Just like with music, my love for the cinema bloomed late. I always gravitated towards genre films, specifically horror and science fiction, but because of my late start I missed a lot of classic stuff through the 1980s and early '90s. This includes the Sam Raimi classics Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. My first introduction to Raimi's skills was with Army of Darkness on VHS sometime in the mid-'90s. It was love at first sight, a love that would only grow stronger as I went back to the two Evil Dead films. Unfortunately, Army of Darkness was the last horror film he would make for a long time.
After a series of dramas and thrillers through the 1990s, Raimi got called up to the big leagues when he signed on to helm Spider-Man. It was the title that propelled him to the A-list and made fans of his low budget horror work wondering if we would ever see him tackle the genre again. Then, amid rumors of an Evil Dead remake, not to mention another sequel, word of Drag Me to Hell began to surface. Originally it had Ellen Page attached as her follow-up to Juno, but she dropped out and was replaced by Alison Lohman. Well, the film is here, and it is glorious.
Feeling a little bit like an apology for his Spider-Man 3 debacle, Drag Me to Hell delivers old-school comedy and horror in the vein of Raimi's early pioneering films. Raimi returns to his roots, creating a film that brings horror and comedy together under one roof, tongue in cheek, with a smaller cast and a considerably smaller budget. There is a lot to like here and the film is very Evil Dead II-like in tone.
Drag Me to Hell opens in 1969. A family arrives on the doorstep of a woman named Shaun San Dena. The couple is seeking her help for their son, who is being haunted after stealing a necklace from a gypsy. As Shaun attempts to help, evil forces invade the home, tossing the inhabitants about like rag dolls, culminating with the floor cracking open and demonic hands reaching out, dragging the youngster to — you guessed it — Hell.
Jump ahead to the present day and the main story begins as we are introduced to Christine Brown (Lohman). Brown is a loan officer looking to to score a big promotion. To that end, she is faced with a tough decision. An old woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), is seeking an extension on her mortgage payments. However, since she's already been given multiple extensions, another one cannot be made. The woman begs but is still turned away. This leads the woman, also a gypsy, to place a powerful curse on Christine.
What follows is Christine's descent into madness as she is tormented by evil spirits. She works with a seer in an attempt to avert her fate, trying multiple methods. However she cannot seem to shake the dark cloud that has befallen her.
The story definitely has some overtones of Stephen King's Thinner, but it is put through the wringer of Sam Raimi's old school sensibilities. Raimi shows that he still has it in him to pull Evil Dead-style hijinx. I can tell you one thing for sure, King has never written battles like this, nor have his adaptations had such a kinetic sensibility set loose upon them.
The screenplay from Sam and Ivan Raimi is not A-list material. It goes through the motions to get the players into the right places, but beyond that, it embraces the camp. Raimi's horror outings definitely incorporate camp elements and this entry is no different. While it will never win any awards, it does the job, is fun, and is a step up from his last Spidey entry.
When it comes to performances, they are in the same boat as the screenplay, not A-list work and definitely on the campy side. Whether it be Lohman's exclamations during her car fight, or the late night cemetery dig, the campiness is there and just adds to the fun. Lohman does a fine job of getting beat up Bruce Campbell-style. Justin Long adds to the fun as Christine's befuddled boyfriend. The supporting cast is all fine as well.
What makes this movie work as well as it does is the previously mentioned return of Raimi's '80s-era sensibilities. Drag Me to Hell is filled with all manner of camera swoops and swishes, quick zooms, close-ups, and every other trick he used in those early years. The evil spirit sequences bring back the furniture attacks and slamming doors of yesteryear. If you want to see effective use of the jump scare, watch this movie. His return to for also includes some good old Deadite action (see the Evil Dead flicks for more), and copious amounts of goo, not to mention the use of practical make-up and costume effects in addition to modern CGI techniques.
Bottom line. In the end, this movie is a downright blast. It will give you chills, make you jump, make you laugh, and just deliver a good time. You will bear witness to a knock-down, drag out fight taking place entirely in a car, as well as another appearance of Raimi's famous 1973 Buick. This is an energetic jolt to the horror genre and I hope to see Raimi continue to employ this style of filmmaking. (Now it's Peter Jackson's turn.)