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Giddy, gross-out gore in fun summer flick

June 12,2009
Sam Raimi was the first in a long line of respectable genre directors - Bryan Singer, Ang Lee, Guillermo del Toro - abruptly abducted by the producers of blockbuster superhero movies. (Perhaps they took lessons on filmmaker-kidnapping from Kim Jong-il.)

“Spider-Man,” which came at the pinnacle of the Great Comic Book Adaptation Rush of the early 2000s, provoked fits of critical effusion when it hit theaters - then slowly faded in the collective memory, helped along by a bloated and silly second sequel.

But with the spell, it seems, at last broken, in “Drag Me to Hell” Raimi is back to his roots in PG-13 giddy, gross-out horror, another genre he helped define with his “Evil Dead” series (a return he explicitly signals by using the old ’80s Universal Studios logo). And though his latest outing is just as predictable and even more disposable than “Spider-Man 3,” it has two things that movie sorely lacked: It’s small in scale enough that the characters are relatable, and, most importantly, it’s fun to watch.

What sets Raimi apart from other horror directors is his attention to sympathetic character development in an age when the prevailing trend is toward torture-fests like “Saw” and “Final Destination” that see one-dimensional obnoxious teenagers get what’s coming to them (through the skull, with a nail gun).

Here, the gore is the type one imagines a bunch of 8-year-old boys would come up with around a campfire. (“Hey, what if she dropped an anvil on the witch’s head and then the witch’s eyes popped out - and they went into her mouth!” “Eeeewww!”) The wonderful set design gets ever more subtly outlandish, while a sophisticated gothic score by Christopher Young avoids traditional trickery and keeps the suspense cranked up to 11.

The damsel in distress is Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a farm girl turned big city loan officer who denies an old woman an extension to show her boss she can make “tough decisions” while competing with an uppity (Asian!) co-worker (Reggie Lee) for a big promotion.

The old woman with the yellow fingernails and the creepy cataract sics a goat demon called the Lamia (introduced in the opening segment) on Christine, and the neighborhood psychic says the demon will torment her for three days before taking her to eternal torment.

Naturally, Christine’s boyfriend, played by Justin Long - whom despite his 10 years in the business I still remember best as the dorky teenager in “Galaxy Quest” - is a psychology professor who doesn’t believe, and Christine’s scheduled to meet his old-money New England parents the next day.

It’s all well-trodden ground, and “Drag Me to Hell” is no genre-buster. Much as I would like it to, it probably won’t lead to a renaissance of enjoyable horror films. The Gypsy villain is racist outright, the story is eminently dumb and, sitting alone in the theater watching critically, I could spot all the twists coming a mile away. But of course, this is exactly the wrong way to watch a summer scare-fest. Seen with a boisterous group of friends, Drag Me to Hell is exactly what a fairground haunted house should be: cool, startling, scary, disgusting but not disturbing, and, of course, fun.


Drag Me to Hell

Horror / English

99 min.

Now playing

By Ben Applegate [bapplegate@gmail.com]


Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) exacts her revenge on Christine (Alison Lohman), the loan officer who had her evicted, in “Drag Me to Hell.”[CineSeoul]



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