(Release Date: May 29, 2009)
(Premiere Date: March 15, 2009 [South by Southwest Film Festival])
The rest of you... might be shunning this site from now on. Why? Well, I just watched Drag Me to Hell, a film I have been looking forward to since I first heard about it (which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for Angels & Demons). The excellent news about this film is that it was written by Ivan Raimi with his brother Sam Raimi who also directed and produced. Another noteworthy producer here? Robert G. Tapert, who has been part of the team since way back in 1978. That's a better creative team than NASA had on the Space Shuttle. And we're not even to the Cast, yet.
So why am I about to piss you all off? Well, in spite of the fact that I'm a huge fan of these guys and in spite of the fact that they've finally returned to the Horror Genre after the first three Spider-Man films made them superstars (as opposed to merely "famous"), Drag Me to Hell is a bit of a disappointment! This is made more so because of the truth that, yes, I get this movie, yes, I know what the Evil Dead gang was going for here. Yes.
And yes, there are times in Drag Me to Hell that are truly great. The film can be genuinely scary in a deep, visceral way just as much as it can be funny in a classically "Raimi" fashion ("Fake Shemps" and all)! The special effects are top notch, the acting is overall high-quality and the tension and suspense can be palpable. Amazingly, the weak points here are in the writing. The overall result is a film that makes me wonder why I sat through the whole thing. The finale would have been the same had the film been five minutes long as opposed to the ninety-nine minutes we actually get.
Luckily the cast is quite good. We start with two simple words that can drag me to the Box Office time and time again: Alison Lohman! Lohman brings us Christine Brown, a loan officer for a small California bank. She's beautiful, kind, fun, charming, has a great boyfriend and is even up for a promotion at work. Then one day a creepy gypsy woman named Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes in and begs for an extension on her home mortgage after she's already had two extensions that failed to save her. See, she has to keep her house because she doesn't want to burden her grand-daughter by moving in with her. Looking at everything, and with much regret and pathos, Christine denies her request for an extension. So the old lady gets furious, attacks Christine violently and then lays a curse on her that will result in... well, the title says it all.
Right, that fits, doesn't it? Sure it's implied that part of Miss Brown's reasoning is that she's up for this promotion. Sure, the guy who might get it instead of her (Reggie Lee's Stu Rubin) is a real shit-bag who is always one step ahead of her in the favors of her boss Mr. Jacks (David Paymer). Sure she's already stressed out with everything else going on! She's desperate, yeah, but come ON, pilgrims, the kid was doing her job, the old lady had been given chances and, oh boo-hoo, doesn't want to live somewhere else, so Christine deserves an eternity of supernatural torment? What a fucking bitch, man! "Oh, I can't be bothered to move into assisted living and I don't want to burden my grand daughter, so even though I've broken the rules and you spend the next hour and a half of screen time showing what a sweetheart you actually are, I think you deserve to have your soul ripped out and torn apart by Lamia from now until the end of time and beyond. Oh, look a the time! Okay, gotta go, Murder she Wrote is on!"
Shit, man, I hope nobody I've ever been rude to in a line or flipped off in traffic just happens to be a somewhat inconvenienced gypsy. Something tells me my punishment isn't going to fit the crime, dudes and chicks. I'm getting pissed off just writing this! The Lamia (or the Raimi re-definition thereof) should turn on the accursed curse-bringer just on general principal. Yeah, Christine deserves what's coming to her because she denied a loan extension to somebody who couldn't pay??? Well things are bad all over! I'm a home-owner myself and God-Forbid something should happen to me and I would be unable to pay my mortgage, but if I asked for my third extension and was denied by the bank, do you know what I'd do to the loan officer to make her suffer for what she did? Fucking NOTHING, man! When I was an usher at AMC, I kicked these obnoxious teenagers out on their unwashed asses for sneaking into Speed! Good thing they weren't gypsies, man... if they had been, I'd sure be fighting off fallen angels in Hades right now... and I'd deserve it, wouldn't I? After all, that was my job and I did it!
Okay, tangent abbreviated for now, let's move on. What a bitch! Sorry. Okay, so Christine will be dragged to hell in three days unless she can curb the curse that has been laid upon her by an angry, drooling monster. Her professorial beau Clay Dalton (who uses a Mac in the film... and is played by Justin Long) can't help her, no matter how hard he tries or how much money he spends. Her only hope will be either having the Lamia beaten back before it gets her with the help of a local seer Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), offering a blood sacrifice to invite the Lamia, ever-so-politely, to fuck off or passing the curse on to someone else. Yeah, about 90% of that sounds a lot like Ringu, but no, no, apparently Sam and Ivan actually wrote this right after Army of Darkness (which hit theatres seven years before Ringu), right? Right.
