Monday, June 8, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Despite commercials branding it a "return to true horror," Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell is actually cheesy, schlocky horror-comedy in the same thematic and tonal vein as Evil Dead II. And I say good, because - personal confession time - straight horror is my least favorite genre. I like zombie movies alright, but "torture porn," creepy little kid movies, and generic ghost stories bore me to tears, and don't even get me started on slashers, the most rote and predictable genre in all of cinema. I guess slasher fans could throw my love of 80s action and generic fantasy back in my face in regards to that claim, but it won't change my mind in the slightest.

Horror-comedy, on the other hand, I enjoy (Scream is probably the only slasher I like), and Raimi is a full natural at the genre. It's what he began and built his career on and although I loved his first two Spider-Man films I have no doubt that kitsch horror is what he likes making best.

In Drag Me to Hell, Alison Lohman plays an ambitious loan officer with low self-esteem who denies an old gypsy woman a home loan extension. Shamed, the gypsy curses Lohman to be besieged by a Lamia (the most feared of all demons) for three days before being dragged to hell for all eternity, and Lohman has to team up with the occult and chant in tongues and sacrifice animals to try to find a way out of her damnation. It's Raimi's first PG-13 horror movie, but where he opts out of extensive blood and gore he fills in the gaps with shocks and stingers and most notably a ton of hilarious gross-out moments.

There's a fascinating oral fixation going on here; the main character's mouth is against her will filled with flies, old lady spit, a ghost-possessed rag, bile from the stomach of a corpse and more throughout the picture. The brazen grossness of it made me laugh pretty hard and judging from the horrified reactions these moments got from the audience - more horrified than at the disemboweled corpses and spurting blood in most horror films, in fact - it was clear that Raimi successfully tapped into and appalled a certain cultural sensitivity.

Altogether I would say I liked but didn't love the movie. Alison Lohman makes a likable and entertaining scream queen but the film certainly doesn't have as many iconic moments or quotable lines as the Evil Dead trilogy. But I am glad that Sam Raimi did a pet project between Spider-Man 3 and Spider-Man 4; I feel like Spider-Man 3's relative mediocrity was because of Raimi feeling trapped in the franchise and letting him cut loose before Spider-Man 4 will probably help a lot. After all, Christopher Nolan did The Prestige in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I think we're all happy with how that last one turned out.

3 Stars out of 5

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