Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Drag Me To Hell": it's heavenly!

No, I wasn't just reaching for the Gene Shalit-esqe low-hanging fruit with that terrible pun of a title. "Drag Me To Hell", Sam Raimi's return to the B-horror genre that gave him his start, was perhaps this summer's most-overlooked movie.

I'll happily admit I've long been a fan of Raimi's. Throughout high school, my buddies and I would frequently end up throwing on one of several VHS copies of "Evil Dead" late on a Friday or Saturday night. We even pooled together cash to get one of our friends a foot-tall Ash doll that played quotes from "Army of Darkness" for his birthday. Raimi returning to his genre roots after the enjoyable "Spider-Man", the excellent "Spider-Man 2", and the incredibly disappointing "Spider-Man 3" was an exciting prospect. The trailers for "Drag Me To Hell" seemed promising enough, even if they didn't make the film seem something off the beaten horror path:

And then the film opened. The aggregate Rottentomatoes reported: 92% positive critical reviews.

I was shocked. Those are "Up" numbers. "The Dark Knight" numbers.

I went out and saw it opening night.

About two months later, when it was a midnight screening at Chicago's Music Box Theater, I saw it again. And that time, I brought friends.

The movie, for what it is, is great.

The strength of "Drag Me To Hell" is not it's highly original plot, because it is not terribly original. It's the steady hand of a director that has a damned good idea of what he's doing.

"Drag Me To Hell" is funny. It's scary. It's hysterically gross. It combines all of the elements of a classic B-horror thriller that Raimi experimented with in "Evil Dead" and all but perfected in "Evil Dead 2". The scares are genuinely creepy: I couldn't tell you the last time I had a nightmare because of a movie, but damn if I didn't dream I had the tar beaten out of me by a shadow after seeing this the first time. Raimi creates a wonderfully ominous atmosphere without a lot of creepy music or CGI dead children a la "The Ring"; rather, he does it in a way that would make even Hitchcock shudder - with timing, editing, and cinematography. Raimi will give you a couple of quality surprise scares throughout, and he lets the obvious ones build maddeningly before paying off with a quick visceral jolt. And, as any fan of the Evil Dead series is familiar with, he relieves the tension with plenty of silly gross-out gags and dark comedy.

Alison Lohman (a favorite of mine since "Matchstick Men") plays a young banker eyeing an assistant manager position who chooses the wrong client, Lorna Raver, to prove to her boss she can make the tough decisions. Rather than grant an aging gypsy a third extension on her home loan, Lohman informs Raver she's getting the boot, and in return gets a nasty curse. Unless her skeptical boyfriend, the always-amusing Justin Long, and a frightened mystic, the hopefully rising star Dileep Rao, can help her break the curse, she'll be tormented for three days before, you guessed it, getting dragged to hell to burn for all of eternity.

After years and years of "Ringu" remakes and knockoffs, "Saw" sequels and knockoffs, and basically everything that's been fodder for Scary Movies 1-5, "Drag Me To Hell" is a refreshing breath of air in the horror genre. If you love a good scare and cathartic laugh, I can't imagine you'll be disappointed once "Drag Me To Hell" comes out on DVD next month. I think you'll agree, and forgive the pun, that it is heavenly horror: simple, but expertly crafted, and incredibly enjoyable.

TOO MUCH: opportunity for lame Shalit-isms

COULD HAVE USED MORE: another face-full of bugs for Lohman couldn't have hurt

FILM SNOB NOTE: One of the most effective weapons in Raimi's arsenal is the slow rotating of the camera to the right or left side - referred to as "The Dutch Angle". A few other directors that used this well? Hitchcock and Welles. Raimi also takes a cue from Tarantino and uses old-school Universal title cards at the beginning and end of the movie.


IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: It's a bit of an obscure choice, but at least you picked something solid. If you said "Sorority Row", I'd think you deserve to be... well, you know.

1 comment:

  1. This is what happens if we don't have more oversight in the lending industry, THAT'S WHAT I TOOK AWAY FROM THIS MOVIE.