Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots with this top-notch pop-shock thriller, putting all other PG-13, girl-centric spook shows to shame. Is it too early to call it the scariest movie of the year? I don’t think so.
These so-called thrillers are usually lame. They are paltry on scares, and fail at bringing a rousing climax. Not any more. On a prolonged break between Spiderman 3 and 4, Raimi has decided to return to his roots as a scholar. And it’s as if he’s created Drag Me to Hell as a challenge to not only himself, but also every hack auteur out there attempting to shock and scare the teenybopper set: Yes, you can make a worthwhile PG-13 rated horror movie that will appeal to and appall a wider audience!
On the surface, this looks like a nother cheap grab at your kid’s once-disposable allowance. The trailer promises a slight tweak on the J-pop horror remakes that once dominated the box office. Even though a PG-13 rating is in place, and a female protagonist is at the center of this tale, DMTH moves far beyond the meager thrills offered up in The Ring and The Grudge. It’s an original morality tale that will appeal to longtime fans of The Evil Dead series as well as those folks yearning for a good, classic ghost story. It’s hard to shock and emotionally scar audiences in this day and age, but Raimi succeeds in turns up the yuck meter here, blaring his jump-scare noises at an ear defining volume. He cheats in elements of The Exorcist, and plays with the long ignored gypsy exploitation genre. Best of all, he doesn’t fail on his way to a satisfying conclusion. There is no lame giveaway, nor is there redemption for those involved in this crooked scheme.
Straight from the get-go, its obvious that Sam Raimi has a place in his heart for cheesy old black and white B-movies. His titles are strung together in bones, and the moving images leap off this idea in a quick move towards alienating the underage audience. Raimi is a master at nerve manipulation, and though Drag Me to Hell is a quaint, contained shoebox flick made on the cheap, it is probably the best time you’ll have being scared at the movie theater this year. It is the true definition of roller coaster entertainment, as each scene is a slow decent into a series of tight, wide turns and stomach turning loop-dee-loops. It is sure to leave you clutching at the side of the wall. Working from the confines of a teen friendly, fenced-in rating, Raimi had to ditch the idea of blood and torture. Yet he manages to put his star, actress Alison Lohman, through so many disgusting and disturbing scenes of discomfort and stress, she might have been better off involving herself in a late night stay inside Eli Roth’s Hostel.
Lohman plays Christine Brown, a young loan officer vying for a bank promotion. She is basically a good kid. Her head is in the right place, she has a loving fiance in Clay Dalton (a subdued Justin Long), and she probably hasn’t done a truly bad thing in her life. That all changes when she declines a loan extension to an old gypsy woman. The nasty hag is on her last legs, and only Christine can help her. In order to urge herself forward on the financial front, Ms. Brown decides to go against her instincts, and basically puts the frail bitty out on the street. This Mrs. Ganush isn’t having any of it. And in turn, curses Christine’s soul to the evil Lamia (a goat-horned shadow demon). Lorna Raver brings such wicked glee to her gypsy witch, she is sure to be remembered as the most iconic female horror villian of this past decade (though, really, there aren’t too many to choose from).
A great deal of the film is devoted to Mrs. Ganush and Christine going at it. Their car scuffle is a creepy gross-out that will have most audience members covering their eyes in disgust. The shot sequencing will certainly remind you of Ash’s plight in Dead by Dawn. Raimi swings his camera like a kung fu expert, karate-chopping the action in the neck at every turn. He catches each subsequent moment like a hot rock, and then throws it right back in the face of the beast. Those clamoring loudest for an Evil Dead 4 will find this to be an adequate companion piece, as Christine goes through some of the same calamities that faced Bruce Campbell’s most popular character.
After battling the demon-like Ganush, Christine flees to a psychic that warns of the impending Lamia attack. To ward off this impending black shadow of doom, Lohman’s timid, soft-puff frame must literally go through Hell and back. That means snorting flies, cute animal sacrifices, and a late night séance with a scene-stealing goat. There are moments here that perfectly recall the most iconic living dead moments from Raimi’s horror trilogy, and its exciting to see this great master back at work, lusting through a genre he obviously adores to death. Drag Me to Hell is everything you’ve been wanting in a supernatural spook-fest. And it doesn’t pull any punches. The title doesn’t lie. People are going to literally get dragged to Hell. This isn’t your sister’s typical PG-13 Ouija lamefest. It’s a rad classic that will have you wanting to watch it again and again.
Drag Me to Hell? It gets a big, loud Whoop-doo!
(All of B. Alan Orange’s reviews are based on the Boo! or Whoop-doo! evaluation system.)