2009| Dir: Sam Raimi (“Darkman,” “A Simple Plan”) | Writers: Sam and Ivan Raimi
Of the many weaknesses that plague PG-13 horror films (“The Sixth Sense” and “The Ring” aside), chief among them may be an inauthentic nature, or an attempt to dumb down and mass-market scares to an audience weaned less on Saturday morning cartoons than YouTube clips and reality TV. Horror legend Sam Raimi (director of the “Evil Dead” series, as well as of the “Spider-Man” trilogy) may be partially to blame for this trend, as his own Ghost House production company is behind some of the more insipid horror films of the last decade, pictures that rely on trite jolts and stale staples of the genre to gloss past their sadly boring plotlines. In a phrase, most viscera-free horror movies just aren’t that fun.
Happily, Raimi’s newest product, “Drag Me to Hell,” is a page out of the “Evil Dead” book (The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis?), bucking a troubling trend to become the rare horror movie that manages to be simultaneously terrifying and hilarious; even apart from being Raimi’s fabled return to form, this is one of the better fright films I’ve ever seen, director notwithstanding.
When Christine (the charming Alison Lohman) makes a decision she thinks her boss will like—denying the loan extension request for an elderly Gypsy (Lorna Raver)—to further her career, she finds herself cursed by an ancient evil, one that threatens her and her loved ones, such as caring boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), with three days of unearthly torment before, as deadpan medium Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) tells her, that evil will come for her soul. Raimi chooses his lead wisely in Lohman, an adorably sweet girl who seems incapable of ill will. But after a day or two of non-stop terror—filmed in traditionally inventive Raimi fashion—her Christine shows the cracks in her Midwestern value system in deeply disturbing and darkly comedic ways, even to the point of desperate corpse defilement, all in the name of self-preservation. Will she indeed, as the title claims, be dragged off to unmentionable places?
Raimi pulls out all the stops for “Drag Me,” inasmuch as the PG-13 rating, far from limiting his bag of games, seems to force the director to hearken back to the days of camera tricks and shocking humor. Far from dating the film, this old-school approach enlivens “Drag Me,” making it as, strange as it may sound, fun as any horror film in memory. It’s at once a classic Universal monster film and a slapstick lark by a studio man who moonlights as an ingenious film student, giving pause to the thinker who believes that no good deed goes unpunished. At worst it’s a reminder of how fun a subtext-light film can be in masterful hands, and at best, the world’s first good-natured horror movie, and that’s saying a lot.
Rating: Three and a Half of Five Stars