Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell | Horror | rated PG-13 (L,V,G) | starring Allison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, David Paymer | directed by Sam Raimi | 1:39 mins

*Thematic Spoilers* 

Trying to get a promotion at the bank where she works, Christine (Allison Lohman) makes the call to not extend an unpaid house loan to a gypsy women who promptly curses Christine to hell in 3 days. When she starts being tormented by disturbing visions, the mild-mannered loan manager finds in herself a willingness go to desperate lengths to rid herself of the demon as she races against time to sacrifice, exorcize or give away the curse to a poor unsuspecting soul.

The overwhelmingly positive critical reception of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell  says a lot about what critics want in their horror movies. Based on Hell they don’t want violence and gore, or anything really suspenseful, scary or dreadful. They want comedy with their scares and apparently really don’t mind an endless barrage of high-volume inspired jumps that they usually complain about. And apparently the horror/comedies Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness have crowned Raimi the master of horror. So is Hell a great horror movie? Not really, but it’s a very imaginative and entertaining one – up to a point.

Raimi promises and mostly delivers a good old-fashioned spooky ghost story here. A story of desperation and hellacious curses in which Raimi can’t help but inject his Evil Dead sense of humor to the proceedings, turning Hell into a live action Looney Tunes cartoon (complete with anvil crushing) for most of it’s running time. While Evil Dead fans will delight in the delicious macabre rollercoaster ride of it all, I found it distracting and made the movie feel random and wildly uneven. Nearly all of Raimi’s jumps here are false alarms, visions that aren’t really happening. A more elaborate version of the “it was just the cat” false alarm of another horror movie. Even worse, there is a ridiculous reliance on transparent shock value gross-out gags. Bugs being sprayed from the mouth, embalming fluid pouring into Lohman’s mouth, old lady jokes involving dentures. One Evil Dead-esque bit does work – Lohman with a geyser nose-bleed – but for the rest Raimi lingers on far to long saying “whoa isn’t that gross”. For her part, Lohman (who won my heart in Matchstick Men) does a hell of a job putting herself through the ringer. She’s the very definition of Buster Keaton’s game gal.

Raimi has an undeniably vivid imagination and it runs wild here chewing throgh the scenery. The demon prepared to take take Christine’s soul is the Larmia and Raimi sets it up as a trickster who delights in torturing Christine (along with the gypsy). It’s a free pass to do whatever Raimi wants with the visual effects. But it all just amounts to cinematic masturbation. It’s all fun to look at it but contributes nothing to the story and is over as quickly as it began. Raimi uses a machine gun approach with the gags, throwing everything and the kitchen sink, a dancing demon and a talking goat at us to get something to stick.

Disapointingly, Drag Me to Hell screeches to a hault in the third act. Presented with the possibility of giving away the curse positions the story into some dark, interesting territory that it – not to give anything away – takes the easy way around. The final couple of minutes are full of empty thrills because of a key mistake Raimi makes in telegraphing the ending twist early and obviously. Because we know what will happen, we know nothing up until that point matters. Christine’s actions as a characters are further convoluted away from what someone might normally do to conform to the ending the Raimi has in mind.

I admire the hell out of the ending. Even if not a surprise it still manages to be jarring and horrific. The only thing in the movie that is such. And Hell is gorgeous to look at all the way around. Particularly an early movie fight between Christine and the gypsy in her car ranks as one of the year’s best fight scenes. It’s entertaining but empty. A light and sound horror show lacking thrills and chills that gets yanked back from greatness by Raimi’s own self-indulgence and impish mis-placed funny bone.

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