You can stop asking Sam Raimi when he’s going to make Evil Dead 4. He’s already done it.



Sure, Drag Me To Hell is PG-13. And sure, Bruce Campbell and Ash are
nowhere to be found. But once you see a psychic’s assistant get
possessed and do that familiar Deadite dance, you’ll know that this
film takes place in the same universe where the Necronomicon Ex Mortiis
can open the portal between the living and the dead or send a hapless
hero back in time. And that universe is the madness inside Sam Raimi’s
imagination.



It’s been a long while since this Sam Raimi came out to play. We had
indications that he still lived during the Dr. Octopus operating room
scene in Spider-Man 2, but after The Gift I feared Raimi couldn’t get
it up for horror anymore. That movie made me think Raimi was a guy who
knew how to go through the paces but who had lost the spark. Drag Me To
Hell
proves that not since George Bush thought there were WMDs in Iraq
has a man been more wrong.



Raimi doesn’t just still have it, he’s got so much of it that it’s
oozing out of his pockets. Drag Me To Hell may be a palate cleanser for
Raimi before he jumps back into the world of blockbuster tentpoles with
Spider-Mans 4 & 5, but that’s almost like saying E=MC2 was a little
equation for a guy used to filling up chalk boards. Drag shows that
Raimi isn’t just good at this stuff – this stuff being crowd-pleasing
splatstick horror romps – but that he is the best. In fact, Drag Me To
Hell
is like Raimi woke up one morning and wanted to up the ante for a
generation of filmmakers who have been riffing on (and in some cases,
ripping off) his style.



Technically there’s no real new ground broken in Drag. It’s straight up vintage
Raimi, with a PG-13 bent (which doesn’t actually get in the way of the
gross-outs): there’s the hero who, in classic Raimi style, is a
self-centered jerk. Unlike Ash, Alison Lohman’s Christine Brown is no
dummy and she’s actually pretty good hearted. But when she has to
choose between kindness – allowing an old gypsy woman one more chance
at her mortgage – or her career – approving the loan extension will
surely torpedo Christine’s chances at a promotion – she chooses
self-interest. The victim of the gypsy’s curse, Christine learns that
she has three days to live before a demonic lamia drags her to hell.
And those three days won’t be all that pleasant, as the demon likes to
play with its prey.



That leads to Raimi having a blast beating up on his leading lady. I’d
argue that Campbell took more abuse, but Lohman holds her own. The
biggest differences, really, between what happens in Evil Dead and what
happens in Drag is that there’s less gore (but more slime. At one point
an upended corpse pukes embalming fluid all over Christine’s face) and
the mayhem in the new film feels more Looney Tunes inspired as opposed
to the Three Stooges violence of the Evil Dead Trilogy. Hell, there’s
even a scene where a convenient anvil falls on someone’s head.



And just in case you think pretty, sweet Alison Lohman doesn’t deserve
all this abuse, Raimi goes incredibly far in giving us a reason to
cheer for the lamia. I don’t want to give anything away but… well,
when Raimi went there I don’t think anyone in the theater could believe
it. Again, this is a PG-13 movie but it pushes right up against the
edges of that rating, using worms and mucous and off-screen animal
abuse general scariness to get make up for the lack of severed limbs
and spurting blood (although there’s one heck of a spurting blood
scene).



But again, none of this is new. Raimi isn’t inventing anything. He’s
not making a horror movie that will change the face of the genre. He’s
not rethinking old tropes. What he’s doing is taking the old tropes and
doing them perfectly. Anyone who doubts the genius of Sam Raimi should
walk away from Drag Me To Hell convinced at least that he is a master
manipulator of audiences. Raimi understands that we know all the
tricks, that we know all the rhythms and the beats of movies like this
(and Drag Me To Hell is essentially a haunted house movie, a cinematic
version of your local spook spot where people jump out of the shadows
and put peeled grapes in your hands, claiming they’re eyeballs), and he
uses that to his advantage. He teases out scares perfectly, getting us
off guard. He knows when to give a little jolt and when to deliver the
huge shock; he’s directing and editing the movie like he’s in the
audience, aware of our every breath and noticing every time we squirm.



What’s great, though, is the way he makes it all fun. We’ve had a
decade of really hardcore, grimy, mean and sadistic horror films. Drag
Me To Hell
shows that sadism doesn’t have to be gloomy; I’ve been
thinking there’s a new optimism at the movies these days, and I think
Drag Me To Hell fits in with that mood. Which sounds weird when I’m
talking about a horror film that features a young girl being tormented
by the most vicious elements of Hades, but which really fits. Like Iron
Man
and like Star Trek, the two films that are the vanguard of the New
Optimism, Drag Me To Hell is fun without ever being insultingly stupid.
The movie is invigorating in the way it scares, and it sends even the
most jaded of audiences out of the theater buzzing.



Lohman was a godsend for Raimi. His original choice was Ellen Page, and
the film would feel very different with that tough as nails actress in
the lead. Lohman isn’t just the girl next door, she’s the slightly lost
and baffled girl next door. It’s important that even as we want the
lamia to visit awesome havoc on Christine that we also want her to
figure out a way to escape the curse (this is the balance that slasher
films rarely strike between killer and prey), and Lohman is just cute
enough – in an almost weirdly non-sexual way – to pull that off.



Justin Long has the thankless role of Christine’s boyfriend, the
skeptic who, in the EC Comics six page version of the tale (and this
movie owes so much to the original Tales From the Crypt comic that
William Gaines should get a thank you at the end) would just serve as a
plot device. Long manages to create a real character, though, and it’s
vital; without liking this guy we’d come to resent every minute he’s on
screen, since he’s never around for the mayhem. Also excellent is Lorna
Raver as the old gypsy woman who delivers the curse; beneath layers of
gross-out make-up (including some of the nastiest, snottiest fake teeth
ever), Raver takes the character from out and out cartoon to something
more sinister. This isn’t the kind of movie where the gypsy is layered,
but she’s at least got an extra dimension.



I unabashedly love this movie. Being a horror movie fan is like being a
smack addict – the first time you get high is the best, and you’re
always chasing that high. Drag Me To Hell is a movie that reminds me
what it was like to be a 9 year old discovering great horror films for
the first time, and I’m not talking about something nostalgic. The film
didn’t make me feel 9, or make me think like a 9 year old. It made me
giddy with gross-outs and silly with slime. It scared me out of my seat
and had me laughing at its audacity. It exploded deep inside me like an
atom bomb, clearing away decades of bad movies, dumb movies, shitty
retreads, accumulated cynicism and jaded distance. I mainlined movies
and felt the purity that comes so rarely. Drag Me To Hell isn’t a
perfect movie, but it may be a perfect moviegoing experience.

9 out of 10