From The Archives: DRAG ME TO HELL (2009).

Posted: January 8, 2012 in 31 Flavors Of Horror, Cats, Demons, Fire, Horror, Movies (D)
Yet another found-footage exorcism movie has hit big at the box office.  This weekend it was The Devil Inside.  Next weekend, who knows?  Some dork is probably planning one right now.  If folks can shell out hard-earned shekels to see that kind of exploitative junk, they should most certainly feel obligated to watch an underseen horror movie from one of the genre’s maddest practitioners, Sam Raimi.  Here’s a cluster of hype-man pieces I wrote regarding Drag Me To Hell back in 2009, both anticipating and then shouting the praises of its release.  This movie still feels underrated.  Give it a try if you haven’t. 

So Drag Me To Hell came out on DVD today. I’m sitting here now with it in hand, and of course, I cracked that sucker open already, having just watched the unrated version. You can’t see me, but I’m smiling.

Horror movies, at their best, are the purest form of cinema. Drama must have speech to be effective, even at the expense of the pictorial end of the art. Comedies can coast on visual humor for a while, but even they eventually need a cushion of words. Horror, however, needs only the most basic tools of the cinematic vocabulary: Sound design and image and motion and as little meat on the bones as possible. Good horror movies are like skeletons that can walk and talk. (And some of them even feature talking skeletons. I have a special love for those, but that’s another story.) In the great Universal tradition, Drag Me To Hell is admirable in its simplicity. It’s a spectral locomotive, engineered expressly to deliver chills and laughs, and it is entirely successful in that goal, even when you’ve seen it before and you know what’s coming.

Less certain is what, if anything, Drag Me To Hell is meant to say. Some great works of horror are able to reflect and/or comment on the world around them and the people who habitate it. Examples of movies in this vein are The Exorcist, Night Of The Living Dead, and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; examples of novels that do this are Dracula, I Am Legend, and much of Stephen King’s work. Horror can serve as social commentary if intended as such, or it can simply channel the unspoken fears or anxieties of modern society of its time. Thinking about Drag Me To Hell in that way, however, probably won’t lead to much. As sincerely as I adore Sam Raimi’s movies, I’ve always seen him as more of a showman than a philosopher. His movies are meant to entertain – sometimes to make you laugh, sometimes to creep you out, occasionally to make you feel – but always ever is the goal entertainment. 

Christine Brown, the protagonist of Drag Me To Hell, isn’t a bad person. She makes a snap decision that hurts someone, but she has clear motives and she regrets it immediately. She wouldn’t have needed the torment she goes through in order to feel bad about what she did, and she certainly doesn’t deserve her fate. Nor does her boyfriend, Clay, deserve what he ends up experiencing, even if he is played by Justin Long. Clay is written as a guy with specific social and personal pressures, ultimately a decent person – as is Christine. If Drag Me To Hell hasany morality message at all, it’d be that “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Honestly, I don’t think Raimi is even saying that much here. The personal details that we learn about the characters are only enough to make us care about them to the extent that Raimi needs us to – if we invest in them at all, it makes the ride that much more thrilling. But we’re not meant to leave the theater thinking about Christine and Clay; we’re meant to leave the theater with a smile.  Really, all we’re meant to do is jump and shriek and laugh maniacally.  Raimi isn’t trying to make us think; not during, and not afterwards. And that’s just fine. When a movie works as well as Drag Me To Hell, “entertaining” is all it needs to be. Sometimes entertainment without message or consequence can be cathartic on its own terms, and therefore is as valuable an experience as any movie with loftier aims.

That’s the scholar in me talking. Sometimes I get serious about these things because I believe that they deserve the consideration. Drag Me To Hell will not be talked about by critics or film students or Oscar pundits as one of the best movies of 2009, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Okay, got that all out of my system. Now let’s lighten the mood, huh?


