Desperate for a promotion, kind-hearted loans manager Christine (Lohman) refuses an elderly customer, Mrs. Ganush (Raver), only to become the subject of a terrifying gypsy curse that will see her dragged to hell by a vengeful demon called the Lamia...
Despite the fact that Sam Raimi’s production company is called Ghost House Pictures, its output, ranging from Boogeyman to The Messengers, has been lame, derivative and lacking in scares. So, at long last, here comes the boss to show everyone how it’s really done.
Raimi, of course, made his name in the horror genre with the Evil Dead trilogy. Since then, his career’s led him away from scares towards web-covered franchises. After the misfiring Spider-Man 3, Drag Me To Hell is a return to a genre he once ruled in an attempt to blow away the cobwebs. In fact, this is easily the purest Raimi movie since Evil Dead II.
Co-written with his brother, Ivan, this is the first Ghost House Pictures movie to live up to the moniker’s macabre funfair origins, lurching from wild laughs to beautifully choreographed scares like a locomotive threatening to leave the tracks. As with a ghost train, the objective is simple. Build tension. Scream. Reveal scary thing. Scream. Relieve tension. Laugh. And start all over again...
It’s a formula Raimi milks right from the off and the scene where Mrs. Ganush (a memorable Lorna Raver) places her gypsy curse on Alison Lohman’s Christine. An extended scrap in Lohman’s car, it starts with a terrific twist on the ‘there’s someone in the back seat’ chestnut, before exploding into a relentless audio-visual onslaught punched through with Raimi’s pitch-black sense of humour, as Ganush loses her rotting dentures, and turns an intended bite into a slobbery, gruesome parody of a kiss.
As the more demented elements of the plot are introduced — props for the possessed hankie, a genuine first for a horror movie — it’s clear that, for Raimi, Drag Me To Hell is a release valve for every deranged impulse he couldn’t indulge with the Spider-movies.
Although there is no ‘message’ here, the film can be seen as a cautionary tale about the perils of greed, like Raimi’s A Simple Plan. Christine’s one slip, her one concession to ambition, is enough to damn her to a horrific ordeal in which Lohman is humiliated and abused in the grand tradition of that other great Raimi lead, Bruce Campbell. In a sense, Raimi has really lucked out with the timing of the film’s release — if ever there was a period when audiences could be expected to enjoy watching a banker suffer, it’s now.
And boy, does Christine suffer. If she’s not being slammed into a ceiling by an invisible demonic force, then she’s hose-spraying a nosebleed around her office or vomiting up flies at the dinner table. There are other characters in the movie — Justin Long, as her earnest boyfriend, and Dileep Lao, as a shaman saviour, are fine — but this is undoubtedly Lohman’s show, turning in an impressive ‘remember me?’ performance that should put her back on the map.
Raimi, though, was never off the map — Spider-Man saw to that. But with this film, he’s rediscovered himself. It’s not perfect — the opening 15 minutes are drab, and the dialogue’s often tin-eared. But just as nobody goes to see a David Mamet film for the stunning visuals, nobody watches a Sam Raimi film for nourishing dialogue. And, in terms of visceral cinema, Drag Me To Hell is his most satisfying movie in ages. That it often feels like a lost cousin of the Evil Dead trilogy is no accident — this is the movie Raimi needed to make before he could move back into the big-budget arena; a low-down, cheap, nasty return to the vibe of the films on which he was granted most creative freedom. Drag Me To Hell? Try How Sam Got His Groove Back...
Thrilling and often hilarious, its good to see one of Hollywoods most inventive directors fully reinvigorated. On this form, Spider-Man 4 should be a belter.