Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence, Terror, Disturbing Images and Language
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, Reggie Lee, Adriana Barraza
You’re either going to “get” DRAG ME TO HELL or you’re not. Created by the Sam Raimi, director of the ultra-low-budget EVIL DEAD which became a cult phenomenon and a staple film in the horror genre, DRAG ME TO HELL is wildly over-the-top and campy. It’s made for goofy laughs and macabre entertainment. Never does the movie take itself seriously. It’s all about having fun. Raimi clearly had a blast making it and plenty of viewers will have a blast watching it. The plot resembles something along the lines of Stephen King’s THINNER with a hellish spin or a comedic take on 1957’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Either way, the movie is far from a masterpiece but it gets the intended reactions. DRAG ME TO HELL is a gooey good time, made even better in the company of friends (preferably some who have never seen it before).
Christine Brown is a former farm girl turned promising loan officer. When a promotion opens up at her job, Christine makes a tough move to impress her boss. The result of her decision denies the elderly Mrs. Ganush, a half-blind gypsy woman, her home. Soon, Christine finds herself paying dearly for the ulterior motive based decision in the form of being cursed by Ganush (those wacky gypsies, always placing curses of people). In three days, Christine will be dragged to hell by a goat-like demon (the Lamia) to burn for eternity. Desperate to avoid her untimely fiery fate, Christine turns to a medium and takes drastic measures in trying to rid herself of the curse.
I’m trying to be vague. As familiar as the plot is to horror fans who have sat through the movie multiple times, Raimi (and his brother Ivan) pack in a few twists that come unexpected for those who aren’t diehard fanatics of the scary stuff. It’s a story that relies on set-pieces (one moment involving a piece of cake, another involving a séance, etc.). Raimi knows how to brilliantly connect each and every one of these extremely campy scenes in a way that’s relevant to the plot and interesting to the viewer. The movie never lags and moves at a breakneck pace, even in the slightly problematic final third. DRAG ME TO HELL maintains a re-watchable factor that isn’t seen much in recent cinema (especially the horror genre). This is a movie that I wouldn’t have a problem watching multiple times in a single year (I watched it a total of seven times in 2009. Twice in theaters and the remaining five on DVD).
I only have two things that I can fault the film on. Some of the effects aren’t up to snuff. I’m not speaking of the practical work as some puppets used are as silly as they were intended to be and the make-up is fantastic. The CGI work is where a few cracks become visible. There are moments of bodily fluids and goo liberally thrown around that look good, but other uses (a diseased animal, a person being dragged into the pits of Hell, and the ever-so-briefly glimpsed Lamia itself) come off as one step away from being fully complete. The movie is purposely cheesy, but the iffy CGI it took me out of the movie for a few seconds. Then there’s the predictable final act. The quality is still at a ridiculously entertaining high and there’s lots of pitch-black comedy gold in those final 30 minutes. However, if you’ve seen a single episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT or read any memorable scary stories, then you’re likely to 100% guess where everything is heading in those last seconds of film. The conclusion is entertaining and satisfying, but everything up to that point kept the viewer on edge (as funny as the jokes were) and this was a notable shift in the storytelling. These two things don’t detract too much from the ghoulish fun to be had in Sam Raimi’s welcome return to horror.
Some people may avoid DRAG ME TO HELL for being a PG-13 horror flick and label it as a kiddie scare film. It happened upon the release and it’s likely to continue in the future years. A good film is a good film, regardless of the MPAA (an unreliable organization to begin with) rating. Never once did the rating ever pop into my mind with DRAG ME TO HELL. The difference between the final cut and the theatrical cut is 30 seconds of film (two quick shots were cut and to be honest, those brief seconds took things a little too far over-the-top). Sam Raimi maintains the campy style he’s become known for in the EVIL DEAD series and there’s a very creepy atmosphere surrounding the film. This is a great choice for a Halloween movie marathon or a dark and stormy night. The cast does a good job, but Alison Lohman is to be commended for her performance as Christine. She takes a beating and has plenty of muck, goo, and bodily fluids thrown on her. It’s unapologetically gross and makes for some huge laughs, possibly some vomit as well (one scene with dentures makes me gag every time I see it).
DRAG ME TO HELL is a feature-length TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode. It’s a horror flick that maintains a well-built atmosphere and supplies a steady stream of big laughs. The familiarity and some questionable CGI take it down from a possible masterpiece, but it’s hugely entertaining all the way through. This one comes highly recommended for those who enjoy scares with a lot of humor thrown in (think EVIL DEAD II) and it’s a must-see for enthusiastic horror fans (assuming you haven’t already sat through it).