Oh, Go To Hell!

Drag Me To Hell | Dir: Sam Raimi | 2009 | 10/10

Has the horror genre finally been conjured up from the depths of Hades by a master filmmaker who’s been too busy tingling his spidey-senses?

I have never seen The Evil Dead trilogy, so I am not by any means a gushing fanboy for director Sam Raimi or his track record of cult horror hits. In fact, I thought his Spider-Man blockbusters were good, but not great, and Darkman (1990), The Quick and the Dead (1995) with the starkly stylistic A Simple Plan (1998) as well as The Gift (2000) were decent Sunday afternoon filler. Drag Me To Hell, however, is a different kind of horror film from a genre auteur that quite possibly eclipses everything we’ve seen for the last twenty years or so.

The film starts off in California sometime in the past, showing what happens to a young boy who’s apparently been cursed, but that only gives us a glimpse of what’s to come. Jump to the present day, where we meet the Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a very work-driven but level-headed gal who just wants to get ahead, who’s in a steady relationship with Clay (Justin Long, of John McClane sidekick fame), and works as a bank loan officer. Her life is about to dramatically change when an elderly gypsy woman straddles into the office asking for an extension on her loan payments, while grossing her out with a blind-eye and coughing up a lot of gooey phlegm. Oh yeah, total gag. Christine asks her boss if she should give the extension, he says it’s her call since she claims to be able to make the “tough decisions” while also eying off that “assistant manager” promotion, so she denies the extension to the old woman’s face.

Well, wasn’t that a big mistake?

My grandmother had a lot of wonderfully politically incorrect “words of wisdom” and one of her most memorable lines was “never stop for a gypsy”. I only wish she were alive today to see this movie and appreciate that this old gypsy woman may very well become the next great supernatural horror movie villain alongside Freddy Krueger and Pinhead. The notion of someone asking for a loan payment extension but turning rather nasty is actually very appropriate for the time we live in with the current economic state. After a seat-squirming fight between Christine and the old woman in the underground carpark as she seeks revenge for “shaming” her, she ends up putting a curse on her coat button. Afterward, everything seems fine temporarily for Christine until she’s constantly tormented by an evil spirit called the “Lamia”, which plans to literally drag her body and soul to Hell in three days unless she finds a way to stop it. The film is an absolute riot from this point on.

Lohman as a bank loan officer is believable as heck, I even knew an office co-worker who she reminds me of a fair bit. The effectiveness of Lohman’s performance is that she’s just a regular and normal person because what she does in the story is easy to swallow because I bet any one of us would go to the devastatingly great lengths that she eventually does in order to wade off the Lamia demon. It’s also hard to imagine any other actress from this point on growling the line “Choke on it, bitch” in such a deliciously victorious manner.

Not only does the film scare you crazy with hair-raising frights in terms of subliminal visuals and sudden synchronized bursts of “crap-your-pants” sound effects, it also makes you laugh yourself out of your seat at what you’re being scared by at the same time – probably as part of some kind of viewers’ subconscious defense mechanism. What other film does that? Name me a film that completes that combination of horror and humour in such a frighteningly sadistic, but so intentionally hilarious off-putting way. Raimi fanatics will probably recommend to me The Evil Dead, so I’ll spare them the trouble of raving about the Ash flicks and say I’ll just wait until they air on cable.

If there are any inherent plot or character flaws in this film, it moves at such a fast pace anyway, that you either miss them or just ignore them.

Enough words cannot be said to praise the spine-tingling score by Christopher Young, who really hasn’t scored enough horror movies! In an era of film scoring where a movie like this would have otherwise been layered with a synth pad of drones and semibreves in less capable hands, Young instead works his magic by cranking up the volume and intensity of a self-aware tongue-in-cheek score with choral majesty, church organs, gypsy strings and melodic chaos. One needs only to listen to Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen (1976) to fully grasp what would have inspired Young to craft such a magnum opus in his line of credits for the 2000’s.

I’ve noticed a lot of female moviegoers have shied off from horror films for whatever reason, and whenever I ask them if they’ve seen Drag Me To Hell, they tend to give the obligatory “ew, horror!” expression that’s forced me to just give up asking. I’d actually recommend this to women in particular because the female main character is an exercise in displaying realistic human nature at its most dilemma-driven state. Put away the Twilight DVD for a little while, and give Drag Me To Hell a shot as it is true cinematic entertainment for society’s cynics.

If you’re into schlock horror, and you want to gross your friends out with popping eyeballs, talking goats, demonic possession, stalking shadows with hooves, and invincible elderly gypsies, with twists and turns that make an episode of Damages seem delightfully tame, then you cannot be dragged from the theatre once the end credits start rolling.

I love it, but what can I say? I’m a bit of a sick bastard.


3 Responses to “Oh, Go To Hell!”

  1. Ew, horror!

    I am not much into schlock horror or gore.

    I didn't mind the artistic fake blood in Sweeney Todd, but I found, say House of Wax yukky and I only watched the opening of Saw and not interested in the rest (I know what happpens my brother told me the end. Don't want to see it on screen.)

    I didn't feel too good after watching The Ring. I kept seeing Rings everywhere and I kept seeing girls with long dark hair in the TV. That was only my reflection in the screen, someone pointed out, as I have long dark hair, but it still spooked me just the same.

    My boyfriend Mr Coffee gets scared by nothing but for some reason likes watching horror even though he doesn't get horrified. So for some reason we end up watching these movies, me terrified out of my wits getting sick and him not getting affected at all and watching it very matter of factly. I don't know why we do it.

  2. James Drax Says:

    I saw it again last night. The first audience I was with reacted very well to the sudden bursts of fright and the effective moments of grossness.

    The second audience, however, didn't seem to react to much at all, which was really disappointing. But still, I had fun with it a second time.

  3. An unknown and lost gem this movie. I have not laughed so hard in a while. It’s witty, tightly woven and has a great 80’s positivism about it. Agree wholeheartedly with your 10/10 score.

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