Ah, those gypsies and their mystical curses. What will they
think of next?
Nothing good, I suspect. Ancient curses and supernatural
spells have long given filmmakers license to indulge their most exotic
fantasies, inspiring scenarios so deliriously macabre they seem more surreal
than shocking. And perhaps no American director has proved more adept at
playing on our fascination with the occult than Sam Raimi.
Raimi, whose cheerfully demented, modestly budgeted Evil
Dead trilogy helped earn him the reins to the Spider-Man
franchise, has been
conspicuously absent from the horror scene since 1990’s Darkman.
Drag Me to
Hell, his hungrily anticipated return, finds the director reaching into a dusty
bag of tricks and delivering surprisingly fresh results.
If anything, Drag
Me to Hell feels so familiar at times that
it plays like a winking homage to Raimi’s past. Demonic possessions? Frenetic
slapstick? Malevolent spirits that go bump in the night? They’re all here,
exquisitely preserved and repackaged for a generation weaned on the humorless
sadism of movies like Saw and Hostel.
Gone are the buckets of fake blood and deliberately
gratuitous gore of 1983’s original Evil Dead –
Drag Me to Hell, rated PG-13, is
a far more sanitized production, though no less effective – and the production
values are considerably higher, befitting an auteur whose last three films rank
among the highest-grossing ever. But Raimi’s sensibilities have changed very
That’s a good thing. Without his ear for darkly comic
dialogue and his unmatched flair for nauseating sight gags and playfully
overwrought set pieces, Drag Me to Hell might seem very
story is laughably basic: Christine (Alison Lohman, of Matchstick
Men) is an
upwardly mobile loan officer charged with the unenviable task of denying an old
woman an extension on her mortgage payments. Incensed by the slight, the
vengeful Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) sentences Christine to eternal damnation.
(Given her powers, one might ask, why didn’t she sentence
her to pay off the
mortgage? But that would be another story.)
What follows is not exactly a high-minded indictment of
America’s banking mores. With three days to rid herself of the curse before an
ancient demon comes calling for her soul, Christine, her fiercely loyal
boyfriend (Justin Long) and an overmatched psychic (newcomer Dileep Rao) make a
frantic bid for a stay of execution. The forces of unspeakable evil, however,
are in a less-than-forgiving mood.
Some have praised Drag
Me to Hell as a terrifying return to
form for Raimi, and while I might take issue with the choice of adjectives –
the movie is maddeningly tense and breathlessly paced, but rarely terrifying –
it is certainly a welcome return. Rather than inviting the gag reflex with
scenes of severed limbs and indescribable torture, Raimi takes a manic,
tongue-in-cheek approach to horror that seems to revel in its own gleeful
absurdity. Needless to say, he’s been missed.