Sam Raimi’s long-awaited return to horror was a campy, over-the-top thrill ride, with performances ranging from inauthentic to scenery-chewing: not all of the jokes land, and almost none of the scares do. Its romance is generic, and its tragic ending is perhaps unearned. But I enjoyed it anyways. Why?
Because it’s Sam Raimi returning to the high concept, low budget filmmaking that made him famous. It’s occasionally brilliant, and consistently interesting. And it possesses the kind of manic energy not seen in a Raimi film really since Army of Darkness.
It trades the unconvincing practical effects of the Evil Dead franchise for unconvincing CGI work, and its debatable whether that has the same charm – I personally think it doesn’t have quite the same effect, but there’s plenty of genuine fake blood as well. Raimi’s return to the gory version of The Three Stooges, splatstick, puts imitators like Eli Roth to shame – only Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright in Shaun of the Dead were able to capture that Evil Dead 2-esque EC Comics style, but Raimi demonstrated in Drag Me to Hell that he’s still got the gift. From the nosebleed fountain to the violently profane goat possession scene, to a literal, live-action anvil drop, its gore scenes are hilarious.
Alison Lohman’s a bit wooden in the lead role, though this may be intentional, to approximate the low-budget acting of Raimi’s early career. Justin Long’s appropriately adequate as her boyfriend, and Lorna Raver is gloriously over-the-top as the evil Gypsy woman Mrs. Ganush.
The plot concerns itself with Christine (Lohman), a young loan officer who, in a bid to improve her chance for a promotion by appearing more ruthless, denies a mortgage extension to Mrs. Ganush, a poor old gypsy woman. She is cursed: after 3 days of escalating torment, she will be dragged to hell to burn for all eternity. Harsh, eh? Anyways, occasionally funny gags follow, as Christine desperately tries to escape her fate, doing worse and worse things like murdering her cat to try and appease the curse. She ultimately justifies her fate by trying (and failing) to doom the dead Ganush to hell in her place.
Drag Me to Hell is far from great, it lacks the consistent laughs of Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness, but it’s so incredibly better than Spider-Man 3 that it’s worth it in the end. Raimi returning to his roots but with a higher budget is an interesting exercise, and while it’s not one that works 100% of the time, it’s certainly a valiant effort.
An occasionally middling, occasionally hilarious horror-comedy, Drag Me to Hell sometimes succeeds, sometimes fails, but adds up to a satisfying experience with standout moments, earning a B.