While I’ve been laughing at horror films for years, I can’t remember the last time I laughed with one. That’s what separates Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell from the recent genre offerings; not only is it genuinely scary, it’s also outrageously funny. And for once, it’s intentional.
It walks a similar line between comedy and horror that Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror did in 2007, although with more goo in place of gore. Raimi himself is certainly no stranger to the genre hybrid; before Spider-man turned his pupils into big green dollar signs, he was one of the first to explore the funny side of dismemberment in the classic Evil Dead series. Well Raimi’s well and truly back folks, and if this is what it’s like being dragged to hell, I might just have to make a reservation.
Drag me to hell lives up to its title much faster than Snakes on A Plane ever did. It starts in the year 1969, where a sick young boy is rushed to see a witch doctor in the hope that she can save him from an evil gypsy curse. Turns out she can’t, and the cracks of hell open up beneath the boy, dragging him into a fiery oblivion. Fast forward forty years, and the curse is poised to claim its next victim in too-nice-to-be-a-bank-loan-officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). It’s bad timing, not only because Christine is looking to impress her boyfriend’s (Justin Long) snobbish parents, but also because she’s hoping to snatch the job of assistant manager from her egotistical colleague Stu (Reggie Lee). The last thing she needs is an angry evil daemon trying to steal her soul.
But that’s exactly what she gets when she reluctantly denies a ‘seemingly’ frail old woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an extension on her home loan. Mrs. Ganush doesn’t take it all that well, cursing Christine with some ancient gypsy voodoo, quite literally causing all hell to break loose over the next three days.
Sure enough, creepy shadows appear, hinges start to creak, windows randomly burst open and lights suspiciously flicker. Yeah, it’s every cliché in the book, but don’t let that put you off. Drag me to Hell makes a conscious effort to be blatantly clichéd and actually revels in its own absurdity, which does surprisingly well to rub off on the audience. That said, Raimi still knows how to use these genre conventions to scare the absolute bejesus out of the viewer. Admittedly, most of it has to do with the film’s killer sound design, which despite a tendency to over rely on jump scares, helps to craft some genuinely tense moments.
Raimi is really pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with a ‘M’ rating as the violence in Drag Me to Hell is about as subtle as a rope-suspended anvil being dropped on your head. Those who have seen the Evil Dead series would have probably guessed that said scenario actually occurs. The result is eye-poppingly horrific, but like a number of similarly icky moments where all manner of fluids go in every which direction, it’s also hilarious.
Whilst Alison Lohman does a fine job being the obligatory attractive young victim, it’s the supporting cast that make Drag Me to Hell such a blast. Thanks to Lorna Raver’s animated performance as the downright terrifying Mrs Ganush, I doubt I will ever help an elderly women across the street again. Her food encrusted false teeth and filthy troll like finger nails have such a strong presence, I’d have given them a separate mention in the credits. Elsewhere, Justin Long plays it straight as the supportive boyfriend, Dileep Rao suitably plays it up as the all-seeing psychic (who actually accepts American Express!) and Reggie Lee plays it coyly as Christine’s irritating co-worker.
But it’s director Sam Raimi who has all the right moves, breathing new life into the horror genre the exact same way he did 20 years ago. How? By having fun.