Sam Raimi takes a deep and puncturing stab at the horror genre again, after over 20 years out of the game. After his last horror film, Evil Dead 2, came out in 1987, he made an action adventure series out of the franchise with Army of Darkness and took nearly two decades experimenting with huge budgets and more earthbound plots. But 2009 has seen the return of a horror director to the genre that made him who he is, and I think that the world is a better place indeed for the film he has released this week, Drag Me To Hell. It’s ridiculous, mercilessly cheap with its scares, and not even that frightening, but Sam Raimi is a master of horror not because of what he does within the confines of the genre, but rather what he does outside of the myopic box of horror, blending styles and shifting tones, that makes him special.
It’s a really simple plot, and from the immense ad campaign rushing headlong into us through our TV screens and computer monitors, you probably know all about it already. A young woman, Christine, working at a bank, bucking for an assistant manager job at her branch, is told she has to make some tough decisions with loans to win the position. One day, a haggard old gypsy woman comes in to her office, asking for a third extension on her house loan. Trying to make the tough decisions, Christine denies her request in order to impress her boss. Unwittingly, though, she invoked the ire of a gypsy WITCH, who curses her soul to be taken by a horrific demon called the Lamia. She has three days to dispel the curse, or else she will be dragged to Hell by the beast to be punished eternally for her sin of loan extension denial. She will turn to desperate measures to rid herself of this curse, including fortune readings, seances, animal sacrifices (!!!!), and more, but will it be enough to save her soul?
Well, where to start? It’s not so much of a horror as much as it is a horror-comedy. It’s very reminiscent of Evil Dead‘s brand of slapstick gross-out horror, kind of a terror via hilarity. Raimi’s signature style of switching gears mid-movie (or mid-scene) is in full swing, and it really works when it comes to making an engaging, entertaining scene. If you’re looking to be genuinely creeped out, there are some moments here and there that inspire a little something, but nothing that anyone should avoid for fear of scarring their impressionable teens or their impressionable spouses (it’s PG-13; what’d you expect?)
I was never genuinely scared; startled, constantly, but never scared. That’s right; we’re back to this old song and dance again. I won’t go into the whole “Boo scare Vs. Real Scare” diatribe again today, but I will say that Sam Raimi is not only a repeat offender, he is on the BOO!!! Most Wanted List as far as I am concerned. Every couple minutes he gets something or someone to jump out at the camera like a Jack-in-the-box. It’s a little lazy, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. On the other hand, I commend him for using the use of focus to disorient. I found myself intrigued by the implementation of foreground and background as two different dimensions, two different levels in which to scare and surprise. It’s right there in front of everyone’s noses, but nobody really uses that as much as they should.
Christine, played by Alison Lohman, channels Ash as she maneuvers her way through the mysteries of the curse. She’s imperfect but strong, and willing to do anything to rid herself of the burden of the gypsy’s spell. Her run-ins with the gypsy woman throughout the film are numerous and hilarious. She hates that woman! With one-liners like “I beat you, you old bitch!”, and Choke on it, bitch!”, she is really put out by this whole curse thing, and their many encounters are always entertaining.
An Indian mystic guides her through this whole ordeal, whom Christine met by chance at a palm reading session, but, and you might pick up on this as much as I did and find it hilarious, he is not one of those altruistic spiritual men who is willing to save this poor young soul free of charge. The palm reading alone is worth $60!!! And when someone is found who willing to help her with this problem, that person asks for $10,000!!! What the fuck? That never happens in movies, and if it weren’t for all the ghostly apparitions throughout the movie, I would likely have thought the whole curse thing to be a huge con. I like it, though, and it makes me laugh to see all the mumbo-jumbo bullshit artists shown as what they are in real life; out for a buck.
And a notice to all gypsies, or Romani as it were: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE!!! You will find yourself put out by more stereotypes than you will know what to do with. They’re seemingly innocent, but so are any number of stereotypes from the past that we now look upon with shame and remorse. Not ALL Eastern European people of Romani descent are mystics, conjurers, and smarmy greaseball prostitutes, but you don’t see anything to the contrary in the film. So I would skip this movie if I were you, my Romani friends. And, for the record, when I say the word “gypped” at a grocery store, I recognize it is in poor taste and I am working on it, so in the meantime, please do not curse me and my family to burn in Hell for all eternity.
It’s a fun movie that people need to get behind. It’s not perfect, and it’s slightly offensive if you are of the many tribes of the proud Romani people, but I think that this movie is pretty damn good, and I am glad to welcome Raimi back into the fold after going his own way for so long. It’s very engaging, funny, well-made, and incredibly breezy. I had a great time, so what are YOU waiting for? Check it out tomorrow! I give Drag Me To Hell 8 $10,000 psychic bills out of 10.
Tomorrow I will either watch the new computer-animated film Up or the dyspeptic Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall. Come back then for my final decision!!!