It always strikes me how remarkably close the sensation of being terrified in the movies is so closely tied to that of being humoured. Both can leave you exhausted, both can make you cry, and both can make you piss your pants. Apparently.
Harmoniously blending the two genres best in recent American cinema history is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series of the early eighties and beyond. In 2009, after his disappointing stint with the Spider-Man franchise, Raimi went back to his splatter comedy roots with Drag Me to Hell. The results were gross, jumpy and downright hilarious.
Drag Me to Hell begins with a masquerade of horror. It tells a revenge story about an old eastern-European Gypsy woman who curses Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a bank-loan officer who rejects her plea for an extension on her mortgage. Over three torturous days, Christine is haunted by an evil spirit which torments her working and private life; wanting to drag her soul into the depths of Hell. But Christine isn’t gonna go down without a fight and, along with the help of her doting boyfriend (Justin Long), an Indian fortune-teller and supernatural mediums, she hunts down a way to break the curse.
Even though the movie adopts many staples of the horror genre–a graveyard brawl, a doofus boyfriend, a seance clattering pots, creaky windows and a dog lover-friendly animal sacrifice–Drag Me to Hell is more of a twisted comedy than a routine horror flick. Sam Raimi, and his co-writer brother Ivan, are clearly having fun meddling with trashy genre movies again, so even if the homage often turns to parody (a talking goat is perhaps a stretch too far), it’s ultimately an enjoyable watch.
Lohman isn’t quite the Bruce Campbell stand-in one wants in a Raimi horror movie. Throughout Drag Me to Hell, she seems either bored or unaware to the hilariously bad material; delivering lines such as “I can’t sacrifice an animal. I’m a vegetarian, I believe in animal rights,” with such deadpan that the joke whizzes by almost unacknowledged. Justin Long is equally nonexistent as the boyfriend, but luckily they are both saved, or perhaps burdened by Lorna Raver as the creepy old hag who haunts Christine’s life. She’s truly terrifying and disgusting. It’s great.
The Evil Dead movies were products of their time and place in American indie moviemaking; with nonexistent budgets, kitchen-sink special effects and melodramatic overacting. It’s how bad these films were that made them truly enjoyable. A quarter of a century later, Raimi has more money and prestige to play with; creating a film which is far more technically accomplished, but not as cultish, nor entertainingly stupid. Best watched in darkness, on a big screen, in the company of good friends and even greater confectionery, Drag Me to Hell sees Raimi creating an unashamed, 21st century homage to the trashy horror pulp movies he was once demon headmaster of.