Drag Me to Hell has everything you could want from a movie of its title. This includes, but is not limited to, a vomiting corpse, a possessed goat, maggots and flies in unorthodox places, and most terrifying of all, awkward small talk with stuffy parents. That’s right kids; schlocky horror auteur Sam Raimi is back from Hollywood hell, and ready to party. No offense to fans of Raimi’s Spider-man films, but to horror hounds around the globe, Raimi will always be the demented genius behind the Evil Dead series. And with all of that money Spidey earned the filmmaker tucked away in a shoe box somewhere, Raimi can finally get back to making the kinds of films he became famous for.
Raimi brothers Sam and Ivan co-wrote this quaint little story about a girl, a boy and a twisted old gypsy who wants bloody revenge. Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a sweet, former farm girl looking to reinvent herself as a confident modern day woman. As a mortgage officer for a small bank, Christine has her eye on an assistant manager position. (Scary stuff, right?) But when her dweeb of a boss (the great David Paymer) encourages her to be more aggressive on the job, Christine must decide whether to extend the mortgage payments of a freaky old woman with a disturbing glass eye or sign the papers which would condemn her home. Needless to say, she makes the wrong choice. Next thing you know, black magic and evil curses target Christine, and the poor unsuspecting victim must confront nightmarish visions that would have Freddy Krueger clinging to his blankie. Along for the ride is Christine’s supportive boyfriend (Justin Long), whose best moment in the film has got to be his argument with a fortune teller about the teachings of Carl Jung. (That’s what I’m talking about, horror flicks for people with college degrees!) Christine is put through a series of physical and mental tests, including a trip to see Justin’s snooty parents for an uncomfortable family dinner (she’s haunted by both demonic visions and the probing questions of the parents). Throughout, Lohman is excellent in the role; she’s a real tough “scream queen,” doing battle with kitchen appliances, demons of all shapes and sizes and participating in one of the greatest rainstorm-graveyard-wrestling matches ever committed to film.
As always, Raimi fuses his work with energy and imagination. Sure, he’s turned down the gross meter a tad for this one, but his greatness isn’t in how far he pushes the envelope, but rather how he finds new and exciting ways to communicate the emotions of his protagonist. His camera is always gliding around the set, searching for that perfect angle to take us inside (underneath, or on top of) the action. No details are wasted: During the moment of Christine’s crucial decision about the fate of her client at the beginning of the film, Raimi’s camera adapts to his heroine’s POV, glancing around the office at her stern, overbearing boss, a slimy rival coworker, the empty assistant managers desk Christine covets, and finally the old gypsy nastily spitting into her napkin. Through Raimi’s visual grammar, we instantly understand Christine’s decision.
Perhaps even more impressive is the director’s meticulous sound design; a collage of noise and music that gets under your skin and reverberates in the darkest recesses of ones mind. A symphony of rattling pots and pans is used to create unshakable anxiety so terrifying even this gesture could have sent any viewer screaming from the theater. But then you would’ve missed the fly-up-the-nose scene! Or the eyeball-in-the-cake scene! Drag Me to Hell is a smorgasbord of such nastiness – and that’s a very good thing. This is old school magic-and-mysticism horror, peppered with contemporary commentaries on financial woes and the competitive job market. It’s about what it means to do the right thing in a society that rewards selfishness. It’s about whether an ancient curse will work on a dead body. It’s about as much fun as you can have in a movie theater, and a reason for horror fans to celebrate.