2009, US, Directed by Sam Raimi
Colour, Running Time: 99 minutes
Review Source: Cinema Screening; Image: 2.39:1 Super 35
After an extended hiatus away from anything too gruesome or terrifying, Sam Raimi - now mainstream director extraordinaire thanks to his levitation to greater heights with Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3 - is back seemingly attempting to prove that he still has the ability to shock. Actually I reckon he was feeling a little caged by his prolonged commercial viability in Hollywood (and its associated restrictions for all but those at the top) and wanted to metaphorically let his hair down for a while before heading into production on Spider-Man 4. Can Raimi appease some of the older hardcore fans who have remained addicted to The Evil Dead and its bloody good first sequel for all of these years (i.e. me, et al.)? I enjoy the Spidey movies personally and have no problem with someone evolving their career from low-budget origins, and the likes of Raimi and Peter Jackson demonstrate what amazing talent can spawn from the horror genre when that talent is allowed to flourish. However I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Drag Me To Hell…
It’s really nice that Raimi can get his slightly older brother Ivan involved in bigger budget productions such as this and the preceding Peter Parker films - Sam’s movies always feel like Edward Wood-type scenarios whereby he hangs around with a core motley crew of contributors, those whom he presumably feels secure with and able to rely on. So Sam and Ivan wrote this story (reportedly back in the early nineties before being sidetracked with other endeavours) about Christine Brown, a career-driven banker woman who is cursed by an old gypsy following her ulterior refusal to prevent repossession of the gypsy’s property. Brown soon begins experiencing frightening visions and learns from a possibly dodgy fortune-teller that the curse will result in her being ‘dragged to Hell’ in three days time if she cannot prevent it somehow, though it will be three days of increasingly malevolent supernatural activity. First she gives animal sacrifice a bash, to no avail, then the services of an exorcist-like medium, who dies following a violent séance, and then the old Night of the Demon trick - passing the item that holds the curse on to another owner. Mixed up in all of this is her rivalry with a fellow banker as they both compete for the recently vacated assistant manager position at their branch, plus the prospect of Brown impressing her boyfriend’s uppity parents as they (particularly the mother) look down on her due to her origins as a farm girl. Her boyfriend (the likable Justin Long from Jeepers Creepers) meanwhile attempts to bring sanity to the whole mess, sticking with his girl through escalating situations of difficulty and unable to tell his parents precisely what to do with their preconceived notions of what’s right for him.
Brown’s predicament seems a little contrived but the Raimis successfully manage to make us feel a tad sorry for her as her desire to please and progress only winds her up in deep problems to the point where her very soul is under threat. However the schizophrenic approach to the story turn this on its head as the character resorts to animal sacrifice to ward off the invading demon - perhaps the writers are suggesting that anybody is capable of such malicious action when subjected to certain conditions. They’d be correct of course but I’m not sure this was as well conveyed as it could have been. There is an overt reliance on jump effects to fool the audience into thinking they’re scared - this often works but is so overused in modern genre products that it’s a little tiresome, and tiring. However, some of these effects admittedly have impact. As the movie gains momentum it becomes obvious that Raimi is having some fun - the séance/possession sequence really steps back into Evil Dead territory, and for a few minutes I thought minimal tweaks to this film could have resulted in another feasible chapter in the franchise. It’s a perverse cross between horror and slapstick comedy that only Raimi produces in such a ridiculous but effective fashion, and I’d argue that his style is better realised here than in Army of Darkness, which for me was too far down the slapstick route for it to be anything other than irritating. As with Evil Dead 2 the balance here is good, though many audience members not familiar with these earlier flicks may wonder what the hell is happening on occasions. Aside from several cool in-jokes throughout (the periodic appearance of a similar car to that used in Evil Dead) it’s honestly a real shame that there’s no Bruce Campbell in sight - I‘ve come to expect at the very least a cameo from the man in this director‘s films. There is a sadistic edge to Drag Me To Hell that’s satisfactory - it makes you squirm in places (Raimi won‘t be winning any fans in Help The Aged), gives you a few frights, causes a smile here and there, and sometimes forces you to stare in utter bewilderment at the onscreen activities. The morbid graveyard exhumation is especially a highlight for me and the conclusion is beautifully grim. As aforementioned, the movie is a touch schizophrenic in many respects and it won’t necessarily find classic status but it is a welcome return to the genre for a director who’s been noticeably absent for some time.