Title: Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Director: Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi. A legend amongst horror fans. The guy responsible for The Evil Dead Trilogy. The impact these Evil Dead movies have had in people and future generations of filmmakers in general is astounding, if you haven’t seen any of the Evil Dead films yet. Do yourself a favor and do so at the earliest possible convenience! The most visceral and horrifying of the Evil Dead trilogy is still the first one, The Evil Dead. That one is a straight horror film no matter how you look at it. It’s got demons…demon possessions…a spooky cabin in the middle of the woods and a group of friends who are going to learn just what the Necronomicon is capable of doing. Raimi’s first film made such an impact in the horror world, that he was given the chance to do the sequel, Evil Dead II. This film is a bit lighter in tone, and the comedic aspects are played up just a bit. But its every bit the horror film the first one was. In fact, this sequel actually plays like a remake of the original, but with a slightly bigger budget, with a couple of new twists along the way. Evil Dead II is a fun gory, graphic, fast paced horror film that does not let you breath for even a second. Then came Army of Darkness. The third entry into the series. A film funded by Universal Studios. Raimi is now playing with the big Hollywood guys. As a result, Army of Darkness is a very different film from the first two. More adventurous, lighter in tone. Ash, the protagonist from the previous two films is now almost a superhero, defending a medieval town from the terrors of the deadites. Even thought the film differs a lot from the first two, it remained a fun entertaining horror/fantasy film. And one of the most popular of the three films. Where else do you get to see humans go up in battle against an army of zombies during medieval times?? Nowhere but in Army of Darkness.
After this (and a couple of dramatic and even romantic films) Sam Raimi did the three ultra successful Spiderman films. These films went on to make kajillions of dollars across the world, and a fourth one is currently in the works as I write this. But fans of the Evil Dead trilogy have always asked themselves, when will Raimi return to horror? When will he do again what he does best? Well, the answer to that question came in the form of this years Drag Me to Hell. A reworking of Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957). So what Raimi did is he took the basic premise from Tourneur’s film and reworked it. In that film, a group of devil worshippers has to offer someone in sacrifice to appease a demon, whoever gets handed an enchanted parchment will get visited by a demon in three days, unless said person could pass the parchment onto someone else. If you don’t, the demon will come get you!
In Drag Me To Hell, Raimi takes that same idea and gives it his own spin. The basic premise is that of a girl who works in a bank. She denies this old gypsy lady a loan, so the old lady uses her gypsy magical powers (cause all gypsies have ‘em you know) and curses the poor girl! In three days…a demon will come and take her soul straight to hell! Will she manage to escape the Lamia’s curse? Or will she be dragged down to hell?
My initial reaction to this film was: this movie is bullshit! It’s not the Sam Raimi I know and love! This is Raimi restrained! This movie is Raimi light! It’s Raimi controlled by Hollywood puppet masters that only want him to produce a PG-13 film! It’s too safe! It’s got no balls! What happened to you Raimi!? Where’s the Raimi that would have a friend chop up his other possessed friend to pieces with an axe? So yeah, that’s how I first reacted. And I don’t really blame myself, because for all intents and purposes, that’s still exactly how I feel about Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. I’ve just gotten through watching this film on DVD, cause I wanted to give the film a second chance. Maybe I wasn’t feeling perfectly alright the night I saw it in theaters and that affected my perception of it. But no, I’ve now watched the film a second time and I remain pissed at Raimi for this movie.
Though I will say that this initial reaction comes from a seasoned Raimi fan. I have seen everything he has made. From his three Evil Dead movies, to his more serious films like A Simple Plan and The Gift, to his first comic book movie Darkman, to his extremely obscure film noir/black comedy Crimewave. By the way, I think it’s a crime that Crimewave is not out on DVD. That movie is freaking awesome!! Why is it not out on DVD is beyond me, it’s a jewel waiting to be released. So anyhows, the way I see it, people who have never seen a Sam Raimi film will probably love Drag Me To Hell. Because they don’t know the old Raimi. The only know Spider-Raimi.
I still love the guy, and respect everything he has done in the film world (well maybe I dont respect his For Love of the Game so much). And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Drag Me to Hell and actually urge all of you who haven’t seen it to go out and rent it. It’s a fun horror film. Its tone is very “light” when compared to other Raimi horror films, but it still remains very much a horror film. Also, we need to remember that those days when Raimi produced those first Evil Dead films, he was basically working on his own rules. The first Evil Dead films were completely independent productions and when a films is indy, it can do whatever the hell it wants. If it wants to show a guy chopping off his own hand and getting drenched in his own blood, then he could do that. And he did. But Sam Raimi has been playing the Hollywood game for a while now, so he has to play by their rules. That means no big budget R movies, not too much gore, not too much blood, and we gotta keep things light. Never too scary. Which is what you get with Drag Me To Hell. A fun, not too scary, not too gory, not too bloody horror film.
I will say that I enjoyed the film a whole lot more now that my initial expectations for it have been thwarted. I now accept the movie for what it is. Raimi making a Hollywood horror film. Still, I think he got away with a lot of gross out scenes. Those scenes with the gypsy woman throwing up maggots on her! Awesome! I loved the scenes taking place in the cemetery with the girl looking for a corpse! I loved many things about the film, it was fast paced (like most of Raimi’s films) it had its gross out moments and its comedy element was there as well. So even though its retrained in certain elements (mainly how gory or crazy you can get) its still very much a Raimi film. We still get people fighting invisible forces, same way Ash would fight demons in the cabin. We still get the empty old house making strange ominous noises. We still have possessed people.
By the way, I gotta give props to Lorna Raver who plays the old gypsy lady Sylvia Ganush in the film. She plays the most despicable character. She is disgusting in every way and form. Raimi really wanted you to hate this old lady, she’s blind from one eye, has disgusting yellow nails, spits mucus everywhere, she coughs and she curses you if you don’t help her! She is a constant evil presence through out the whole film. You will get to hate this old lady, even when she is dead!
Raimi went down on record as saying that he didn’t want to do the same thing he had done before with Drag Me to Hell. That he didnt want to repeat himself with this new film. Yet he repeats himself a lot with this movie. We’ve already seen Bruce Campbell fighting invisible forces in the kitchen. Yet we get the same exact same thing in this movie! For Christ sake, even the main character ends up running into a tool shed just like Ash does in the first two Evil Dead movies. We get the eye popping out flying through the air and landing on the protagonists mouth just like we saw in Evil Dead II. Not to mention that the possessed people float in the air and speak in the same squeaky voice they do in the Evil Dead films. Only thing is that it’s not as effective or creepy this time around.
One thing I simply cannot let pass is the crappy cgi effects on this film. Come on Raimi, you have millions of dollars. I’m sure you could have perfect those cgi effects. At the very least, made them more realistic or creepy. As it is, we get some really cheesy looking special effects in the most crucial moments of the film! The cheesy cgi took me out of the film immediately, theres no excuse for letting that pass. Specially when you have all those millions at your disposal to make a film.
But whatever, again, I say, if you haven’t seen a Raimi film or any of the Evil Dead films, by all means, go check this one out. And for all my complaining, I did not hate the movie at all, so I think most Raimi fans will be able to enjoy it as well. I take it for what it is. I’m still waiting for Raimi to go back to his indy roots and produce a low budget horror film. Come on, play it again Sam! Your fans are waiting for it!
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5