Drag Me To Hell
Evil Dead fans are going to flip for this. It’s a mean little shocker and as funny as hell. In her best role since Matchstick Men, Alison Lohman is Christine, a loans officer at a bank. As the posters very succinctly put it: “Christine Brown has a good job, a great boyfriend, and a bright future. But in three days, she's going to hell.”
Why? Because she has the misfortune to meet Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver) on a most inauspicious day, that’s why. A gypsy from the old country, Mrs Ganush explains that she needs an extension on her mortgage, she’s been sick, and fallen behind in her payments.
Christine is sympathetic, but the bank has already granted her two extensions – and as it happens, she’s under pressure to prove she can make tough decisions and is worthy of the promotion that’s right under her nose. So she turns the old lady down. Mrs Ganush drops to her knees and begs, then angrily blames Christine for her humiliation.
Returning to her car that evening Christine is brutally assaulted by the old woman – who pronounces a terrible curse over her head and promptly vanishes into thin air. Initially skeptical, Christine is soon persuaded that an evil spirit really is on her case – in fact her fate looks decidedly grim unless she can figure out a way to placate it before three days are up.
Much as I enjoyed this movie, it must be said that Mrs Ganush is a stock embodiment of evil: an old hag with one eye; false teeth; long, filthy fingernails; and a thick European accent. This is what a witch looks and sounds like. She oozes obscene mucus from her mouth. She even steals the boiled sweets from Christine’s desk. Raimi (who cowrote the original screenplay with his brother Ivan) also endows her with supernatural powers and superhuman strength. The contrast with petite, pretty, blonde Alison Lohman is obvious, and makes the movie’s morality more one-sided that it could have been.
But while Mrs Ganush does make regular appearances, Raimi also terrorizes his heroine with a spirit we never see, a presence that manifests itself in rattling the doors and windows, as a dark shadow, or by picking up Christine and throwing her against the walls. This spirit – Lamia – is an intriguing combination of the power of suggestion (as in the classic Val Lewton horror films of the 1940s) and cutting edge digital special effects. It works a treat, mostly because Raimi knows how to whip up a storm with his camera.
What really seals the deal though is the comedy. Raimi has done more than most to prove that, balanced correctly, the release of laughter doesn’t dilute horror, but relaxes our defences. A lot of the humour here involves Christine’s fiancÚ, Clay (Justin Long), a psychiatrist who heaps scorn on the mystic mumbo jumbo of the fortune teller and “spiritual advisor” (Dileep Rao) who comes to her aid. Maybe the movie’s choicest scene is when Clay takes Christine to meet his snobby parents. After an awkward introduction Christine gains his mom’s respect, only to freak out in spectacular fashion over dinner. Christine’s nagging feeling of being unworthy of her boyfriend and her paranoid suspicion that she will be overlooked by her boss for the promotion gives Drag Me to Hell about as much subtext as it can handle.
Raimi has a lot of fun with this movie (I loved the shot of a pesky fly landing on the camera lens before sneaking up Christine’s left nostril) and if you’re up for gross out scares and belly laughs then you will too. See it a late night show, with friends and beer, you’ll probably convince yourself this is the best American horror movie of the decade.
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