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Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

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I've never been a fan of PG-13 horror, though not for the same reasons as most who decry the rating.

It's not that my cup of blood need to runneth over until the silver screen turns crimson. No, for me, the problems with the rating are more of the crowds it attracts. That rating gives young teens an opportunity to strut and preen in the theaters, in a battle of wills where each attempts to loudly display their horror fortitude by snickering, talking, yelling, and texting while the film spools on.

It does not take a psychiatrist to tell you this behavior masks their hidden fears, but it does diminish the theater-viewing experience for those who love to soak in the sudden legitimate screams of terror from their fellow patrons.

Director Sam Raimi, after dabbling in such mainstream fare as the Spider-Man series, comes home to roost in his horror roots and is determined to silence those little peacocks by startling them into submission with the PG-13-rated Drag Me to Hell.

The film is a welcome return from the man who had audiences alternately gasping and guffawing so many years ago with his Evil Dead films. They are films that are so obviously in the director’s mind when he was filming Drag Me to Hell with its many moments of jolts, and violence straight out of a vintage-era Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

Allison Lohman stars as Christine Brown, a chipmunk-cheeked loan officer struggling to make her way up the corporate ladder. In an attempt to impress her boss (the much-missed David Paymer), Christine denies a loan to a crazy-eyed gypsy woman who places quite a nasty pox on the young girl. She soon has hellish visions and actual encounters that envelop her life, most of them involving a rotting variation of the same gypsy woman attempting to vomit some sort of substance into her mouth.

Justin Long co-stars as the helpless boyfriend, but he is relegated to little more than a sounding board for poor Christine’s multiple woes. Drag Me to Hell is essentially a one-woman show, in which Christine is bombarded by various objects determined to make her life as uncomfortable as possible.

And Raimi is more than happy to oblige, by ratcheting up the scares without leaving the comedy in the dust. Some of the encounters are truly surreal. None reaching the possessed severed hand that scurries across the cabin in Evil Dead 2, but comes pretty darn close. And it is in these moments of hellish hilarity that the director’s absence in the horror genre is most felt. In an era in which ghostly long-haired girls walking in an erratic manner constitutes tension, it’s great to see someone who can fully embrace the horror of a wronged, rotting gypsy.

Lohman is convincing as the haunted banker, innocently drawn into this descent, but also knowing her breaking point and prepared to fight for her sanity. She may not be scream-queen ready just yet, but she balances fear and fury quite nicely.

Drag Me to Hell is certainly not groundbreaking, but it does demonstrate that Raimi still has a creative wicked streak that has not been dulled by years in the big leagues. And, most importantly, the film may cause those teens prone to theater braggadocio to think twice before deciding to strut their stuff in a PG-13 horror film.

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