dir: Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi. Sam Raimi. Where have I heard that name before? Oh, wait, I know. He’s the lesser known brother of Ted Raimi, who dazzled the world with his performance as Joxer the Magnificent in that Xena: Warrior Princess series, and as J. Jonah Jameson’s assistant in the Spider-Man movies. Or maybe it’s that he’s the brother of Ivan Raimi, famous scribe of Spider-Man 3 and actor in the classic Nude Bowling Party?
No, I’m sure I’ve heard of Sam from somewhere else. Wherever it’s from, it seems like he’s decided to enter the family business by directing feature films. For what may be his debut feature for all I know, he’s decided to make a strange little horror-comedy called Drag Me to Hell, which, honestly, shows to me that this Sam Raimi guy might just have what it takes to make a career for himself with these movie shenanigans.
The kid definitely has a future ahead of him. Or maybe a past, I’m not sure. Like most rookies in the business, he’ll probably piss it all away on hookers and cocaine, but maybe he’ll survive and make some more tiny small budget horror films in the future. I think that’s all a guy can hope for, really.
Sure, so Drag Me to Hell is awfully reminiscent of decent classic horror flicks like the Evil Dead movies (whose director I can’t be bothered to look up on the tubes of the internets), but what horror films haven’t cribbed from the classics, eh? The good ones borrow, but the great ones steal.
Considering when it was made, which is just before the economic crisis hit full swing, this movie was oddly prescient in its timeliness, seeing as it centres around the actions of a loans officer at a bank who screws over a crazy old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver), who curses her with one hell of a curse. The irony is that this hideous gypsy woman, who has false teeth that deliberately look like fangs, is a fucking monstrous evil creature. Okay, so it sucks that Christine (Alison Lohman) declined to give her a third extension on her mortgage, and that she did it to convince her boss that she is tough enough to be an assistant manager for a potential promotion, but it’s not like she does anything as evil as, say, cursing someone so that they’re going to be dragged to hell by a demon called a lamia, solely for the crime of offending a vicious gypsy.
Moral relativism, after all, is just an excuse for bad behaviour. And terrorism.
And yes, whilst Christine bears some responsibility for her actions, and isn’t entirely blameless, since she’s a willing foot soldier for the forces of the selfish (and imploding due to its own greed) finance industry, and could easily have given her another extension, thus depriving the bank of hundreds of thousands of dollars they weren’t entitled to, she still doesn’t deserve to be put through the unholy wringer like she is for our amusement.
Or does she?
Sure she does. If anything Christine should be punished even more, if only for going out with Mr “I’m a try-hard hipster Mac, and the other boring guy is a PC” Justin Long, a man who really should have been played by Ted Raimi due to his supreme gormlessness. I can’t comprehend how anyone could go out with Justin Long, or the character he plays here of her supportive and understanding boyfriend, despite the fact that he has this child molesting grin on his face no matter what’s happening on screen. And furthermore, Justin Long as a college professor is as convincing as Justin Long playing a successful porn star.
Still, he’s only a supporting character. Alison Lohman carries this whole goddamn film on her slender shoulders. She is fantastic in this, able to shift gears from the horror requirements to the more comedic necessities at a moment’s notice, yet she never looks like she’s winking at the camera. And let’s be serious, this is a horror flick played with all the seriousness and high stateliness of, you guessed it, Evil Dead and its successors. It moves from haunted hankies to vile liquid spitting corpses to all forms of degradation visited up poor Christine, even up to the point where she is driven to murder and, even worse, to violate the holy sanctity of the grave.
You know why? Because that gypsy woman just pushed her too fucking far. I think Lohman, who I’ve liked in a few thinks and been unimpressed by in others, does a great job keeping the absurd premise believable, or at least maintains an air of believability no matter how grotesque, gross or cheesy it gets. She delivers like a trooper.
Raimi goes absolutely to town crafting this deliberate B movie like he would have twenty or more years ago in his no budget, schlocky heyday, yet with the obvious budget that being a titan of industry gets you. I doubt Sam Raimi is ever again, as long as he lives, going to be hampered in any way by what he wants to make. So it’s pleasing to me that he would return to the kind of stuff he cut his teeth on, stuff and skills which inform everything else he does, even if the stuff these days generally has that super hero super big budget sheen that obscures his creative origins.
I mean, filming from the monster/spirit/demon’s point of view? Raimi practically invented it. Okay, so he didn’t invent it, but he brings so much unhinged and comedic creativity to the proceedings that I really was marvelling at plenty of scenes, even as I was disgusted by them.
When the awful gypsy (Borat warned us about them, but did anyone listen) attacks Christine in her car, it’s treated with all the timing and choreography of a great battle. Nicely done. The tension at the dinner when Christine is meeting Clay’s (Justin Long’s character) parents for the first time seems misplaced in what’s supposed to be a horror flick, but then is played out beautifully with Christine trying her darndest to win Clay’s mother’s approval. The beautiful thing is how horribly it’s all subverted when you think the scene is over.
Her battles at work with an unscrupulous co-worker vying for the same promotion, smarmy fuck that he is, plays out like a real workplace conflict, or at least a cinematic version of one, played straight to resolution, until it all seems resolved. And then of course Raimi’s evil side takes over and he has to remind you just how much of a horror flick it is.
There are a lot of fluids in this flick, has to be said. There are also decently cheesy 70s almost stabs at the occult and the new age, which actually seem meaningful and effective in the context of the flick. Until, of course, or if, they fail to deliver.
Some new age-y guru who seems like he’s sucking a mark like Christine dry due to her gullibility and desperation ends up convincing her to take a further stab at an exorcism/seance, which will not only cost her a packet, but risks an even worse fate than the one she’s been marked with. To say that things don’t go according to plan understates matters the way that saying once upon a time there was a really hot day in Hiroshima understates matters.
I really, really enjoyed the heck out of this flick, because I wasn’t looking for something credible or serious. I expected it to be a bit silly and fun, and what I got was a lot of silly and enjoyable entertainment. Despite its failure at the box office, not that it matters when you’ve made billions of dollars from directing three of the biggest flicks of all time, it deserved better than it got in terms of audience response, and especially deserved to be seen by horror flick buffs who aren’t as interested in watching the mindless sequel rollout or the torture porn bullshit which has completely overwhelmed the genre.
It takes a throwback like this to remind us just how backwards things have become. These films can have a sense of fun, you know. It’s not a crime.
8 times them gypsies just don’t like white people out of 10
“You keep the coffee coming honey, or I'll give you a tip you won't forget.” – Drag Me to Hell.