Drag Me to Hell

a film by Sam Raimi

With tongue firmly in cheek, and then bitten down on, Sam Raimi, whose career has careened from low budget schlock to mega budget summer blockbusters, heads back to his original bread'n'butter with Drag Me To Hell. After a decade or so on the A-List superhero gravy train, Raimi gets back to his rootiest of roots with this gutsy spit-on-your-grave brouhaha of a motion picture. Just think, the best American film of the year so far and it is a silly retro horror flick full of demonic spirits, maggot-riddled vomit and that Goddamn MAC guy from TV. Of course this is exactly what Drag Me To Hell should be and wants to be.

Giving out a giddy gross-out good ole time that one should come to expect from a well done horror movie, but that unfortunately one usually no longer gets, Drag Me To Hell is a throwback to the days of James Whale, Mario Bava, early Corman & Romero and to the slick bloody glee that was Dario Argento in his prime - even to Raimi's own early oeuvre of Evil Deads. In essence, Drag Me To Hell is just what a horror movie should be, and all those other horror wannabes out there darkening up the cinematic landscapes with their wrongly-directed attempts at "reality terror" - and you know who you are you - should take note to see just how it should be done.

The story, about a young loan officer who after "shaming" a wretched old gypsy crone with a penchant for spitting up radioactive looking green phlegm, has a curse put on her where she will be, as the title clearly promises, dragged to Hell, may be quite ridiculous at times (a scene involving a precariously dangling anvil and another involving a talking sacrificial goat are uppermost on that same ridiculous scale) but it is in this very ridiculousness that Drag Me To Hell gets its winning personality. A low brow idea with a high brow artistic vision, Raimi's film is a melange of both art and fancy and of thematic vulgarity and visual audacity.

The film stars the business-casual Allison Lohman as the perky young loan officer with a doozy of a curse on her head and corporate MAC shill Justin Long as her passive-aggressive psych prof boyfriend (and yes there is a prominently displayed Apple on his office desk). Girl-next-door Lohman has stated in interviews that working with Raimi on Drag Me To Hell was like being in a race toward the end of the movie, and that is just what we get while watching the film. Quickly paced, but never feeling rushed, the film is like a roller coaster that is simultaneously click-clacking its way toward the mile high acme and careening down the other side in a high pitch screech toward the titular Hell that Lohman describes as her inevitable finish line.

An interesting side note of sorts is the portrayal of villainy in the film. I'm not talking about the demons and ghouls and nasty old gypsies that should be a given in such a film. I am talking about the bankers. The bankers and loan officers in this film make up a sort of secondary ring of bad guys. Not evil per se but still quite ruthless and repugnant. The 80's had the big bad Russians, the 90's, the drug-runners of Central America and this passing decade has/had the Islamic jihadists born from the ashes of 9/11. Perhaps the cinematic uber villains of the next generation will be the bankers and loan officers of the corporate world. Here, perhaps even indicting himself a bit out of possible unfounded guilt over his late spidery success, Raimi has put the kibosh on the banking community. Here they get no remorse. No reprieve. Here they get no bail-outs.

The one slight downfall of the film though, is the rather surprising no-show of Raimi stalwart Bruce Campbell going chin-first into a nice juicy cameo somewhere in this quite Hellish story. Be that as it may, Drag Me To Hell is as fun a romp as any horror film has the right to be, and the slam-bang finale, not to give anything away, is right up there with the best of 'em. [06/03/09]