I have to admit. I had my doubts about Drag Me To Hell. Everything about the movie was suspicious to me. Every horror fan I knew thought I was crazy. They’d pound the point into my head that it’s a horror movie by Sam Raimi. The Sam Raimi. Evil Dead guy. No shit. It’s a horror movie by a guy who hasn’t made a horror movie since Army of Darkness, if you can call that horror. It’s a horror movie by a guy who has spent a large part of his career directing Spiderman sequels. Raimi is A-list now. He is responsible for box office records. He has been away from the genre for a very long time. Then the trailer hit, this tepid, boring trailer that said nothing to me. It didn’t look particularly interesting at all. Early suspicions that Raimi was out of touch were reinforced, somewhat. Then axe fell. The MPAA had awarded Drag Me To Hell a PG-13 rating.
No thank you, Sam Raimi.
The marketing was also confusing. Ads paint it to be a pants wetting, scary horror movie but not once do they ever let on about the true nature of the movie. Early word was very positive but I couldn’t be swayed. Or could I? The more I saw of it, the more it started to look like a play on classic Universal horror. I liked that. Being a fan of the masters, I could appreciate a nod to the movies that laid the ground work for the genre. I started to thaw and when the opportunity to see the movie came along, I took it. I couldn’t have possibly made a better choice on a friday night.
Christine Brown is a country girl living and working in San Francisco. She has a nice boyfriend who cares about her, a decent job as a loan officer at a bank and is in the running for the available assistant manager position. To prove to her boss that she has the balls to fill that job, she makes a decision that is in the best interest of the bank and her career and cuts the lifeline that an old gypsy woman has on her line of credit and the result is the loss of her home. The gypsy flies into a rage and swears revenge and after attacking Christine in the parking garage, she puts a curse on her that gives her three awful days to live while being harassed by a malevolent spirit. With the support of her boyfriend, a fortune teller and a medium who has tangled with the demon before, she sets out to rid herself of the monster while trying to manage the rest of her life.
Not only was I wrong about Raimi being out of touch with the genre and being too big for horror, I couldn’t possibly be any more incorrect in assuming that. I feel shame for even having doubted him. You see, Sam Raimi wasn’t trying to run away from the genre. Drag Me To Hell isn’t just some quick aside in his career, filling in some free time between Spiderman sequels. Drag Me To Hell is the movie that Sam Raimi has been preparing himself for since he began making movies. Dare I say, Drag Me To Hell is, in spirit, Evil Dead 4. Or at least Evil Dead 2 Part 2. This entire movie is a love letter to horror and his fans. It is a special gift and a token that symbolizes Raimi’s secret desire for everyone to stop asking him when he and Campbell are going to make another Evil Dead movie.
This is the Sam Raimi that we all discovered when we were young and new to horror and took that chance on Evil Dead 2 one friday night when our friends were coming out for a sleepover. The ads that paint it as this straight up horror vehicle are leaving out the crucial comedy angle, though. You heard it here. Drag Me To Hell is funny. Excruciatingly so in places. What’s more, it’s a glorious ode to Universal horrors of the past. Not necessarily the foundation pictures like Frankenstein and Dracula, but the b-pictures of the 40’s. The gypsy curse, the good girl victim, the rationalist love interest and the spiritualists who are the only people who can help her smack of classic horror and Raimi’s direction reflects this. His direction also calls to mind the successes of his past movies. Tight close ups and strange angles dominate this movie. That mechanical zoom and tilt camera move that he perfected in Evil Dead 2 is all over the place in Drag Me To Hell. But Raimi strikes a balance right out of the gate with this movie and finds a rhythm that he manages to maintain throughout. He builds tension, brings it to a crescendo with the jump scares and then releases you with a scene that either involves the old witch pulling a handful of Allison Lohman’s hair out, gumming her jaw and puking on her or having an anvil suspended over her head fall on her, Acme style. Start to finish, Drag Me To Hell has you in the palm of its hand. Don’t fight it.
I wish I could find some kind of flaw to point out but why bother? None of Drag Me To Hell’s flaws take it down a notch. Maybe there’s a little too much CGI for my tastes. Maybe the slapstick goofs go off the rails a little way toward the end and Raimi drags out the obvious conclusion a little too long. Who cares? These are such minor gripes among the bigger picture. The cast is very strong with Lohman so pleasant and devastatingly pretty that she makes such a tragic victim of the old evil eye. Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush is so patently unpleasant and made up to look so horrible that she becomes the antithesis and while her role doesn’t call for her to do much more than look nasty, vomit and make a lot of noise, she does it all with flying colors. Everything about the movie is so carefully planned and executed that it just couldn’t go wrong. Justing Long and newcomer, Dileep Rao round out the supporting roles with equal importance, again each representing the opposite end of a belief spectrum. They’re both strong performers and the movie is better for having them. The script often calls for each of these people to deliver some downright absurd lines in the most melodramatic fashion possible, and they do as the music swells.
Horror is a delicate mixture and even while you’re getting the measurements of ingredients wrong your movie can still work in a lot of ways but what Sam Raimi has done with Drag Me To Hell is carefully choose and measure the ingredients ahead of time and combine them all at just the right times for that rarest of horror movie. Drag Me To Hell isn’t just a really good movie. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in years. Mark my words. Drag Me To Hell will go down in history as a classic horror movie. Few directors get the opportunity to make more than one iconic horror flick and Sam Raimi has done it. Not only has he created a new classic in the making but he has done so in a climate that allows only for hard, nasty splatter flicks and remakes of classic movies. See that Hollywood? Are you paying attention? Drag Me To Hell is a powerful piece of evidence that you can spend a little bit of money on original ideas and come out with something that is good for a big segment of the market. Horror fans are going to love it, particularly for its Evil Dead moments during the seance, but the rest of the public will find something to like.
And what’s more, Drag Me To Hell sticks to its guns. It comes out swinging and doesn’t stop until the end when it fades to black and flashes the title card. This is a movie that means business. It wants to scare the shit out of you have a good time. It doesn’t take itself seriously for a second. Drag Me To Hell showed up to party and party it does. It’s not too early. Drag Me To Hell is currently at the top my list for best horror movie of 2009. I cannot wait to see what comes of this movie. You see, directing some of the most successful movies in Hollywood hardly alienated Raimi from the horror fans. It put him in a position to make the movie that he really wanted to make. Everything that came before Drag Me To Hell was just a warm up.
Welcome back, Sam Raimi.