On DVD: Drag Me to Hell


One would suppose if Sam Raimi really wanted to do a masterfully frightening horror film that he could easily do so — but that would be too easy. “Drag Me to Hell” is like a thesis statement for why horror films should stop wasting their time with realism and trying to frighten people in the most “realistic” ways possible. Raimi possesses the ability to scare audiences in that way, but he doesn’t see the point. Instead, the cult classic horror director of the Evil Dead trilogy continues to employ his masterful skills for the sake of audience misdirection, outrageous gore and hysterical thrills.

This was my first Raimi horror film, so now I can understand why there was much clamor for him to set the Spider-Man work aside this past decade and go back to his roots. “Drag Me to Hell” is definitely a throwback to older horror movies and a shout out to Raimi’s fans. With a classic score and even the 1980s Universal logo at the beginning, this is supposed to evoke a little nostalgia.

The film follows Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a young loan officer who gets cursed by an old gypsy woman when she denies her an extension on her mortgage payments, mainly because doing so will get her closer to a promotion and she’s trying to wipe the slate clean of her redneck past. The curse causes a shadowy demon to torment her for three days and on the third he will come to take her soul into hell. That and the old woman keeps showing up in some form or another to attack her.

Raimi has a fine understanding of suspense and how to get an audience on edge and prey on their expectations. Horror films have such a clear rise-and-fall scene structure and so many of the same techniques are utilized that an audience can predict a film’s movement. Raimi uses that to his advantage rather than just using it period. Twisting it in this way allows him to create unexpected laughs and enhance the interest and entertainment level of the story, even if the plot is quite simple like “Drag Me to Hell.”

Some people, I imagine, don’t appreciate the scary parts of films being diminished by laugh- out-loud gore such as an old lady vomiting maggots and other comedic surprises, but I think it serves more as a reminder that horror doesn’t have to make you wet yourself and give you nightmares to be entertaining. In fact it really celebrates the subconscious pleasure we get from scary movies to use those nerve-racking techniques to lead us where we least expect yet find quite entertaining.

When you look back at “Drag Me to Hell,” you’d be crazy not to find it ridiculous and absurd, but it finds a wonderfully entertaining balance of horror, comedy and realism. Christine feels like a very real protagonist despite the outrageous things that happen to her. She has a boyfriend (Justin Long) who legitimately loves her and she wants a promotion like the rest of us and she has moral dilemmas like the rest of us. Even if the Raimi brothers negate that with bizarre scene climaxes, they’ve done their job to create a complete main character and we can’t label anything with fully realized characters as pulp or trash. It seems dumb, but the intention is clear and anyone who checks their expectations imposed by the bad horror films of late will see that and enjoy “Hell.”

3.5/5 Stars

Drag Me to Hell
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam and Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long


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