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Drag Me to Hell
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Drag Me to Hell
Principal Cast
Alison Lohman -- Christine Brown
Justin Long -- Clay Dalton
Lorna Raver -- Sylvia Ganush
Dileep Rao -- Rham Jas
David Paymer -- Mr. Jacks
Adriana Barraza -- Shaun San Dena
Chelcie Ross -- Leonard Dalton
Drag Me to Hell
Drag Me to Hell
Drag Me to Hell
A review by David Newbert

"You'd be surprised what you'll do, when the Lamia comes for you."
I have a much deeper respect now for Alison Lohman. I already knew she was a terrific actress (check out Matchstick Men someday), but I admire her even more for watching her go through the physically grueling experience of Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. In this movie we see her get tackled, punched, slammed into walls, and dangled in midair; she has an arm shoved down her throat, is vomited upon, has to fight for her life in drowning mud, and is forced to wrestle with the same corpse not once, but twice. Oh, and she gets her hair pulled -- several times. Combine that with the little-noticed fact that horror movies tend to allow good actors to go from zero to sixty over a wide highway of emotions, and it's a very impressive performance that Ms. Lohman gives us. For onscreen stamina alone, I'd place her alongside Jessica Biel in the 2004 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; or for her patience to withstand her director's seemingly batshit urge to torture his actors, you could compare her experience to what Raimi's done to Bruce Campbell over his career. Yeah, it's that kind of movie.

Of course, the model here is the early splatstick of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, where story logic was thrown aside in favor of gruesome, gooey visual effects, an oddball sense of humour, and nonstop forward energy. What Drag Me to Hell adds to the gumbo is a plot, even if it is pretty simple, and a female protagonist who becomes less sympathetic the closer we get to crunch time.

Drag Me to Hell is the story of Christine Brown (Ms Lohman), a New Orleans bank employee who's angling to get an assistant manager position, but first needs to prove that she can make the tough decisions. Enter Mrs. Ganush, a gypsy in an advanced stage of decrepitude, asking for yet another loan extension on her mortgage. Christine reluctantly denies the extension, leaving Mrs. Ganush begging on her knees. Really bad idea. Later, Christine is attacked in the bank parking garage by a surprisingly spry Mrs. Ganush and stricken with a gypsy curse. Christine seeks out a local psychic (the really good Dileep Rao), who tells her that she has three days of torment and suffering to endure before a demon called the Lamia will seek her out and… wait, I think we have a title… drag her to hell! It becomes a race against time as Christine looks for a way to avoid her fate.

All of the usual flourishes in Raimi's style can be found here: the camera that's quicksilver mobile; the snappy editing; the broad, comic action combined with a sly sense of actor abuse; and tons of slime, blood and goo. There's an emphasis on practical, in-camera effects, and while they're supported by decent CGI, many of them are refreshingly done "old school." (While the film was originally rated PG-13, it's a hard PG-13.) And they're filtered through Raimi's quite obvious oral fixation: I could cite several instances, but pay attention to the socially humiliating dinner that Christine has to attend with her future mother-in-law.

It might all be too much to bear if it weren't for Ms. Lohman's winning performance. She has an attractive, mid-western sexiness about her, and her basic sweetness inspires pity even when Christine's mean streak starts to show. And that's where this horror movie shows us something different from some others I could mention. Christine starts out as nice, honest and decent; as the end closes in, she becomes… well, less nice, less decent. Pretty selfish, actually. And yet, it's hard to blame her, for I suspect many of us would do exactly what she does to try and survive. (If we were hit with a gypsy curse, that is.) It's an ambiguity that punches up the ending, and even though I knew where it was going, it had me on the edge of my seat until it played out. It was nasty, brutal and chilling.

With Drag Me to Hell, Universal has released one of their best-looking Blu-rays yet. Not only does it reproduce great details and strong colors, but it holds that same level of quality from the daylight photography into the night scenes, of which there are many. You'll especially appreciate this when, in an attempt to rid herself of Mrs. Ganush's curse once and for all, Christine goes digging in a muddy graveyard during a midnight rainstorm. Everything is rendered with an intense clarity. And of course, the DTS soundtrack is clear and muscular.

This is one of the best and craziest and most energetic horror films I've seen in quite some time, and for Raimi, a welcome change of pace from the Spiderman franchise. The old Sam is back -- and in your face…

GORE FACTOR: Worst. Nosebleed. Ever.

Copyright © 2009 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years while studying film and literature, then joined the college book trade. He grew up on the East Coast, though he currently lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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