May 27, 2009

300 Words About: Drag Me to Hell

(Drag Me to Hell opens wide this Friday, May 29)

"You said I would get a free checking account if I refinanced my mortgage!"...

As if the economy and housing market weren't already frightening enough, along comes Drag Me to Hell, a wickedly rendered depiction of what could happen if we lowly bank customers sought vengeance on the hand-wringing loan officers who have lured us into this mess. Of course, brothers and co-writers Ivan and Sam Raimi didn't have the mortgage-anchored recession in mind when they wrote this film in the early 90's, but it's still an ironically amusing set-up to their new horror comedy.

Comedy being the operative word, because I'm not sure why the advance word on this was that it lacked laughs. They come in spades, and the frustrating thing is that the Raimis make it look so easy - why can't others get this formula down? A bare-bones story (young loan officer tries to escape a demonic curse unleashed on her by the old woman whose loan extension she denied) featuring sassy dialogue, goofy gags and responsibly restrained special effects. Sam Raimi must be used to a massive production budget from his work on the Spider-Man trilogy, and it's nice that he avoided the temptation to over-CGI the stunts here. While there's only so many times an old lady's shrieking face can actually spook you, it's such a confident production that you can forgive some repetition from a director having fun at the top of his form.

Not quite as impressive are a few typical annoyances (the climactic finale is ruined by an easy tell, and again we have twenty-somethings with a million-dollar view of downtown L.A. from their Echo Park bedroom window), and some blah acting from Alison Lohman and Justin Long. The Raimis probably just followed horror film dogma to make the female character the protagonist, but I almost think Long might have added more spark to the role if he'd been cursed instead, similar to his jumpy breakout role in Jeepers Creepers. In any event, Lohman is essentially just on screen to receive nasty punishments and cue the audience on when to scream, so you can't fault her for not filling out an already empty character.

In the end, Drag Me to Hell succeeded for me mostly because I didn't feel like Sam Raimi was trying to brutalize me with graphic torture, gore and violence. While other directors appear to get some sinister satisfaction from their unnecessary attempts to send us a "message", Raimi understands that horror, in its most marketable (see: PG-13) form, should simply be a rousing ride for the audience. Drag Me to Hell is just that - a refreshingly boisterous, nostalgically freaky flick, like the haunted house tours at your local amusement park that left you giggling as you gripped your friend's arm in giddy terror. Yes, thankfully and despite a disturbing rise in bloodlust from movie-goers over the past decade, Raimi has bucked the trend and delivered chills and thrills instead of kills and drills.


  1. Hahaha...your caption tells me you got into the proper spirit for this movie. I haven't seen it yet and can't read your review in depth until then, but based on the grade and your LiC comment, it sounds like you were pleasantly surprised.

    I'm actually sad to hear Raimi talking about Spider-Man 4. I'd rather he keep doing stuff like this or A Simple Plan.

  2. A Simple Plan. Oh man, I had to avoid the temptation to gush over that fantastic movie here, so thanks. I guess I can't fault Raimi for chasing a big paycheck, but he's doing a disservice to everybody by ignoring great smaller films like that and this.

    Yeah this movie is definitely an out-and-out comedy. Had it tried to take itself more seriously I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. I'll be interested to hear what others think, especially those who are big Evil Dead/Army of Darkness fans.

  3. I may have to see this film now. I was weary that it is a pg-13 horror film but since its funny...

  4. Well it's horror-lite for horror-lite fans like me. You're a bigger aficionado of the genre and you might find it too campy and tame. But I think the comedy is pretty appealing to all types.

  5. "Drag Me to Hell is just that - a refreshingly boisterous, nostalgically freaky flick, like the haunted house tours at your local amusement park that left you giggling as you gripped your friend's arm in giddy terror."

    Very fine summary judgement of an excellent 300 entry in the Getafilm archives. I plan on seeing this as part of a double feature tomorrow (Saturday) at our local multiplex with the kids. Would you say it will be a problem with a brood of 13, 12, 10, 8 and 7?

