Film

Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell Romps Back to Evil Dead Territory

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Sam Raimi wants to go home again. Often a drifting virtuoso in the
years before finding his Spider-Man gig, with Drag Me to Hell Raimi
defaults to the horror romps that made his name (specifically, the Evil
Dead trilogy), bringing the old barreling camera and viscous ickiness
back and serving a concept lowbrow enough to discourage A-listers.

Made early last year from a long-shelved script by Raimi and brother
Ivan, Drag Me has a serendipitously timely victim. Playing a
bank loan officer, petite, marshmallow-cheeked Alison Lohman bears the
brunt of the film’s supernatural humiliations. Lohman’s Christine Brown
is putting the finishing touches on her self-reinvention as a young
professional: eye on a promotion, renting L.A. hillside real estate,
and heading toward marriage with an upmarket boyfriend, Clay (that he’s
played by that icon of yuppie brand identity, smug MacBook shill Justin
Long, is perfect). Only leftover photographs and snide comments from
Clay’s WASP parents give unwelcome reminders of the tubby farm girl she
used to be.

One day, smothering her conscience to impress her boss, Christine
refuses to take pity on an ancient gypsy woman about to lose her home
(Lorna Raver, with a malevolent dead eye, horking up neon phlegm). The
Louvin Brothers were right: Satan is Real. The hag hisses a hex, and
Christine’s life plan is derailed by a chain of diabolical
interventions that play like Seventeen magazine’s “Embarrassing
Moments,” as written by Antonin Artaud. Christine spouts a geyser
nosebleed at work, is ambushed by hallucinations while meeting her
potential in-laws, and starts studying animal sacrifice. A visit to a
psychic confirms she’s had a demon sicced on her and, if it isn’t
appeased in time, she’ll get the title treatment.

With a PG-13 rating, the movie still smuggles a good amount of
awfulness into adolescent minds. The running joke involves getting
Christine into situations where her mouth—usually wide open,
screaming—is invaded by incredibly vile things: a spelunking fly,
a gush of grubs, embalming fluid. Otherwise, the harassing spirit comes
on Moe Howard–style—one-two snapping her head back and
forth, or unloading a full-body across-the-room heave. If the
booga-booga shocks are sometimes repetitive, Drag Me does its
audience right in its last-act burst of giddy momentum, sustained by
crack editor Bob Murawski through a burlesque exorcism, Christine’s
dash to find a substitute for her place in Hell, and the final slamming
door of the title card.

The combination of Lovecraftian ichor and Hal Roach slapstick made
Michigan State dropout Raimi a Fangoria star with 1981’s
resourceful Evil Dead, on the vanguard of an international
groundswell of indie horrors. Kiwi-era Peter Jackson, Return of the
Living Dead
, Re-Animator, Frank Henenlotter,
Nekromantik—these grassroots sickies, marked by
tumor-black humor and try-anything camerawork, were an inventive,
sanguinary alternative to the flat-out-awful middle range of ’80s
movies (and, in some cases, résumés for a next generation
of blockbuster technicians).

Was this throwback Raimi’s way of collecting himself after
disappearing into Spider-Man 3‘s narrative overgrowth? The sense
of control is palpable; Raimi, ever the engineer, takes pleasure in
screwing with audience identification, shifting between collaboration
and contempt for our heroine. We take Christine’s side against a
brown-nose co-worker (Reggie Lee, very good), Clay’s pinky-in-air
parents, and that gypsy witch-bitch, whose lingered-on grotesqueness
forestalls sympathy—but it’s squeaky-cute Christine who is all
along the secret villain.

On the surface an Evil Dead successor, Drag Me, an
allegory with karmic logic from E.C. Comics and Jack Chick, replays as
farce Raimi’s A Simple Plan, also based on the boomerang return
of transgression. Christine getting bonged on the head with a cross for
forgetting the Golden Rule doesn’t indicate a particularly nuanced
moral vision. Does Raimi—who began his career on a shoestring in
the Tennessee woods and now commands $300 million
bonanzas—actually believe professional ambition should be
punished with eternal damnation?

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