If all you know about Drag Me to Hell is what you’ve seen in previews, then it isn’t the kind of movie you think it is. Trailers and TV spots have done their best to make Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre look like a mere Saw or Hostel clone, but in reality it has very little in common with those movies. While Raimi is best-known by many people today as the director of the Spider-Man films, his best work is undoubtedly the Evil Dead trilogy, which mixed low-budget (but entirely believable) scares with physical comedy to create an experience that was at once hilarious and horrifying. Raimi revives his own tradition with Drag Me to Hell, which is more than worthy as a spiritual successor to the director’s previous work.
Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a loan officer who evicts a creepy old woman from her home in order to curry favor with her boss. The woman’s response? She puts a curse on Christine, giving her three terrorizing days to live before demons will quite literally drag her down to Hell. With the support of her loving boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and a helpful fortune-teller (Dileep Rao), Christine sets out to stand against the forces that are after her and to avoid the fiery fate that lies ahead.
One of the movie’s biggest draws is how fully-developed these characters are. Lohman has never been a particularly notable actress, but her convincing portrayal of Christine should definitely cement her reputation among horror fans. Long’s performance is also surprisingly genuine, and you can’t help but feel for him as his character sticks with Christine despite his increasing skepticism towards her. Their relationship is the most endearing part of the film, making it tough (but still funny) to see it put through the wringer – for instance, when evil spirits sabotage Christine’s first meeting with Clay’s parents.
But the real stars of the movie are Raimi and his special effects team, who offer up plenty of sticky, oozing and frequently cartoonish frights. There’s fairly little actual blood, and it goes to show that excessive amounts of hyper-realistic gore aren’t what make a horror film worthwhile. Although Drag Me to Hell doesn’t rely on slapstick as much as Evil Dead and its sequels, it certainly pays homage to the series with its claustrophobic camera movements, creaky sound effects, and the occasional flying eyeball. The movie’s intermittent computer-generated effects aren’t nearly as convincing as Raimi’s signature low-budget techniques, but thankfully they’re not used all that often.
What I love most about Drag Me to Hell is that it’s both a breath of fresh air and a campy, nostalgic look back at what horror can and should be. There hasn’t been a horror movie quite like it since Evil Dead II, and there may not be another until after Raimi has finished with Spider-Man 4. I hope there will be, though, and that Drag Me to Hell proves popular enough among the legions of Saw and Hostel fans to warrant more films that cleverly blend horror and comedy. I’m tired of the gore-for-its-own-sake, torture-porn trash that rakes in the big money each and every Halloween – it’s time for us to return to the idea that horror can be scary, funny, and original at the same time, and Drag Me to Hell shows us that it’s possible.
Rating: ***½ (3.5 out of 4)