Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi played me like a cheap fiddle in “Drag Me to Hell.” His first true horror offering since his “Evil Dead” series came to a halt with 1993’s “Army of Darkness,” Raimi and his brother/co-writer Ivan have been knocking around this idea for a lot of years. After three “Spider-Man” epics that sometimes felt as exhausting as they must have been to make, Raimi made this film down-and-dirty, and with a reckless abandon for the rules of modern horror.
For that, I for one must thank him, and not just for the best horror movie title in years. Here’s what you get when you leave a great director to his own devices in a genre now overrun with endless franchises and unnecessary remakes. With a nerve-jangling score by Christopher Young (his composer on “Spider-Man 3” and “The Gift”), Raimi pushes the boundaries of PG-13 terror to the breaking point, yet staying true to story and not feeling over-the-top.
Alison Lohman was brought in to replace Ellen Page in the lead role of Christine Brown, a loan officer at a local bank that is good at her job, but is taunted by challenges by rival banker Stu when her boss (David Paymer) says she is up for an assistant manager position at the branch. Stepping it up means making tough choices, even when it comes to denying a mortgage extension to an old woman (a terribly creepy Lorna Raver) who’s already had two. Bad move, especially when the woman attacks her in the parking lot (great, imaginative scene), and puts a curse on her. A trip to a local psychic confirms the curse, and leads Christine on a mission to try and get rid of it before the demon comes to take her. Three guesses as to where…
Raimi has got his groove thing on when it comes to blending fright, funny, and freaky in “Drag Me to Hell.” Not since his iconic “Evil Dead 2” have audiences seen such an imaginative blending of gross-out scares and twisted comedy. Raimi throws so much at Lohman, through traditional scare techniques as enhanced sound design, shadow plays, and sometimes simply gruesome makeup effects (from “Dead” vet Greg Nicotero) that you hope she got hazard pay just for reading the script. And M. Night Shyamalan could use some pointers from Raimi as to how to make wind scary- the Sam man (with the artful aide of “Dead II” cinematographer Peter Deming) shows us how it’s done in ways M. Night only hinted at in “The Happening.”
The only thing I could try and complain about was that there was no Bruce Campbell or Ted Raimi in the film. There’s always “Evil Dead 4.” But Raimi’s in peak form in this film. It’s that rascally spirit and go-for-broke attitude that felt missing from the first and third “Spider-Man” films- the second one had Raimi in low-budget, no rules form. If “Drag Me to Hell” is any indication of what we can expect from him in “Spider-Man 4,” I can’t think of a better way to bring the energy back to that franchise.