Much of the rest of the film shows us Christine dealing with her disbelief, then trying something new to break the curse, being filled with hope that its finally over, only to find that the Lamia is still there and still ready to steal her soul. All the while Clay becomes more concerned and more of a believer while Rham Jas finds himself more involved and more desperate to save this innocent girl. While we're at it, what, if anything, can characters like Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) and Ilenka Ganush (cutie Bojana Novakovic) do about all this?
All the while Sam Raimi shows us (again and again) just why he is one of the best directors currently in Hollywood. Raimi is amazing at his ability to truly drag out the horror and build tension in the most legitimate ways to shock and startle the audience. Unlike the films of lesser directors, Raimi's JUMP moments are never cheap, nor are the starts and shocks all he relies on to create some silly excuse for horror. No, Sam Raimi is a wonderful director who truly gets suspense, tension and action. It's easy to see what he was going for here with his use of the Universal Studios logo from around the time Alison Lohman and Justin Long were born. Stay through the credits and you'll see the same era's closing logo along with the then-common invitation to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. Classic? Well, it's as least as Classic as his trademark 1973 yellow Oldsmobile Delta 88 automobile! (If you're a fan, you'll know what I'm talking about... it's in there!)
Much more than this, Raimi truly gets comedy and is brilliant (still to this day) in his ability to evoke laughter in the middle of the most frightening moments. In many ways, this one feels much more like Evil Dead II with its mix of comedy and horror than it does the primarily horrific The Evil Dead or the substantially comical Army of Darkness! The balance is there. Though there is an over-reliance on gross-out comedy instead of the smarter (if Three-Stooges-inspired) laughs that Raimi has given us so often before.
However, the cyclical nature of this formula seems to keep going and going. Disbelief, new solution, lots of hope, revelation of remaining terror, Gross-Out... rinse and repeat! While the tension does build with each new cycle, it's hard to not note that the film is becoming episodic and repetitive as if a lot of time could have been saved. When the final act rolls around, its equally hard not to note that Drag Me to Hell, on the whole, has the same result as it might have, had it been a significantly shorter film.
Make no mistake, while my rating of this film may be quite a bit lower than many other critics and, in fact, many of the viewers out there, I am not indicating that this film is either "terrible" or "one of the worst" movies I've ever seen. Quite the contrary, I'm crazy about the cast, I love the writers, producers and especially the director and I was impressed with the special effects, scares and laughs in this film. In short... yeah, I get it. However, the script seems to be vying for notice among all these high points and, Kids, Morlocks, Greyhounds and Bengals, if the script isn't great, the movie itself won't be. Sadly, though the script has a lot of potential, it's neither terribly original, nor is it truly great. This is still a must-see for Raimi fans and I am no less a Raimi fan because of it. However, it's easy to say that, considering the pedigree, this could have been a much better film and it might leave even the biggest fans with a bit of a bad feeling.
For all the promise of the cast and crew and all the high points, Drag Me to Hell doesn't end up with the best of what it could have... much like Mrs. Ganush's mortgage, the script ultimately has "No Points". In a script, unlike a mortgage, "No Points" isn't really a bonus, but a cause for a rating of Two and one half Stars out of Five! It started with four and cycled down with each repeated sequence. If you disagree... and if you're a Gypsy... then Drag Me to Hell for doing my job. If not and if you're a member of the Gypsy/ Roma Anti-Defamation League, then may I remind you that we're still talking about the great Sam Raimi and all his Fake Shemps, so be nice! Was this one truly written long before Ringu was popularized? If they say so, I'm inclined to believe them. Timing wise, though... sheesh! In fact... Interestingly enough, this film has the exact same ending of another film I saw when I was much younger... but I can't remember what the hell it was. Watch this space, I'll review it once I figure that out. I can say crap like that, this is a comedy website! So, unless I'm dragged into Hell in the next three days for this, along with mortgage brokers, Movie Theatre ushers, DMV clerks, electric utility customer service representatives, collection agents and Simon from American Idol, I'll see you in the next reel!
Let's hope that doesn't happen in three days, considering that the Summer of Horror II starts in one week. Hopefully I'll see you there!
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