    I know THE EVIL DEAD scared the be-Jesus out of them on DVD, but I haven't dragged them along all that much to contemporary big-screen horror. The PG rating with the promised humor may pass here.

  6. "Raimi has bucked the trend and delivered chills and thrills instead of kills and drills." Very cleverly put. I was definitely intending to see this simply because of the title. I wanted to be able to say, "I saw Drag Me to Hell. But now your excellent review has given me more incentive than just the wonderful title.

  7. Sam, hope I'm not too late - whatever you do don't take them! Just kidding, no I think it would probably be OK for the kids, especially the older ones. I would have been freaked if I saw this when I was 7, but...well your kids might have more backbone than I did. Do note that this is PG-13 and not PG, and the scares are pretty jumpy. Lots of jumping out from behing shadows, slamming doors, screaming, etc. Might be worth sending the younger ones to Up two times in a row instead.

    Hokahey, I actually wasn't too taken by the title - go figure. Maybe it's the use of "me", I don't know. Either way if you're already on board for this one than it doesn't really matter.

    Look forward to both of your thoughts after seeing it.

  8. Indeed, Dan I got to this too late, (but I thank you for that comprehensive advice!) and I did escort the entire brood to the film. They did jump out of their seats and virtually all of them looked away from the screen, shielding their faces at all the in-your-face horrific sequences. The sequence at the grave near the end absolutely terrified them, and I can only hope there won't be nightmares to follow. I awarded this film 4/5, and agree it's an uncomprising, hair-raising, cynical addition to the genre, clearly one of the most accomplished entries.

  9. Haha, well I can't say I didn't avert my eyes during the some of the bodily fluid/maggot spewing as well, Sam. And the flooding grave at the end was a pretty nerve-wracking moment. I hope they won't be too damaged by it, but if nothing else they'll have a story to tell and a new standard by which to measure horror comedies that they see in years to come. Thanks for checking back in.

  10. Saw it last night. I needed escape desperately. It took me away - most of the time. My wandered during scenes of gratuitous bodily effluvia and most the scenes with the boyfriend. I liked some of the humor. I could see Raimi was having lots of fun. Loved, "Here, kitty, kitty."

    What the hell was an anvil doing hanging from a pulley?

    Something like The Descent takes a while to get started but then never lets go once it gets going. That's the kind of horror movie I like. There were too many long lulls in the tension for such a short movie.

    I found it odd that a lot of the scenes when the Lamia is after her take place in broad daylight.

  11. Haha, my attack on Knowing's logic has come back to haunt me here. Great point about the anvil - I completely dismissed that. The daylight was bizarre, too, but I like Raimi going against form on that one. If she was really cursed, it wouldn't make sense for the Lamia to twiddle its thumbs during the day when there's all sorts of fun to be had.

    And I've still not seen The Descent. Originally I dismissed it as I do with most horror movies (it's just not my genre), but now, after most people consider it by far the best horror movie of this decade, a good part of the reason is that I'm just plain scared at how it will freak me out. The way it's described reminds of other movies that scarred me, so I'm not sure if and when I'll be ready to add it to the list.

  12. The Descent may well freak you out. The flying eyeballs in Drag Me To Hell are almost funny. In The Descent you real feel the rending of guts. Actually, I'm not a big horror movie fan either, but The Descent is more about creatures in the dark than demons and ghosts.

  13. I took a look at your scary movie post. You've got lots of scary movies there. I love Jaws. Having been brought up strict Catholic and taught by nuns who told stories about devils, The Exorcist always freaks me out.

    Also very scary but much less hyperbolic:

    Don't Look Now with Julie Christie
    The Innocents with Deborah Kerr (This is a very scary movie - based on The Turn of the Screw)

  14. Thanks, Hokahey, for the comfort in knowing that I'm not the only person actually scared by some movies!

    Jaws is a complete nightmare. I'm deathly afraid of the deep open sea, and even the indie film Open Water didn't leave as much of an impression as Jaws. Not to say that it wasn't also horrifying.

    The Innocents, based on the summary, reminds me of The Others from a few years ago, which had a couple of decent frights but was otherwise mostly forgettable. I remember it being good fun in the theater, though.


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