Drag Me to Hell (2009) dir. Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao
The best film I’ve seen so far this year undoubtedly is Sam Raimi’s magnificent return to the horror genre. It’s been 14 years since the third Evil Dead movie, “Army of Darkness”, which doesn’t really count as a horror film anyway, so really it’s been 22 years since “Evil Dead 2”. With “Drag Me to Hell”, Raimi exercises these latent muscles and hasn’t missed a beat, trumping our high expectations.
We know we’re in for a return of something magical when we see the old 1980’s Universal logo at the head of the picture. Much like the first two Evil Dead pictures, Raimi films essentially a series of precisely crafted set pieces loosely strung together by a plot. Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, an underachieving loan officer who desperately wants the vacant assistant manager’s job at the bank. When Mrs. Ganish (Lorna Raver), a ghoulish old spinster with a false eye and rotten dentures requests an extension on her missed mortgage payments, to impress her cutthroat boss Christine breaks her personal ethics and rejects the poor lady. Ganish goes bonkers and puts a curse on Christine.
Gradually Christine starts to go crazy seeing Ganish’s haunting image everywhere she goes. Desperate to break the spell she goes to see a fortune teller, much to objections of her doubting Thomas boyfriend Clay (Justin Long). We learn of an ancient demon which looks to claim her body to hell. Christine tries exorcisms, animal sacrifices, but the secret lies in a simple cursed button which must be given away in order to break the curse.
Raimi is on fire with his trademark mixture of physical low brow comedy and spine-chilling suspense. Raimi and his screenwriter brother Ted execute what seems like 22 years of cool ideas saved up for this specific movie. The first major confrontation with the raving mad woman in the underground parking lot is inspired stuff. Raimi wrings out every drop of suspense leading up to Ganish’s frightening reveal in the car, which leads to a riotous slapstick fight scene.
Many other scenes exist solely to stand alone. The clever fight between Christine and Ganish’s animated veil which invades her car, the dinner table conversation with Clay’s parents when the curse invades Christine’s homemade harvest cake, and a number of dream sequences exists unabashedly as technical exercises satisfying Raimi’s urges to please us.
Alison Lohman makes a delightful and warm lead character. She gallantly gives herself up to Raimi’s torture, as he embellishes every opportunity to drench Christine with blood, drool, embalming fluid, mud and any nasty liquid substance he can think of. She’s the receptacle for Raimi’s underlying message about what happens when you sell yourself out to God.
“Drag Me to Hell” is a perfect genre picture which is why I confidently grant it four stars. Raimi never goes easy on his characters nor the audience. Even up until the last scene Raimi is in absolute control of the genre and though it might take a few more viewings to make this determination, I’m might be bold enough to say “Hell” trumps “Evil Dead”.