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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 357: Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell 
This poster is one dragon away from being a heavy metal album cover

Sam Raimi's career is quite impressive when you look at it. From humble beginnings directing low-budget horror movies like Evil Dead and Army Of Darkness, Sam Raimi has become a household name by directing summer blockbusters like Spider-Man and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Not content with just directing, Raimi writes, produces, and even acts in a myriad of movies. His career helps legitimize the horror genre and shows young directors that anything is possible. While he has moved onto other genres, Raimi is most beloved for his work in horror. His incorporation of humor, special effects, and old-school style scares have created multiple classics. After his work on the Spider-Man movies, no one would have blamed him from staying away from horror movies. That's why a roar of approval came from the horror community when Raimi announced that he was writing and directing a new horror movie.

Drag Me To Hell is a 2009 supernatural horror movie written and directed by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) with writing help from his brother, Ivan Raimi. The film stars Alison Lohman (Gamer, Beowulf) as loan officer Christine Brown. Christine lives a fairly normal life in Los Angeles with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long, Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball) while trying to get a promotion as the bank she works in. Christine is insecure about her humble farm upbringing as well as her previous weight. One day, an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver, The Caller, Breaking Waves) comes into the bank and asks Christine for another extension on her mortgage. Christine informs Ganush that she has already received two extensions, but asks her boss Jim Jacks (David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night, State and Main) what he thinks. Jim leaves the decision up to Christine and, knowing her promotion depends on it, denies Ganush the lone. She makes a scene, begging Christine to reconsider. Scared, Christine calls security and Ganush is deeply shamed and insulted. That night, when Christine gets into her car, Ganush is waiting in the backseat and a fight ensues. She rips a button off Christine's coat and places a curse on her. After the attack, Christine and Clay meet with a fortune teller named Rham Jas (Dileep Rao, Avatar, Inception) to get her fortune read. Rham sees that she is haunted by an evil demon spirit and asks her to leave. Over the next few days, Christine is haunted by the demon known as the Lamia who is now after her soul. Christine goes to Ganush's house to try get her to remove the curse, but it is revealed that she has died. Desperate to stop the attacks, Christine kills her pet kitten to appease the demon, but it does not work. With the help of Rham, Christine has a séance with Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) who has tried and failed to defeat the Lamia once before. The séance does not work and San Dena is killed in the process. Rham informs Christine that the only thing to save her now is to give her cursed button to someone else, passing the curse onto them. Will Christine be able to free herself before she is dragged to hell?

Robbing graves is still more respected than being a banker

Drag Me To Hell may be the first movie during this entire year where I was legitimately conflicted about my feelings. The movie had plenty of things I liked, but a good amount of things that I didn't. Normally, when there's something I don't like in a movie, whether it's a plot hole or a stupid scene, I can just write it off and move on. With Drag Me To Hell, the scenes I didn't like were actually done well and I couldn't just say “Oh that's stupid” and continue watching. A lot of these scenes revolve around the movie's humor. Some label the movie as a “horror comedy” but I think calling it a comedy is too far of a stretch. The jokes in the movie are very much in line with the humor from the Evil Dead series: gory over-the-top violence with improbably situations and clever one-liners. My problem with the humor in the movie is in the execution. The jokes tend to pop up out of nowhere, killing the actual horror. One good example is during the séance when the demon spirit is put into a goat. The evil goat then proceeds to talk and say dirty words. It's kind of funny, but not exactly a kneeslapper. More importantly, it renders the fear in the scene useless. It's a good, scary scene that turns into a goof off. Then there's scenes that are just plain silly, like when Christine's nose starts to bleed and then sprays all over her boss. It was just too random and unnecessary for my tastes, but it was still executed well. The movie takes a decidedly Evil Dead-esque turn towards the end which will delight fans of those movies, but may confuse the casual viewer. A scene in a graveyard has a strange cheapness to it unseen in the rest of the movie, using an obvious set with a green screen as the background? Again, it's not a bad scene, it's just jarring for the movie to just change like that.

The story itself is good, if a bit predictable. A gypsy is wronged and places a horrible curse on someone. Sound like another movie that I reviewed? How about Stephen King's Thinner? Sure the details are different, but the basic premise is similar. Even the big surprising ending reminded me of Thinner. Speaking of the ending, I found it a little disappointing and rather bothersome. It would have actually been nice to get the happy ending we were teased with. Instead, we get an ending that felt rushed and convenient. Raimi gets to flex his horror muscles once again, creating a spooky atmosphere and using lots of old and new tricks to get scares. The movie properly mixes current special effects and traditional effects that will entertain all types of horror fans. Alison Lohman is a good scream queen and would do well in other horror movies. Justin Long is fine though I still prefer him in comedy roles. Lorna Raver is very creepy as the gypsy Sylvia Ganush and helps make the movie far more scarier than you would expect. 

You complete me

Overall, Drag Me To Hell is a fun horror movie with a few problems. The humor feels out of place to me which really kills the horror. It's not bad humor, it just doesn't feel right. It's always difficult to balance horror and humor, but I think Drag Me To Hell should have just stuck with the horror. The acting is good and the directing is solid. Fans of Raimi's work will have a lot of fun from start to finish. Those unaccustomed to his brand of horror and humor will still enjoy the movie, but may be a little put off by how the movie jumps from horror to humor too quickly. The special and traditional effects are both good and the horror is fairly enjoyable. It's a good watch, but with a few tweaks, it could have been great.


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