Thursday, June 04, 2009
Culture Shock 06.04.09: 'Evil Dead' director Sam Raimi returns to 'Drag Me to Hell'
"Drag Me to Hell" is a welcome change from the overly serious, poorly lit and increasingly tiresome "torture porn" horror movies that have flooded theaters ever since "Saw" became a surprise hit. Filled with as many laughs as scares, "Drag Me to Hell" sees Raimi going back to the combination of gruesome horror, slapstick comedy and just plain questionable taste that made "The Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2" and "Army of Darkness" cult favorites.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a bank loan officer with her eye on a vacant assistant manager position. Unfortunately, to get the job, she has to prove to her boss that she can make the hard decisions. Even more unfortunately, the hard decision she makes is to deny an elderly woman a third extension on her overdue mortgage.
Bad move. The elderly woman in question is a grotesque gypsy named Mrs. Ganush, brilliantly played by Lorna Raver. And as we all know from the movies, gypsies are either kindly, wise women who tell you how to kill werewolves or evil, spell-casting crones. Guess which one Mrs. Ganush is.
In this age of record foreclosures, this is one little old lady most of us probably wouldn't mind seeing tossed out of her home of 30 years.
Enraged at having been shamed in public, Mrs. Ganush targets Christine for a grizzly revenge. An evil goat spirit — don't ask — will harass Christine for three days. Then, on the fourth day, it will drag her spirit to hell to be tormented for all eternity.
Hey! That's just like the movie's title!
So, with the help of her sympathetic boyfriend (Justin Long, the Mac guy in the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials) and a fortune teller (Dileep Rao), Christine tries to undo the curse before it's too late. In the meantime, however, she has to deal with threats that range from embarrassing to life-threatening, as the evil goat spirit — seriously, how often does anyone get to type that? — makes her life miserable. You just know that dinner party at her boyfriend's parents' house isn't going to end well.
If you've seen Raimi's "Evil Dead" movies, you know pretty much what to expect. "Drag Me to Hell" is full of hideous corpses vomiting embalming fluid, invisible monsters slapping people around and, of course, projectile eyeballs. It's not a Sam Raimi horror movie without someone's eyeball getting knocked out of its socket and flying across the room.
Amazingly, Raimi makes all of his old tricks work while staying within the confines of a PG-13 rating. It helps that the violence in his movies, however bloody, has always had more in common with the Three Stooges than with "Saw III."
Two scenes in particular, one in a parking garage and the other in a graveyard, show that Raimi hasn't lost his flair for over-the-top violence that can make you jump out of your seat one moment and leave you holding your sides the next.
Lohman takes it all in stride, whether she is getting thrown across a room, attacked by an animatronic goat, nearly drowned in an open grave or assaulted by a possessed handkerchief — again, don't ask.
If "Drag Me to Hell" has a flaw, it's that the twist ending comes as no surprise. It's obvious from the start of the final act. But given Raimi's irreverent approach to the material, maybe that is intentional. Why bother trying to hide an obvious plot twist? You might as well let everyone in on the joke as soon as possible.
And in case you're wondering, yes, Raimi's 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which has appeared in all of his other movies, shows up here, too. In fact, the only thing missing is Bruce Campbell ("Burn Notice"), who stars in Raimi's "Evil Dead" trilogy and has cameos in the "Spider-Man" movies.
But even without Campbell, "Drag Me to Hell" is lots of fun. If any summer movie tops it for pure entertainment value, that will be a surprise.