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When I heard that Sam Raimi was back onto the Spider-Man train, signed on for the fourth installment, I was a bit lost for words. We all know how the third film in the series was a pale shadow of the previous two and the rumors were swirling about a remake of the movie that made him a cult filmmaker, The Evil Dead, so why visit the land of superheroes again? At the moment, I can only think that he is looking for redemption from the legion of fans he let down. Why do I think this? Well, because he doesn’t need it. Horror has always been the genre close to his heart; while he hasn’t been able to delve in himself the past decade or two, he still produces under the Ghost House shingle and keeps his hands soaked in blood perpetually. And finally, after fifteen years away, Raimi was given the opportunity to helm his own tale of demons with brother/co-writer Ivan. Drag Me to Hell garnered high praise and I’ll admit to thinking it would be a dark scary tale full of weight; that’s what’s good these days, right? Boy was I wrong. It is suspenseful, but also a thrill ride full of laughs and gross-out moments—things I don’t normally enjoy in my limited horror tastes—each working together for a great time.

It all started pretty nicely with a prologue from 1969, setting the stage for the demon we would be dealing with in the present. The Lamia is a being that will first come to you as a shadowy figure, able to physically harm you, that will take your body down to hell to be devoured on the third day of its curse. We are shown what happens when it comes to take its soul and also the young medium, sought to help rid a boy of the curse, who proclaims that they’ll meet again, hopefully with a different result … foreshadowing a future showdown perhaps? Fast-forward to today and we meet loan officer Christine Brown, a pretty farm girl that is looking to be a success in the city. With her psychology professor boyfriend, chance for a promotion at her bank, and the workings of what could be the biggest loan her bosses ever had due to her work, life is good. That is until an old hag of a woman comes in looking for a third extension on her house payment. If you are going to prove you have the mettle to be a manager, the tough decisions need to be made. So, bye-bye one-eyed gypsy who has to take her teeth out in order to suck on a jawbreaker—which she not-so-subtly dumps the bowl of into her purse—and hello nightmare.

For the duration of the film we see Christine haunted by the woman, visions manifested by the Lamia when it doesn’t come to terrorize her itself. I have to give Raimi credit for his ability to mix humor and terror so perfectly. I began to lose my hold on enjoyment during the interaction at the bank, watching Lorna Raver’s gypsy be as disgusting as possible, only to see her up the ante during a bout of fisticuffs with Alison Lohman’s Christine in her car, but after I bought into the humor, it all became okay. There was a fly buzzing in the prologue, so you knew it would be coming back, but I was unprepared for the oral fixation that abounds. Between the fluids coming out of Raver’s mouth as she attempts to gum Lohman to death, or the vomit of creepy-crawlers that emits later on during a dream, or the faucet of blood that finds its way onto David Paymer, (“Did any get in my mouth?”), it was all so over-the-top that it worked. The tension was always relieved with laughter and the gross moments elicited giggles while disgusting me at the same time; each plays their role just on the edge of going too far. It is subtle, but effective, keeping a tint of hyper-reality over everything, not quite campy, yet also far from total seriousness.

Lohman is constantly playing her role of Christine with a glow of country purity, giving off a childlike façade—making her fear more palpable—while still having the ability to kick butt when asked. The temper that comes out is so effective that you have to laugh due to the change in personality from that kind-hearted innocent the moment before. Justin Long is always going to be humorous, no matter what he plays, so I think he didn’t really alter too much, but Dileep Rao definitely added a little flair to his psychic seer. I enjoyed the back and forth from these two, one the analytical science practitioner and the other an open-minded mystic, especially the little moments like Rao seeing Long’s Platinum AmEx card for payment. It was also a treat to see Reggie Lee play it funny as Stu, the competition for Christine’s promotion. He is sleazy and conniving, but the real payoff comes at the end, when his true nature comes out, (“You aren’t going to tell my father, right?”). The most off-kilter scene has to be a dinner with Long’s parents, though, meeting Lohman for the first time. The awkwardness of his family’s money and her naivety is good enough, but when the ice is broken and Mrs. Dalton opens up to Lohman, the exchange is so dreamlike in absurdity that it deflects the soon to come demonic interference to ruin everything.

Raimi knows his stuff and his audience, giving it his all and filling the film with his trademark humor and love of gore. There are some flourishes—what a technical move of focus change when a fly “lands” on the camera lens looking down upon Lohman and Long in bed—and a brilliant use of sound. The aural attributes add so much to the mood and investment into what is happening on screen. And the computer graphics making up the shadows are top-notch, especially during a creepy and effective séance towards the end that will frighten, until a possessed soul does a little gig of course. But that is what makes this movie tick, tones tempered and changed to keep interest throughout, always keeping the audience on its toes, walking the line between full horror and campy so-bad-its-good. The plot is pretty simple and obvious in parts, secrets are not hidden and you can guess at what the characters don’t quite know yet, but none of that matters because Raimi doesn’t give you enough time to think too much into it all. Instead, he entertains and disgusts for the duration, culminating in an ending of absolute perfection. Well done sir; I won’t be too heartbroken if you ruin Spider-Man even more, as long as you have more old-school horror up those sleeves.

Drag Me to Hell 7/10

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photography:
[1] Alison Lohman as Christine, Dileep Rao as Rham Jas and Justin Long as Clay in Universal Pictures’ Drag Me to Hell.
[2] Alison Lohman stars in Universal Pictures’ Drag Me to Hell.

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