Monday, June 8, 2009
"Drag Me to Hell"=Horror Movie Heaven
Over the weekend my friends and I caught a screening of "Drag Me to Hell," Sam Raimi's new horror film. Raimi's earned mainstream cred with "A Simple Plan" and the "Spider-man" trilogy, but fans remember him as the guy who created "Evil Dead" and its gruesome, gonzo sequels. His return to the horror fold here doesn't disappoint. "Drag Me to Hell" is one of the most entertaining and relentless scare films in years; its grand Guignol histrionics are accompanied by a wicked sense of humor. The movie centers on Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a bright, earnest loan officer angling for a promotion while also trying to win the affections of her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long)'s parents. When Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver, perfectly cast) asks the bank for a third extension on her mortgage, Christine wants to help her but sees an opportunity to show her boss (the ever reliable David Paymer) that she can "make the tough decisions." Ganush begs on her knees, then angrily hisses that Christine has "shamed" her, and that night attacks Christine in the parking garage in a gleefully extended tussle. It's so gross and outrageous that it's a shoe-in for Best Fight Scene in next year's MTV Movie Awards; amazingly, the film sustains this scene's momentum for the rest of its 99 minute run time. Ganush finally puts a curse on Christine, who then seeks the aid of psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). Jas tells her that she will be tormented and eventually dragged to hell (natch) by the fearsome lamia demon, and over the next few days his prediction comes true. Christine experiences everything from geyser-like nose bleeds to visions of a cloven footed monstrosity, while Clay does his best to understand and support her. (To his credit, this character escapes the trap of being a skeptical dolt, although part of the movie's point seems to be that even his unwavering support isn't enough to protect Christine.) The clever script juxtaposes Christine's mundane, realistic insecurities-- being a former fat girl, fearing that Clay's folks think she's a farm-bred hick-- with the larger than life horrors of the curse. Truly, Christine is trying to avoid a Fate Worse Than Death: burning in hell for all eternity. Raimi makes this film a full frontal assault on the senses, reveling in grotesquerie while continually keeping the audience on its toes with visual gags, creepy sound FX, and whiz bang set pieces. (There's a seance that does its best to blow all of its cinematic forebears out of the water.) The film had me shrieking, laughing, and shouting at the screen, in the tradition of the best horror movies-- and in keeping with the insane, no-holds-barred sensibility of Raimi's first two "Evil Dead" films. "Drag Me to Hell" smashes taboos and takes no prisoners in its quest to freak you out. In so doing, it takes the viewer on a rip-roaring ride and provides bloody good entertainment. If only more horror films gave us this much bang for our buck.