By unfortunate design, horror films hardly ever have legs at the box office. The money-raking opening weekend, followed by a freefall off of the charts and out of the public’s subconscious. Tons of commercials and online marketing during the two weeks before release, and then the vapors. Largely because the film’s budgets are uniformly small, and openings above $20 million practically ensure profits.
Typically, this tiny shelf-life isn’t a bad thing—–most mainstream horror films aren’t worth the dollars spent by audiences to score their cheap thrills. Every now and then, though, quality productions suffer this fate, the two most recent examples being Dennis Iliadis’ The Last House on the Left remake and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. In the case of The Last House on the Left, that film never had a fighting chance from jump—-there was zero marketing, invisible pre-release presence, and none of the “fun” that popular audiences demand from their horror. The film was as brutal and bleak as they come. With Drag Me to Hell, however, the outcome should’ve been different. You had the guy behind the hugely-profitable Spiderman films making his heavily-publicized return to horror, backed by a tireless promo campaign and a prime opening weekend (May 29) to cash in on some counterprogramming from those who’d opt not to see Disney/Pixar’s Up.
While not a full-on bomb, Drag Me to Hell isn’t the below-our-noses sleeper hit that many were expecting, and, frankly, hoping for. Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly has a theory as to why, and it’s the exact same sentiment that I’ve thought all along about the film, even though I hoped it wouldn’t play itself out this way toward truth—-the film’s PG-13 rating, slapped on in hopes of drawing in younger audiences, was the film’s ultimate stain. All of the buzz within the horror community was that Raimi had gone back to his over-the-top violence and gore seen in his early Evil Dead days, yet a PG-13 film could never match that tone convincingly, right? The film’s built-in horror demo was, as a result, “scared” away, due to an unfair prejudice toward anything rated lower than R.
It’s sad, because Drag Me to Hell, like The Dark Knight before it, straddles that line between PG-13 and R so delicately that the whole rating issue becomes trite bullshit. Most importantly, though, Drag Me to Hell is one hell of a funhouse ride, one of the most accessibly-true horror films you could ever request. Raimi should’ve been rewarded by audiences, not penalized.
Here’s the link to Owen Gleiberman’s essay: EW – PopWatch….Drag Me To Hell: Why Didn’t It Do Better?