I’ve waited too damn long to experience a new EC Comics horror-show on the big screen. Truth of the matter is, I’ve actually never had the pleasure. Too many of the EC-inspired anthology films that I’ve loved over the years were released before my theater-going time: 1982’s Creepshow, and the British dynamic trio of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, 1973’s Vault of Horror, and 1972’s Asylum. When not only available in video stores, the works of this ilk have been stuck on television’s miniscule screen—-HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, for instance. As a massive lover of those old EC horror comics, I’ve longed for the day to come.
Thanks to Sam Raimi, the wait is finally a wrap. Drag Me To Hell, the beloved writer-director’s glorious return to slapstick horror, plays like the best EC Comic story that the company never published. I’m not saying that you have to appreciate the old EC sensibility to love Drag Me To Hell, but it’d sure help a ton. The pitch-black humor mixed with genuine terror moments, all being handed on a bloody platter to a poor main character who is feeling evil’s wrath as a form of comeuppance. Raimi clearly understands the visceral impact that those EC tales packed—–there’s no greater joy for open-minded audiences than bouncing back and forth from shrieks to laughter outbursts.
The use of that ’80s-era Universal Pictures logo before the movie begins says it all, really. While writing and then making this, Sam Raimi had every intention to splash modern-day mainstreamers in the faces with old-school horror fun. As if you can’t tell by now, the man has succeeded tendold. [Assessment continued after the jump]
The story is nuts-and-bolts progression: underdog loan officer Christine Brown (played with fragile innocence by the skilled Alison Lohman, a last-minute replacement for Juno‘s Ellen Page after Page backed out) is battling for a big promotion at the bank she works in, and an opportunity to prove her toughness presents itself in the form of an old, poor gyspy woman facing foreclosure. Christine tells the woman, Mrs. Ganush (the totally-game Lorna Raver), that she’s been denied, so naturally she places an ancient curse on Miss Brown—-after three days of torment by a giant satanic llama (technically speaking, the Lamia), she’s to be pulled down into Hell by demons. Christine’s life becomes quite a nightmare from there.
Drag Me To Hell unfolds like a rollercoaster flying off the rails, blasting away with highly-effective jump scare after deranged visual after hilariously sick sight gag. Staplers are jammed into foreheads, dentures fly, bile is spilled from mouths, maggots rain on faces. Raimi and sibling screenwriting partner Ivan consistently climb upward on the insanity scale, but what makes everything glue together is the film’s nonstop affection for uncomfortable comedy. The same tone that Raimi mastered with his Evil Dead trilogy, those three classics (1981’s Evil Dead, 1987’s Evil Dead 2, and 1992’s Army of Darkness) that catapulted him into the legendary horror stratosphere, is recatpured here. As if playing with huge budgets and blockbuster toys during his Spiderman movie-run reminded Raimi how much no-rules amusement he had while making his older independent horror. Drag Me To Hell representing his chance to relive the glory days.
The film’s only downside worth mentioning is its glaring number of questionable-looking digitial effects. There’s a red-cloud that leaves a body during an exorcism that is faker than porno star breasts, and a gag involving afeline corpse exiting Stage Oral is laughably computerized. Citing faults of this variety is like throwing a deck-chair off of the Queen Mary, though; it’s small potatoes cooked in needlessly cynical grease. Drag Me To Hell is such a joy to watch that minor qualms come and go without the slightest of concern. It’s not as if Sam Raimi intended to make a new-age Casablanca for the genre crowd; the guy just wanted to put together a free-wheeling, scary joyride. No pretension about it. A true-blue “Shut up, think less, sit back, and just enjoy the show” affair.
The acting is solid on all accounts, namely Justin Long’s charming and likeable “supportive boyfriend” turn. The score by composer Christopher Young is loaded with eerie strings that feel transported in from an older, greater time for horror films. And—-yes, 2009 is only five months in—-Drag Me To Hell includes my definite “favorite movie sequence of the year” thus far, a bombastic seance that drastically shifts gears, starting off as a ‘spooky atmosphere’ exercise before exploding into an unpredictable orgy of demonic energy that would’ve fit right into either of the first two Evil Dead installments.
Let’s just say that I thought to myself, “Please let the goat speak…..please.” By scene’s end, I was smiles all around.
In a climate painfully devoid of horror films that balance the excitement with genuine scares, Drag Me To Hell is something to stand up for and applaud. Scenes rarely progress as expected. Genuine laughs come at a speedy clip. Sam Raimi has channeled the wonderful EC Comics spirit, right down to the films grim, gun-sticking final moment. The notion of Raimi passing up another film of this nature to immerse himself into Spiderman 4 morphes into depressing downer.
Drag Me To Hell‘s arrival gives credence to that exhausted cliche: “Good things come to those who wait.”