Drag Me To Hell (2009)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 7, 2010  | 
DVD
Roadshow (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 95 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Deleep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Ahh, that wonderful tool for hatred, uninformed critiques and nay-saying, the internet. Almost the moment that it was announced that Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead trilogy, amongst others) was stepping away from the extremely lucrative Spiderman franchise for a little while in order to go back to his horror roots with Drag Me To Hell, his first entry into the genre since 1992's Army of Darkness, the net-nerds had their claws out, immediately claiming he wouldn't be able to deliver the goods, despite having not seen frame one of the film.

Well, I'm here to tell you that these nutsacks were wrong. I'm by no means the world's biggest Raimi fan, but unlike the scoffers who seemed to base their arguments on this kind of ludicrous logic: "He sold out and made the Spiderman films, therefore he can't make horror films anymore", I tried to keep an open mind and judge the film on its merits as a film. I was rewarded well for doing so. Sure I was a little apprehensive before the film was released, but within ten minutes of the film beginning, all doubts had gone, and entertainment was in my immediate future.

Christine is a nice girl. She has a nice job with nice promotion prospects, a nice boyfriend, a nice house, a nice cute little kitty-cat, a nice car – you get the picture. At least, it'd look that way from first impressions. Scratch a little deeper, and Christine's relationship with her world doesn't look quite so nice after all. She's a doormat, her job includes denying people loans and mercilessly evicting the old and infirm, her boyfriend is a jerk with appallingly snooty parents, she works with total arseholes and to make matters worse, she's just been cursed by a vindictive gypsy.

Y'see, Christine wants a promotion and has to prove that she can make what her boss describes as "the tough decisions". So, she evicts Mrs Ganush, an old gypsy woman, from the home she's lived in for many years and had many extensions on her loan repayments. Mrs Ganush decides that to get even, she needs to teach Christine how to beg; in three days a spirit called the Lamia will come for Christine and take her soul to hell (for the nerdier element out there, that's not how the Lamia actually works – in mythology, Lamia was a Libyan serpent spirit who bewitched men into marrying her disguised as a beautiful woman. On the wedding night, however, hubby would be in for a surprise…) – and in the prologue scene that is revisited later in the film, we see this happen to a poor young unfortunate, just to let us know how real the threat is.

But there are some real problems. For a start, crazy ol' Mrs Ganush decides to give Lamia a hand by bushwhacking Christine in the car-park after work. For the curse to work, something of Christine's must be taken, cursed and given back to the victim. This leads to what is possibly the most entertaining fight scene I've beheld in some time – crazy old gypsy (and the make-up job to make her look as repellent as she does is another Nicotero and Berger triumph) versus goody two-shoes yuppie, complete with hyper-kinetic comic violence that wouldn't be out of place in Raimi's beloved Three Stooges short films. If you've seen the film, just think "stapler" and "false teeth". If you haven't, you've really got something to look forward to. It really does set the tone for the violence, gore and other gross-out moments in the film – disgusting, but goofily funny at the same time; but sometimes the laughs do trail off with unease.

Anyway, the curse goes into effect, and from this point on Christina's life becomes rapidly and increasingly worse, snowballing into something truly horrific. She immediately goes to see an Indian psychic, and he's appalled by what he senses about her, practically giving the poor girl the bum's rush out of his store. To make matters worse, Christine's boyfriend is utterly useless, refusing to even entertain any notion of the supernatural and being zero support to his beleaguered missus. Oh, and you don't think it can get any worse? Well, it doesn't take the Lamia long to turn up and start making Christine's home (well, her world generally) into a source of threat and very real menace.

Time is running out for Christine, and the shorter the time gets, the stronger the visitations of the Lamia become, and the less likely it would appear that Christine's ever more frantic attempts to escape death-by-demon will succeed. The last half an hour of Drag Me To Hell is an exercise in tension, let me tell you as we wait to see how Christine's plight will end – believe me, Raimi has more than a couple of surprises up his sleeve…

Raimi is a clever director. He presents two different worlds here for the audience to see – the veneer of appearance, and the sleaze of reality. It's pretty hard to actually like any of the characters in Drag Me To Hell. Everybody has flaws, and yet, everybody is kind of understandable in terms of their motivation. Christine is obviously meant to be the audience's point of sympathy, but even she manages a surprise or two for us. What's initially a very black and white tale becomes riddled with grey areas, much like real life, I guess, just with more demonic infestation. But the moral message of the film is very clear: if Christine (and by extension, we, the audience) hadn't betrayed her own values and played along with the cut-throat nature of her business and her world, she would have saved herself a whole passel of troubles.

