Drag Me To Hell

Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell might be considered cinematic loose change in comparison to the excesses of his billion-dollar Spiderman trilogy but this old-school genre horror comedy is nevertheless a pointed return to the director’s low-fidelity roots, a queasily entertaining mix of giggles and gore.

After a short prologue that establishes the supernatural roots of what is to come, we are introduced to bank official Christine (Alison Lohman) as she listens to an improve-your-diction tape on the drive to work. Her first customer on the day is Mrs Ganush, a cloudy-eyed old gypsy woman (played with uncommon verve by Lorna Raver), who is behind on her mortgage payments and looking for an extension. Christine, who is striving for a promotion and unwilling to disappoint her boss (David Paymer), turns her down and the crone retaliates with a curse.

After a showdown in a parking garage, Mrs. Ganush snatches a button from Christine’s coat and utters a croaking incantation. “Soon it will be you who comes begging to me,” she swears, before disappearing in a swirl of creepy mist. But the witch dies before Christine can ask her to lift the hex, leaving our every-woman heroine with no-one but her sceptical boyfriend (Justin Long) and a floundering pseudo-psychic (Dileep Rao) to help her escape her fate. Christine has been given just three days to live, while being increasingly tormented by a goat-like demon (a visual nod to the ghoul in Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon), before a fiery chasm will open beneath her feet and claim her.

With a straightforward plot and a scant back-story, Raimi’s objective here less about reinventing cinematic horror than it is to push all the genre-mandated buttons, in the right order. He does this by relying on the things he does best; flinging the camera around his carefully dressed sets in a series of pans and crash zooms, using creeping shadows and screeching sound effects to create inexpensive mood and splashing around the fake blood and crawling maggots in order to make the audience squirm in their seats.

Considering the current economic climate, it is perhaps strangely apposite to watch a banker being tormented by the malign spirit of a defaulting mortgage holder but given that Raimi and his brother Ivan wrote their script back in 1992, it is difficult to ascribe any particular political intention to his rollercoaster creep-show. Timeliness aside, what carries the film is its wicked sense of humour, each gruesome moment matched by a macabre gag, the narrative improbabilities and clanging coincidences becoming less important as the jokes pile up. It’s no classic, but it is a lot of fun.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

The Raimi movie that resonates with me the most is A Simple Plan. I saw it in the theater, loved it, but found no one ever talked about it over the years. I watched it recently and it's as measured and sure-handed as anything else he's done, just not hampered with SFX or ghoulish black-comedy gore (which I normally like). This deeply ironic, heartbreaking, yet criminally under-rated movie is probably my favorite Raimi.