Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Drag Me To Hell first published by Film4

Summary: Sam Raimi returns to his roots in this hyperbolic horror comedy where a banker for once gets just deserts.

Review: With its resurrected corpses, revenant ghosts, skeletons in the closet, and endless remakes and sequels, horror is arguably the most nostalgic of genres,  always looking back even as it moves forward – and in Drag Me To Hell, nostalgia is served in a double helping. Even if the story unfolds in the LA of today (following a brief 1969-set prologue), Raimi is harking back to the curse-driven plotting and EC Comics morality of the Fifties and Sixties (right down to the jaw-droppingly unreconstructed depiction of ‘Gypsies’), while also revisiting the joyously over-the-top take on B-movie frights that he pioneered in the Eighties with his Evil Dead trilogy. 

Self-conscious about her accent, her figure and her rural background, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is more experienced as a bank loan officer than her arrogant colleague Stu (Regie Lee), but is less likely to win the coveted assistant managership because she is too nice to her customers. She has been in a loving relationship with boyfriend Clay Dalton (Justin Long) for a year, but is still treated with contempt by his well-heeled mother (Molly Cheek). It is always easy to get behind an underdog – especially one who is self-made and sweet-natured – and so Christine has us rooting for her from the start. Which is just as well, because she is about to take her first step towards the dark side.

Desperate to impress her boss (David Paymer) and against her own better nature, Christine decides to turn down a mortgage extension request from elderly, infirm Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver) – only to find herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that will see her stricken with orifice-invading flies, nosebleeds from hell, cakes come to life, and horrific visitations from the implacable demon Lamia, before, in three days’ time, being dragged permanently down to the fires below. Despite the protestations of a sceptical Clay, Christine turns to spiritualists Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) and Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) in the hope of averting her imminent damnation, and discovers just how far she is willing to go to keep the devil from the door.   

Raimi first drafted Drag Me To Hell (then called simply The Curse) with his brother Ivan shortly after completing Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), but got caught in the Spider-Man web before he could turn the idea to celluloid. Watching it is like going back in time to the director’s days of gore, from the early 80s Universal logo that opens the film, to the un-steadicam stylings and haunted house hilarity that follows. Allusions to the Evil Dead universe abound, whether it’s Mrs Ganush’s ownership of Raimi’s/Ash’s iconic ’73 Oldsmobile, or a pointed reference to the Daltons’ holiday ‘cabin’ in the woods (“it’s quiet, there’s trees”), or the nightmarishly demonic hag, or an inevitable showdown in Christine’s toolshed (complete with flying eyeballs).          

This is a fearsomely fun place to be. It does not matter that the plot is basically bananas. It does not matter that the extended séance sequence is a grotesquely gratuitous set-piece that in no way advances the story. It does not matter that eveything seems coated in a daftly corny hyperreality, where vicious fistfights with sharp-dentured grannies are the norm, and where ordinary garden sheds have cartoonish ‘acme’ anvils conveniently suspended from their ceilings by ropes. That shift in the film’s excellent acoustic design from ear-bursting noise to total silence is really the sound of pure and unadulterated entertainment. And, these days, doesn’t everyone enjoy seeing a banker squirm? 

In a nutshell: There’s goo, gore and guffaws galore in this outrageous celebration of everything you used to love about both Sam Raimi and the horror genre itself.   

© Anton Bitel