Drag Me to Hell
By Bert Ehrmann
October 16, 2009
I can't say that I’m a fan of many modern horror movies. I thought the first Saw (2004) film was decent enough but have been disappointed to see that just about every other horror film since the has copied much of the structure of that movie; namely an uncomfortable focus on pain, torture and suffering. With movies like Hostel (2005) and the Halloween II (2009) and now even a sixth Saw film due out later this month dominating the horror niche in cinemas, there doesn't seem to be room at theaters for any other type of horror films.
That's what I thought to be true until I saw the movie Drag Me to Hell earlier this year. It's completely different in tone and feel to those other movies and (get this) is a horror film that's actually scary at times!
In Drag Me to Hell, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an ambitious loan officer gunning for an assistant manager position at the bank she works at. Smelling an opportunity to show her boss that she's ready to make the hard decisions needed for the position, Christine comes down hard and refuses to help an elderly woman who's home is being foreclosed on. An elderly woman who happens to be a gypsy with strange powers who places a curse on Christine that involves her being tormented by a demon known as a "Lamia" for two days with the third day cumulating with Christine literally being dragged off to hell.
Christine is faced with trying to have the curse removed, which isn't easy, or, as a last resort, passing it onto someone else thus dooming them to her fate.
More gross-out horror (there's lots of yellow puss and green bile but not so much blood) mixed with equal parts of throwback spook house movies of old with a dash of 1930s Looney Tunes cartoons (there is an anvil that drops from the sky at one point), Drag Me to Hell is a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously yet is able to consistently deliver scares to the audience throughout the entire film. Co-writer and director Sam Raimi is able to achieve this by constantly building up the tension of Drag Me to Hell bit by bit and never lets up until the end of the film.
Other than a few quick flashes of the Lamia, we're never quite sure as to what the creature exactly looks like other than via ominous and dangerous shadowy shapes that stalk Christine around her home. But this absence of a physical beast is more than made up with by the sound design of the film. The audience is never sure if the seemingly normal creaks and moans emanating from on screen are normal noises or something else. In fact, there were several points in the movie where all it took was an odd sound on-screen to raise the hair on the back of my neck.
I also found it interesting that the character of Christine is never played as the typical horror movie cliché of being a "damsel in distress.” For the most part, Christine fights the Lamia on her own and when she does go to see a psychic for help, he takes Christine to a more powerful female psychic who's experienced in battling the Lamia.
And the ending! I don't want to ruin anything, but the ending of Drag Me to Hell is a kick in the gut. The film draws the viewer in and makes them think the movie is going in a certain direction and that things are going to turn out a certain way and then WHAM! Drag Me to Hell takes a sudden left turn and moves from being a good film to a great one.
Drag Me to Hell co-writer/director Raimi also wrote and directed The Evil Dead (1981), which was hugely influential in its time. That film cost an estimated $350,000 to make and has since earned back something like $30 million and that's not including the two sequels that would follow. The Evil Dead was so reviled in many parts of the world that it was BANNED in several countries for many years. Take that Saw!
Drag Me to Hell is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.