(Judge Dredd Megazine, Rebellion)
Drag Me to Hell is about director Sam Raimi’s long-awaited return to horror after spending the 2000s web-slinging. But let’s be honest. If Raimi really wanted to return to his true indie horror roots, the only way (and this would apply equally to a blockbuster luminary like Peter Bad Taste Jackson) would be for the Evil Dead director to make a scuzzy, zero-budget film (probably involving woods), direct it under a false monicker, and put in a naughty bit with a tree (better, a bit with a naughty tree) to get it barred from multiplexes. Oh, and Raimi should also have beheaded a kitten, poured the blood on Mary Whitehouse’s ashes to return her to life, and got her to criminalise his new film in Britain. (If you don’t remember who Mary Whitehouse was, ask your parents.)
Drag Me to Hell is enjoyable, but it’s a safe, indulgent parody of Sam’s back-catalogue, though even Evil Dead-lite is worth a look. The plot is actionably close to Thinner, a book written by Richard Bachman (okay, Stephen King), and filmed in 1996 by Child Play’s Tom Holland. If you’re still scratching your head, Thinner is the one with a corpulent male lawyer who’s cursed by gypsies and starts shedding pounds at speed. In Drag Me to Hell, another gypsy curse lands on a socially-climbing bank loan officer called Christine (Alison Lohman), neatly updating our professional hate figures for 2009.
The fun starts when Christine throws a repulsive gipsy crone to the credit-crunch wolves (she’s hoping to impress her bank boss, who’s wavering between promoting her or a smarmy male rival). The irate gipsy curses Christine by hexing a button on her jacket sleeve. This act makes Drag Me to Hell the second film in a few weeks to induce a phobia of buttons (Koumpounopobia, and no, I didn’t make that up), following the creepy cartoon Coraline. It could be something in the water, though I blame the Secret Zipper Conspiracy (and no, I didn’t make them up either).
From that start, perhaps Raimi should have reversed Thinner and made Fatter, in which Christine becomes a morbidly compulsive eater. (Drag Me to Hell has a nice little character strand about Christine’s weight complex.) Instead, Raimi riffs on Night of the Demon, Jacques Torneur’s British film from 1957 (credited as an influence on Evil Dead) where an evil magician sics a demon on the hero. In Drag Me to Hell, Christine gets chased by a Lamia, an avian monster with a name from Greek myth who wants to drag Christine to, you know. That’s the plot; the rest is middling filler about kitty-killing, a séance-cum-exorcism and a watery grave climax dumbed down from Ringu.
It has moments; an inhuman shadow seeping under a bedroom door, Christine’s embarrassing nosebleed becoming a gusher (“Did I get any in my mouth?” wails her bank manager), and someone else puking insects. But the only really vintage Raimi scene is when the gipsy crone assaults Christine in an underground car-park. (Raimi is one of these directors who never apologises for using blaringly obvious horror-film locations.) The scrap is staged with tasteless and ageist glee; there are no chainsaws to hand, but the struggling ladies do fine work with a stapler and toothless gums.
But many of the later episodes are just toothless in comparison. A cringing “meet the parents” dinner-party scene should have been far more disastrous; ditto the noisily telegraphed non-twist ending, which the Final Destination films did bloodier and better.
Reflecting on Raimi’s CV, it might have been more interesting if he’d linked Drag Me to Hell’s schlocky plot to the measured approach of his non-supernatural drama, 1998’s A Simple Plan, in which brothers Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton stumbled on money in the snow and were caught in a web of murder. In Drag Me to Hell, even the scenes establishing Christine’s private issues and moral choices (including a sequence where she considers passing the hot-potato curse to another victim) are played broad and obvious. Perhaps Raimi feared that the smart viewers in the audience had already seen too many Coen Brothers neo-noirs to sit through a bad-morality drama done straight.
But facetious horror flicks are ten-a-penny in the multiplexes, and Raimi doesn’t do enough to justify his respected name on the film. The BBFC website notes that Drag Me to Hell “has a strong sense of intentional and knowing humour which reduces the strength of the violence.” Right, but it also saps the strength from the picture.
(c) 2018 Rebellion A/S. Reprinted with permission.