Released in the spring of 2009 to mostly overwhelmingly positive reviews, Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi’s new attempt at horror definitely felt like a shot in the arm for horror fans everywhere. Drag Me to Hell appeared to meld a scary, witch’s curse-led tale which meant plenty of creepy and jumpy moments throughout, with a heavy line of dark, over-the-top humour; a combination that made Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy a cult hit and Bruce Campbell a horror icon the world over. But in the ’00s would that combination work as well as it did in the ’80s and early ’90s? For the most part, the answer is yes, but not without its issues.
The plot of Drag Me to Hell is certainly strong enough. Pretty bank loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) is trying to work her way up the career ladder to the assistant manager’s role. She has some tough competition for the role in the form of co-worker Stu (Reggie Lee), so it soon becomes pretty clear that she’ll have to make some tough decisions in order to truly contend for the vacant job. After some advice from her boss, Mr Jacks (David Paymer), Christine refuses to extend the mortgage of an elderly woman, Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), despite her begging on her knees in front of customers at the bank. Accusing Christine of shaming her, Ganush returns while Christine is leaving and attacks her, putting a curse on Christine. From there, Christine’s life spirals out of control and it seems she is doomed to be terrorised by an evil demon before being dragged down into the depths of hell. Hence the title.
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Drag Me to Hell‘s opening scenes do a pretty good job of introducing us to Christine and those around her, like her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), whose sceptical nature is a little annoying after a while, but he sticks by her throughout her ordeal, always there but never really buying into what’s going on around them. And considering that what is going on around them is pretty crazy, you always feel a bit indifferent towards Justin Long’s character here. But then similar could be said of Alison Lohman’s Christine. Her motivations are very clear: here she is, this is what she does, this is what happens, the end. So you never really get the chance to decide whether you actually like her or not. Yes, this is somewhat of a throwback to the glory days of horror where we don’t really need to know or care about the characters, and just enjoy the horrible events that happen around them and to them, but it’s sometimes nice to see a bit of depth to the main characters. But to be fair, we do learn a bit about Christine’s past, so there is something relevant about her working her way up to where she is now, and considering the type of film Drag Me to Hell is, that little seems to be enough.
The scare scenes, although they generally hit the spot, are a mixed bag. The execution is fine, as you’d expect from someone of Sam Raimi’s calibre, but there’s sometimes that weird feeling of “is this meant to be scary or funny?”. Certain scenes are genuinely creepy and scary, like the early parking lot attack on Christine by Mrs Ganush, and a later dream sequence where Mrs Ganush appears in Christine’s bed and proceeds to throw up a load of flies all over her. But a later scene in Christine’s shed involving an anvil and Mrs Ganush’s fist in Christine’s mouth is a little too over the top, verging on uncomfortable. Yes, the tied up anvil just happening to be hanging above Mrs Ganush’s head as she’s attacking Christine is clearly meant to be comical but that’s the thing. Does Raimi want all out horror or all out comedy? Scenes like this point to both, which is fine to an extent, but there should be a happy medium in horror-comedy, neither going completely one way or the other. But to Raimi’s credit, these scenes are still well done and Alison Lohman does a fine job in taking all that is thrown at her. It just all feels a little uneasy at times. And not in the good, pulse-racing way you’d want when watching horror.
The fast paced final scenes are enjoyable with what you think is a curse-free Christine about to board a train suddenly realising a mistake that results in the inevitable. Despite the questionable special effects on the final shot, the way the film moves quickly from Christine’s decision on how she’s going to end the curse to the film’s climax is quite exciting stuff and is probably the main reason people have fond memories of Drag Me to Hell, despite its indifferent feel at times making it not quite the modern horror classic some may believe it to be.
Drag Me to Hell was made on a relatively low budget of $30 million, which, considering what Sam Raimi would have had to work with on his Spider-Man movies, is peanuts. It was well received by fans and critics alike, and was a box office success (and probably a personal one for Raimi too, on that budget!) and a mostly well deserved one. Even with its faults Drag Me to Hell is a fun, scary, entertaining and sometimes insane film, that fans of horror, new and old, can enjoy.