Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi is back.
Yes, he's back from his mainstream "Spider-Man" exile, where he eschewed his horror roots for tights, mechanical arms, sand-guys and blondes-turned-redhead and redheads-turned-blonde.
He's even back from his slightly darker fare, westerns and crime dramas and such.
Yes, "Drag Me to Hell" represents Raimi's real return to his darker side, the part of himself that likes Necronomicons and silly curses and outrageous deaths.
So, the story: Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer looking to get a promotion. Having been charged by her boss to "make the tough decisions," she denies another extension to a delinquent elderly gypsy woman (Lorna Raver), effectively throwing her out of the house she's lived in for 30 years.
The woman puts a curse on Christine, whereby she will be tormented by a demon for three days, then, after which time the demon will come to claim her soul, and she will spend eternity in a place that's really, really hot.
"Hell" reaffirms Raimi's mastery of the schlock horror genre, whereby he makes you giggle as much as he scares the bejeezus out of you. There's plenty of that in "Hell," often in the same sequences, such as a fight between Christine and the elderly gypsy in her car. False teeth go flying, drool is exchanged, eyes are stapled. It's silly, but at the same time it never stops being scary.
Raimi is also not afraid to go where most mainstream filmmakers will not, whether it's using children and even cute little kitties as victims, filming fight scenes between a woman and a corpse (complete with hair-pulling and embalming fluid to the face), or having a character who has just been sprayed with an ungodly amount of nostril blood ask sheepishly "did any get in my mouth?"
And most importantly he has a firm grasp on misdirection, effectively using close-ups and delaying scares and telegraphing the payoffs only to pull the rug out from under you by bringing the terror from a different direction.
Lohman is very appropriate for the role in ways Ellen Page (who was originally cast as Christine) probably would not have been. Lohman is petite and vulnerable, headstrong but still terrified.
And Raimi's famed character-torturing antics are on full display, as Lohman is tormented in a variety of ways, be it guts in the mouth, mudwrestling with dead people, or being thrown around like a discus.
Justin Long is fun as well as Lohman's unbelieving but supportive boyfriend, and has just enough clueless devotion to be of no help whatsoever to Christine.
"Hell" instantly becomes one of the best mainstream studio films of the year, which admittedly isn't saying much at this point. But as popcorn horror flicks go, you'd be hard pressed over the past several years to find a better one than this.
Rating: 4 Yaps out of 5
Read Nick Rogers' review of "Drag Me to Hell" here.