Universal // 2009 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // October 13th, 2009
Even nice people can go to Hell.
For his new film, director Sam Raimi passed on the bloated budgets of his successful Spider-Man franchise and went back to his low-budget horror roots. Drag Me To Hell is shocking, funny, and, most importantly, quite scary. Plus it really nails the oft-forgotten life lesson: don't mess with gypsies.
Christine (Alison Lohman, Beowulf) is an ambitious loan officer for a small town bank. She's trying to shake her farm girl upbringing, train herself to speak without a southern accent, date a college professor (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard), and land that big assistant manager position.
In today's economy, being a loan officer has to be one of the hardest jobs around. When a decrepit gypsy, Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), comes to request a third extension on her home loan, Christine turns down the request to impress the boss (David Paymer, Redbelt). The lesson here is "Never turn down a loan request from a gypsy." Ganush puts a curse on Christine, promising to bring the young lady three days of demon-haunted torture, before being dragged straight to Hell.
Before Sam Raimi was the master of that pouty web-slinger, he was the king of shoot-from-the-hip indie horror, pumping out classics like the Evil Dead franchise and Darkman. His style is distinct and visceral, and Drag Me To Hell proves he hasn't lost his touch for crafting classic, low-budget horror.
Drag Me To Hell begins with a flashback to 1969 California, where a boy and his family are roughed up at the hands of a shadowy demon. The kid stole a necklace from a gypsy -- again, something you just don't do -- and quite literally dragged to Hell, as a result. Flash forward to Christine, a rural gal trying to make it in the urban business world. Her story and character are established with masterful efficiency, and all bright young horror directors could learn a thing or two about Raimi's ability to show exposition rather than having characters spew it out in lengthy monologues. Besides, people in this movie will be plenty busy spewing other things.
Once Christine becomes cursed, the movie settles into a brisk pace. She has to have the gypsy ejected from the bank, but the gypsy's waiting for her in the parking lot. Cue the first of many outrageous fights in the film, each shot with the same intensity Raimi brought to Bruce Campbell's cabin in the woods. Christine beats the pulp out of this old woman, filling her head with staples and shoving a ruler down her throat, but in the end the gypsy wins. Seriously, don't mess with a gypsy. Throughout the film Raimi works in a number of "fight scenes" (for lack of a better phrase) in which Christine gets man-handled by shadows, demons, and recurring versions of Ganush. Each plays out like a mash-up of The Exorcist and The Three Stooges, with plenty of slapstick and gross stuff to satisfy even the most discerning horror viewer.
Drag Me To Hell is refreshing, a PG-13 horror film that doesn't involve college kids being tortured or masked murderers dialing cell phones. A classic morality tale about a girl making the wrong decision and paying for it dearly, it's like Thinner only way better. Sure the film has some cheesy dialogue, and there's the whole "I don't want to sacrifice a goat to save my life because I'm a vegan" thing that rings unbelievable, but any faults are quickly forgiven.
Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan have penned a script with some great characters, from the big-hearted Christine to the capitalist/psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). Everyone feels unique, even the skeptical boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long). They wouldn't be half as effective, however, if it wasn't for the perfect casting. There isn't a weak link in the bunch; Alison Lohman, who is in practically every scene, is especially strong.
The film looks great on DVD, with bright vibrant colors and no noticeable transfer blemishes. The only major hit to the visuals is the mixed bag of practical and CGI effects. The practical gore, make-up, and shadow effects look fantastic and believable; however, the mixture of CGI feels cartoony (especially that scene with the eyeballs). There is the possibility that the CGI's look was intentional, but either way it doesn't detract enough to hurt the film. The sound is also stellar, with both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround tracks.
The packaging lists this release as containing both the PG-13 and "unrated" director's cut, but both have the exact same runtime (99 min). The only discernible difference is the amount of gore, which is funny considering Raimi wanted to make the movie PG-13 from the start. The only special features are production diaries totaling around 35 minutes. They do a great job of chronicling the behind-the-scenes action, showing you how specific effects were created, and just how much of this movie was done with practical effects. There are interviews with Raimi and many of the stars and tech folks, and the whole thing is hosted by Justin Long. It may be the only bonus, but it covers just about every aspect of the film with great detail.
For those worried that Sam Raimi had traded in his horror boots for the sneakers of big budget superhero flicks, think again. Drag Me To Hell is one of the best horror movies to come out in the past decade. It's scary, gross, and pretty funny to boot.
Next time you're looking for a good scare, pass by all of those torture flicks filled with gardening tools and drag this home instead.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions
* Video Diaries
* Official Site