A loan officer ordered to evict an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse, which turns her life into a living hell. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.
Before he made Tobey Maguire kiss upside down in the rain, director Sam Raimi was known for his wildly-energetic horror-comedies. Sure, he went through his serious patch just prior to Spidermans 1 through 3, when he churned out studio-pics like Kevin Costner’s For Love Of The Game and Cate Blanchett’s The Gift (actually, a pretty terrific film); Columbia felt its Spidey-senses tingling after his Fargo-esque thriller, A Simple Plan.
But for teenagers of the '80s, when gathering around a clunky VCR and slobbering over the latest video nasty that your older neighbour/brother/cousin rented for you was the highlight of the week, the title-card 'A Sam Raimi Film' guaranteed your bloodlust would be satisfied.
For Sam Raimi created the Evil Dead films. And the Evil Dead films are the coolest horror films ever made.
Sam Raimi is back behind the camera for the first time since the underwhelming Spiderman 3, and he is recharging his batteries by embracing the genre that he helped redefine – the horror comedy. It’s a tough genre to get right; John Landis did it brilliantly with An American Werewolf In London (news of its announced remake sent appropriate shivers up my spine); Raimi himself had a studio-backed stab at it with Darkman, starring Liam Neeson; Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Harold Ramis’ Ghostbusters are sort-of horror/comedies, but the scares are very tame; the less said about the early Jeff Goldblum-starrer Transylvania 6-5000, the better.
Raimi took the horror/comedy by the scruff of the neck in 1981 with his no-budget, roller-coaster of a possession film Evil Dead (and again in 1987 with the sequel/remake, Evil Dead 2), and he brings his big bag of tricks to his much-anticipated return to horror, Drag Me To Hell.
Alison Lohman, an actress long on the cusp of stardom who keeps defying A-list status with quirky roles in films like Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men and Atom Egoyan’s Where The Truth Lies, plays Christine Brown, a loans officer at a local bank branch who sees her promotion slipping away to her more ruthless colleague, Stu (Reggie Lee). Comforting words from her loving boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) aren’t enough to stop her getting tough with Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old gypsy woman who is behind in home payments.
When Christine denies Mrs. Ganush an extension, a centuries-old curse is placed on her soul, and Christine is soon seeing demonic shadows in her lounge room and cloven hooves at her front door. This leads to wild séances (in which a possessed sacrificial goat starts blathering on about the furnaces of Hell), kitten sacrifices and grave exhumations.
Having not directed anything other than a Spiderman film for the last decade, Sam Raimi casts off the shackles that the studio suits would have bound him with, whilst in charge of the biggest franchise they own. He blows away a lot of cobwebs with Drag Me To Hell, not just with his trademark, anarchic swirling-camera in the big setpieces (though they are a sight to behold – did I mention the possessed goat!?!?), but also with the accomplished blocking and framing that so perfectly draws the slyest of giggles out of the most seemingly-perfunctory scenes.
Up for everything that her director can throw at her is the adorable Lohman, who is put through Hell as she is dragged towards it. Her strength and stature as a leading lady grows with every frame, as her defiant stand against the forces of evil that bombard her grows more determined. The scenes in which she goes a-grave-robbin’ are a blast. Her Christine is Raimi’s female variation on the character of Ash, played to amped-up comic-perfection in the Evil Dead films by B-movie megastar Bruce Campbell (who usually cameo’s in all of Raimi’s films, but strangely doesn’t in Drag Me To Hell).
Sam Raimi’s status as a world-class director was confirmed when the organisers of the Cannes FIlm Festival welcomed Drag Me To Hell to the Croissette this year for its European premiere. For Raimi, it must have been a surreal experience – the south of France is a long way from the damp, dark backwaters of Knoxville, Tennessee, where Evil Dead was shot in 1980. I’m sure he took a great deal of comfort from the horror homecoming that Drag Me To Hell must have meant for him. That said, 'comfort’ is the last sensation you are likely to experience watching this smashing piece of no-holds-barred entertainment.