A couple of other things and then I'll let you go and buy or rent Drag Me To Hell, because honestly, you really should. Firstly, the meanness of the world that Raimi has created is pretty bleak – it may seem exaggerated, but think about the worst day of your life, and just how crummy the world seemed to you then. If the camera represents Christine's perception of the claustrophobic, cynical world in which she moves where everything's stacked against her – well, you've probably experienced those same feelings yourself.

Secondly, I'd be interested to know if anyone else got a feeling of Drag Me To Hell being reminiscent of the old Universal horror films of the 1940s. That feel seemed quite apparent to me as soon as the gypsy witch turned up in the office, looking as though she'd just walked off the set of The Wolfman. Raimi's film isn't quite so gothic, but the plot seemed to follow similar lines, and even some of the set pieces seemed quite familiar (the séance, the graveyard scene, the mystic providing a range of potential and increasingly desperate cures), but obviously ramped up to satisfy a more modern audience.

Thirdly and finally, and this was a hotly argued bone of contention on internet forums both before and after the film was released – the relation between the horror elements of the film and its more comedic parts. It's pretty obvious that Raimi loves to make an audience jump as much as he likes to give 'em a good laugh. There are plenty of instances of both in Drag Me To Hell (as indeed there were in The Evil Dead), and neither detracts from its counterpart. Matter of fact, one usually goes hand in hand with the other. I mentioned a séance before (won't spoil it - read on with confidence) – well, it features some moments of inspired lunacy which will have you roaring with laughter probably about a second after you've just peeled yourself off the ceiling from a "boo-scare". Raimi's films have always had a streak of black humour a mile wide, usually tempered with his love of slap-stick – Drag Me To Hell does not disappoint in either regard.

As for the horror element? Again, Raimi knows exactly what he's doing – a few light touches and boo-scares to give you the roller-coaster thrill, and then the tone darkens and you're on more uncertain ground. I'm a pretty seasoned horror fan – at nearly 40 years old, I've been around the horror block more than a few times, but I still got a couple of good jumps and edge-of-the-seat moments out of Drag Me To Hell. In fact, it probably reminded me more of what it was like to be a teenager and watching all the old classics for the first time, than any other horror film I've seen in years.

Now go and buy it!
Video
Presented anamorphically and in its OAR, the film looks great, as you would expect a recent film to. Nice use of colour, with rich vivid tones. Special props to the KNB special effects guys, too, while we're talking visuals – great creature effects, veering effortlessly between the goofy and the scary.
Audio
Again adequate to the task at hand in either its 2.0 or 5.1 track, and really helping to scare the bejesus out of its audience in either case. I wonder how distracting these "Audio Descriptive" tracks are for the vision impaired; I found it was just too much information being thrown at me at once – in any case, there's one of those tracks, too. Strange that they've only now just become more common on DVDs, considering how long FHI subs have been around.
Extra Features
This two disc edition comes in a nice coffin slip case you can open to see the more familiar film art. There are also trailers for The Final Destination, The Haunting In Connecticut, and A Perfect Getaway. There's oddly no commentary track, which is a shame, because the commentary tracks I've heard with Raimi are usually very entertaining indeed. The cut of the film on the disc is the "director's cut" which is apparently stronger in content than the US cinematic release, but apparently there's no great difference – a few extra frames of blood and splatter, but that's it.

Disc two has the special features – one big one, actually; video diaries of the production of the film, broken down into manageable little sections, or watchable as one (not terribly) long featurette, if you like. This is your usual "making of" kind of deal, with interviews with cast and crew. If you like such things, it's very pacy and doesn't get bogged down in too much techno-speak. I guess for those who aren't totally into getting the most complete or comprehensive release available, maybe the one disc version is enough for you. If you do get this version, watch the film first, as spoilers abound in the featurette. It's comprehensive enough, but a little bitsy – I'd prefer to see interviews, personally.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The question was, "Could Sam Raimi come back to horror and make another top-notch film?" The answer is a resounding "Yes". Drag Me To Hell is a very welcome return from one of the genre's modern innovators. I honestly hope that he takes a hiatus from the big budget blockbusters and popcorn fare he's become more known for in this day and age, and makes some more films like this. Thoroughly entertaining and almost like a 95 minute ride through the Ghost Train at your local circus, Drag Me To Hell delivers on every level. Some parts of it will seem a little familiar to more experienced fans of the genre, but for those just getting into horror, this is an admirable place to start. If you can watch this without it putting a big old smile on your face, there's something deeply wrong with you.

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