor that the husband speaks with. And I believe the wayward, laughing spirit that first appears during the seance sounds a lot like Ash’s crazy laughter in Evil Dead or Evil Ash’s laughter in Army of Darkness. I could be wrong, though… Thoughts?

  17. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on June 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Ted definitely has a cameo, so you may be right about that one.
    The crazy-laughing spirit voice certainly sounds a LOT like the maniacal giggling from ED, but if so, we’d have to consult the Movie Cameo Judges for a ruling. Is it a cameo if it was previously recorded for a different movie? Or is it just a cameo in spirit, so to speak?