Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
June 2009

Hell hath no fury like an old woman scorned

Raimi makes a triumphant return to his roots in deliciously campy 'Drag Me to Hell'

Drag Me to Hell
Universal Pictures
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Lorna Raver, Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza and Reggie Lee
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 39 minutes
Opened May 29, 2009
(out of four)

For Sam Raimi, this must have been quite a catharsis. This cult hero and outsider had just spent six years or so knee-deep in one of the most lucrative franchises any major studio had ever put together. For a guy who cut his teeth making low-budget horror films, taking on Spider-Man and its two sequels must have been quite the transition.

But Drag Me to Hell is like Raimi blowing off a bit of big-budget steam. He's back in the gloriously silly tradition of his Evil Dead trilogy, where he got his start - not to mention his reputation as a master of ghoulish cinematic delights.

And as far as I'm concerned, his return to horror couldn't have come a moment too soon. In an era when so many horror movies seem to take themselves excessively seriously, leave it to Raimi to set things right. This is a filmmaker of seemingly endless creativity when it comes to the macabre - able to put together images and setpieces so delightfully absurd and grotesque, we can only look back and laugh mockingly at all the supposedly "horrifying" gimmicks and death sentences imposed on us throughout the Saw franchise and all its brethren.

Not that all horror movies have to be this funny, but one like this sure makes a strong case for it.

And you know what? For a movie that flies in the face of the self-serious faux-horror plaguing the screens lately, Drag Me to Hell manages to - coincidentally or not - find the perfect cultural landmark on which to inflict its terrors: the banking industry.

Our heroine, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), is a loan officer at a bank who gets approached by a rather disgusting old woman (Lorna Raver), who is trying to get a third extension on her mortgage. Hoping to keep her boss (David Paymer) happy to secure the vacant assistant manager position, Christine denies the loan . . . only to be attacked and cursed by the old Gypsy in the parking lot later that night.

In a grandiose display of Raimi's offbeat take on the rhythms of plot, Christine and Mrs. Ganush get into a brilliantly ludicrous fight that features at least one outstanding (and disgusting) gag that I shant soon forget.

After the old lady curses her, Christine begins to get a strange, ominous feeling about her, and proceeds to get her palm read because . . . well, because that's what you do in a movie like this. You get your palm read. That's the only way you'll find out what ancient curse has been sprung upon you.

Of course, there's a time limit on these curses. Three days, naturally. (As if you had to ask.) That's three days before she'll be dragged into the bowels of hell unless . . . unless. Well, those kinds of details will just have to be kept secret for now.

That time frame gives Raimi plenty of time to throw Christine into as many frightful situations - both real and imagined - that he can come up with. She tries to live like normal, at first uncertain whether she's merely suffering from the trauma of her parking-lot fight, but is eventually convinced that she really has been marked by a demonic spirit.

It's the way Raimi incorporates Christine's plight into her daily life that he really gets to show off his imagination. Going to work, spending time with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), meeting Clay's parents, etc. When an evil spirit is after you, everything can and will go wrong in each and every one of those situations.

Drag Me to Hell has a gift for making us squirm, keeping us off-balance and even scaring us from time to time, but what really carries all of those moments - and the movie as a whole - is the devilishly macabre humor of it all, which shines even in moments we don't expect it. Raimi has a gift for creating sequences of such creativity and detail - witty, bizarre and depraved in equal measure. That gift is on full display in Drag Me to Hell, which would be right at home in a quadruple feature with the Evil Dead set. And perhaps after another Spider-Man or two, Raimi will come back to these roots one more time.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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