June 3, 2009 -- Director Sam Raimi, director of the popular Spider-Man movies, originally made a name for himself by making low budget “Evil Dead” horror films that combine chills with macabre comic touches. In making “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi is up to his old horror tricks again. Fans of the horror genre may get a kick out of this over-the-top blend of gore and black humor. Others may find the whole thing a waste of time. I found it funny in a sick kind of way, but not as funny as those earlier, low-budget Raimi films.
The story involves the well-worn horror plot device of a gypsy curse (see “The Wolf Man” and “Thinner”). In this particular case the person receiving the curse is Christine Brown (played by Alison Lohman of “Big Fish”). She is a loan officer at a bank. Desperate for a promotion, she goes against her better judgement and denies a loan to an old gypsy woman, assuming, correctly, that this will please her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer of “Ocean's 13”). Christine is up against Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End”), a slick and smarmy loan officer who will do anything to get the promotion. In an escalating series of confrontations with Christine, the old gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) puts a terrible curse on Christine. In light of the banking crisis it is odd that Christine would be cursed for doing something that is fiscally prudent. The film also goes to considerable lengths to make Christine a character the audience can care for and identify with. She is trying to make a name for herself in the banking business, was once overweight and lived on a farm. Her boyfriend's parents look down on her because of her humble background.
Through various clues and flashbacks we are given to understand that this curse takes three days to complete. First the victim is tormented in a series of increasingly violent attacks. After tormenting the victim for two days, a nasty demon called a Lamia takes the victim's soul. Christine works hard to free herself from the curse, employing the aid of a fortune teller Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) and a psychic, Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) to fight the demon, with the aid of her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Justin Long of “Live Free or Die Hard”). She tries an animal sacrifice that only dog lovers will be able to tolerate. Then there is a sacrificial goat and a seance in a haunted mansion. Along the way there are a series of outlandish juvenile gross-out stunts, such as eyeballs popping into people's mouths (the same thing happened in one of the evil dead movies), gross liquid from a dead body pouring all over a person and many other disgusting scenes involving body parts, flies, blood and various colorful bodily fluids. Much of this is overdone for comic effect, but it is probably beyond the tolerance of most moviegoers who are not fans of the horror genre. I laughed a lot at this stuff, but I could have done without so much of it. The movie also has a certain misogynistic edge to it that will probably turn off most women who are not horror fans. In this film, women pay the penalty for the misdeeds of men. The men escape harm while women are brutalized and die.
It seems to me that Raimi's earlier, low-budget horror films were more effective, perhaps for the very reason that they were low-budget and the makeup and special effects were so cheesy. That made the humor more effective. Now with a big budget, better makeup, effects and computer graphics, the effects are more realistic and that seems to have weakened the humorous element in “Drag Me to Hell.” It is still funny, but not as funny as those earlier films were. There is a harder edge to the horror and humor has taken a back seat to gore and violence. How I longed for Bruce Campbell to show up in this film, fight the hag with a chain saw and then grab the girl and say those immortal words, “Give me some sugar, baby.” This film rates a B.
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