Firstly, the spider-shaped
elephant in the room. Spider-Man 3
kinda blew. There, we said it - our 3-star review be damned. Frankly it could have been made by any studio hack - the fact that it was made by Sam Raimi, a man who regularly used to work outside and around studio boundaries to great effect, made it an overblown adventure all the more difficult to enjoy. The guy who gave us The Evil Dead on a budget of about eight bucks had been reduced to fulfilling the desires of money men and comic-book uber-nerds. Lame.
Drag Me To Hell, then, sees Raimi shaking off the shackles of franchises and fanboys and gleefully returning to the arena in which he made his name: face-clutching, side-splitting, gore-soaked, did-he-just-go-there horror. With a clean slate and a purged conscience, Raimi has delivered the goods - Drag Me To Hell is scary, funny and stomach-churning in absolutely all the right ways. It's good enough to make you forget Emo Spidey.
Plot-wise, we're talking postage-stamp size - thank Christ. Eager young loan officer Christine (Lohman) is faced with a career-altering decision: start getting tougher on applicants or miss out on a promotion otherwise destined for the office douche. Unfortunately for her, the day Christine decides to grow a pair is the day hard-up gypsy Mrs. Ganush (Raver) begs for a new extension. When her loan request is shot down, she curses poor Christine to a life of misery - the bad news is she'll be haunted by evil goat spirit Lamia, the good news that her life will only last another three days, after which she'll be dragged quite literally to hell. Sounds like someone's got a case of the Mondays!
If the plot is simple enough to describe to an elderly relative, the action itself is so sick, it almost defies words. Raimi handles the more mundane elements of a good haunting - grasping shadows, creaky doors, 'Boo!' shocks - with the finesse of a master of the genre. However, the scares themselves are offset with the blackest humour imaginable - there is rarely an occasion you will be genuinely scared, but plenty of moments you will be doubled up with disbelieving laughter.
Greg Nicotero's practical effects are top-notch, but it's the sheer, twisted imagination that's gone into Raimi's money shots that impress. Eyeballs pop out like Looney Tunes characters; staplers are wielded as deadly weapons; maggots are viciously vomited; nosebleeds jet across the room with the force of a tropical storm. Almost every time Christine opens her mouth, it's filled with something gooey and gross - Drag Me To Hell is a masterclass in making you cringe. Think Brain Dead levels of gore mixed with a level of physical humour that even Bruce Campbell would struggle to pratfall his way through.
Short-cuts in the storyline are apparent, but Raimi shrugs off plot deficiencies with a wink and a smile: at one point, after one such cheat, Christine simply asks the movie's all-knowing sage, "Why didn't you tell me that earlier
?" Drag Me To Hell is just knowing enough to be funny without being smug, so when Christine excitably agrees to boyfriend Justin Long's trip to a "cabin out in the woods" (sound familiar?) there's not a solitary back-slap to be heard.
This is horror directed with a light touch but delivered like a hammer blow to the head. Raimi is always working the angles, the lighting, the audio - plain and simple, Drag Me To Hell is the work of a pro, and a pro having more fun than he's been recently allowed. Less of a return to his roots than a welcome retreat, it's nonetheless the finest horror film of the year thus far and right up there with the best in Raimi's not inconsiderable horror canon.