Retro-review: New on Bluray from The Shout Factory; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!
DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Ruth Livier, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee, Molly Cheek, Bojana Novakovic, Kevin Foster, Flor de Maria Chahua, Ted Raimi
Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL was supposed to be the EVIL DEAD director’s triumphant return to horror after giving us one…maybe two decent SPIDER-MAN flicks and one abysmal one. Having disappointed his fanbase with SPIDER-MAN 3, Raimi’s return to horror had me excited as I felt the filmmaker always worked best when doing something with a more diabolical side. While the film boasts some big budget thrills, some fantastic sequences mixing action and horror, and a talented cast, Raimi delivered what boils down to a watchable film—even though I feel the morality of this film is rather odd. It’s a film that I enjoyed, but didn’t really sit well with me afterwards. In 2009, I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but rewatching it helped me understand why I felt this was an askew kind of story.
BIG FISH’s Alison Lohman (who is a dead ringer for a young Jessica Lange) plays mild mannered country girl Christine Brown. Christine works in a bank, but her passive demeanor seems to be a detriment in the dog eat dog world of banking. Vying for a promotion against an ass-kissing co-worker, Christine shows some spine and vehemently turns down an old gypsy woman (Ruth Livier) whose house is about to be foreclosed. When Christine refuses to help the old woman, the gypsy feels shamed and attaches a curse to Christine. While the act impresses Christine’s boss (played by the incomparable David Paymer), she soon finds that the gypsy curse is real and begins to hallucinate and feel as if demons are swirling around her, threatening to drag her into hell. This is especially troublesome for Christine’s boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) who is trying to convince his mother that Christine is the right girl for him. Meanwhile, Christine’s life is falling apart and she enlists the help of a local guru (Dileep Rao) to help her beat the curse.
Visually, DRAG ME TO HELL is a lot of fun. Raimi can construct a scene filled with horror, humor, and action like few others—incorporating kinetic camera movements, inventive gore, and slapstick antics in often genius ways. There are numerous scenes that will make you wince, laugh, and scream all at once such as the car fight scene between Christine and the gypsy or the dinner with Clay’s parents scene where Christine hallucinates all sorts of horrifying things, or the scene in the graveyard as Christine tries to beat the curse once and for all. The gore in these scenes are especially amazing because there is very little blood at all. That doesn’t mean you won’t gag a bit at the sight of a toothless gypsy gumming at Christine’s jaw in the car fight or the gypsy funeral scene where the gypsy’s corpse spews a gallon of formaldehyde into Christine’s mouth. It’s the kind of horror and humor that strikes a nerve in just the right viewer with a wicked sense of humor and I am definitely one of those guys. So as a surface level slapstick gore-fest, DRAG ME TO HELL hits much more than it misses.
Things get slightly convoluted the deeper you look at the film. The relational stuff between Clay and Christine is all good. The struggle at Christine’s workplace is solid stuff as well. But story-wise, when Christine seeks the aid of the guru and goes to a Spanish speaking manor for an exorcism, the film kind of goes off the rails. This is a minor blip in the story, but the exorcism scenes especially don’t seem to fit into this film at all and really slow the momentum made by the other action scenes.
On top of that, DRAG ME TO HELL has a very confusing message to convey. Christine is a mild-mannered woman that has a nature to not disrupt the applecart or make waves. She goes with the flow, does the right thing, but doesn’t assert herself in many ways. When she decides to assert herself, she is cursed and literally dragged through hell by her decision. This leads me to ask, “what exactly is this film trying to tell me?” And the more I thought about it, the more I seriously think that this is a film that would have never been made in this politically charged day and age of feminism-sensitive Hollywood cinema. This film punishes the assertive woman who is looking to advance herself. It not only punishes her, but it drags her literally through the mud and into the depths of hell for simply not taking crap from her male coworkers, taking the bull by the horns in her life, in hopes of achieving her dreams. As much as I love the action in this film, Christine really does nothing wrong to deserve the horrors she is put through. She’s basically a nice person, a good girlfriend, and a hard worker at the beginning of this film. She really doesn’t have something to learn from her ordeal. But because she tries to advance herself, she is put through the ringer over and over again.
Because of this, I feel odd about DRAG ME TO HELL. Horror films are usually morality tales. Flawed people are punished. Misguided folks are run through the ringer in order to learn some lesson. But here, the only lesson to be learned is that if you don’t assert yourself, you won’t have the problems Christine experiences and I don’t know if that’s a good message. I admire the decision for Raimi to do such a weird narrative and in many ways applaud him for doing a film that doesn’t walk lockstep with Hollywood norms. Still, this one leaves me scratching my head by the end. It’s a tragedy tale for sure, but in the end the lessons learned really aren’t clear.
Still, DRAG ME TO HELL is a hell of a film. The ending is ballsy. The effects sequences are astounding. The slapstick and humor are spot on. While there are a lot of similarities between this film and the classic NIGHT OF THE DEMON, I feel Raimi has really made a twisted little film—one that is pretty gutsy for a low budget director who made it in the big leagues. Just don’t think about the morality of it all and I think DRAG ME TO HELL works the best.
This special edition Bluray from the Shout Factory comes with a new HD Master of the theatrical cut, a new HD master of the unrated cut, production diaries with behind-the-scenes footage & interviews with co-writer/director Sam Raimi, actors Allison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, Special Effects Guru Greg Nicotero, Director of Photography Peter Deming, & more, vintage interviews with director Sam Raimi & actors Alison Lohman & Justin Long, a new “To Hell And Back” interview with actress Alison Lohman, a new “Curses!” interview with actress Lorna Raver, a new “Hitting All The Right Notes” interview with composer Christopher Young, TV spots, theatrical trailer, & still gallery!