Below are the two pieces I wrote this past summer on Drag Me To Hell. They’re interesting because one was written right before I saw it, and the other was written directly afterwards. I had a pretty secure feeling that I was going to like it, but I didn’t know how much. Neither are meant to be too serious. Enjoy them – then go see the movie [again]!


Top 10 Reasons I Can’t WAIT To See *Drag Me To Hell* Tomorrow.
I won’t be writing a review of Drag Me To Hell, the new horror movie co-written and directed by Sam Raimi which opens tomorrow, because who am I to appraise the work of the master?
But I’ll tell you this much – I can’t WAIT.
I’m not a horror super-fan, I don’t think, but I’m a film connoisseur and a movie lover and I would argue that on the merits of Evil Dead 2 alone, Sam Raimi deserves mention with the greats. That movie is creepy and hilarious and pure and original and visually innovative. And that’s not all Raimi’s done, of course – I love that he’s experimented in many genres, and much of his mainstream work is incredible. I love his Spider-Man pictures (yes, even the deeply flawed third chapter), but since he’s been doing those for almost a decade now, I bet Raimi is amping to let loose some of the anarchic energy he’s revered for by movie nuts worldwide, and Drag Me To Hell looks like that ticket. I’m sold.
Here’s a couple more reasons, so that you’ll all join me:
10. Old lady monster. Last time we saw this in a Sam Raimi movie, it was Army of Darkness. Before that, it was Evil Dead 2. Before that, it was Evil Dead 1. This is a good sign.
9. Sam Raimi wrote it with his brother Ivan Raimi. Other movies written by the Raimi brothers: Darkman; Army of Darkness.
8. Demon hands from hell on the movie poster. Demon hands from hell on the poster mean hell-demons in the movie. Bonus!
7. Cinematography by Peter Deming. He’s back! Deming is the guy who shot Evil Dead 2 for Raimi (and Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive for David Lynch), so he knows his way around creepy and disturbing images. And his last movie was The Love Guru with Mike Myers and the comedy mastermind Justin Timberlake (sarcasm alert), so I’m hoping Deming is in a demolition kind of mood himself.
6. Ted Raimi cameo – duh.
5. In all the pre-interviews, Raimi keeps stressing that Drag Me To Hell is an audience picture. From what he promises, and from what I’ve heard, it’s going to be gory and goofy and wild. Be like me – find the biggest, most unruly audience in town and sit down in the middle of the theater.
4. A lead female role is rare, if not unique, in Raimi movies. Usually his female characters, particularly if they’re pretty, are idealized, less nuanced than the dudes, even dull by comparison – the best exception being Bridget Fonda’s Lady Macbeth update in A Simple Plan. It’ll be interesting to see how Alison Lohman fits into the Raimi tradition.
3. The title. Drag Me To Hell. It sings! It makes me sing. I’ve been crooning an imaginary theme song all morning. It’s fun for me, if no one else. Give it a try yourself!
2. Something truly horrible is bound to happen to Justin Long.
1. Seriously folks – if you have even a passing interest in horror movies and, I venture to say, in the art of cinema itself, you don’t need nine other reasons to see a Sam Raimi horror movie on opening weekend. The man is an innovator. He’s a crowd-pleaser and a showman, with the technical ability to keep the critics and the scholars just as happy as everybody else. Best of all, he’s a prankster and (on film at least) a madman, and we need as many of those as we can get, out there making movie mayhem.
Drag Me To Hell: My Knee-Jerk Reaction.
Promised I wouldn’t review Drag Me To Hell, and I’m holding to that. On the other side of seeing it for the first time, all I’d want to report is that it’s fantastic. Oh, did I love this movie.
Go see it! Don’t read about it. Go in blind, and go with the biggest audience you can. This movie works on an audience in such a primal way. It’s old-fashioned in all the best senses of the word – Raimi and his producers described it in all the pre-release press as a “spook-a-blast,” which is a William Castle-style appellation which totally fits. It’s a spook-a-blast! And that’s all you need to know about it beforehand – you wouldn’t read a review of a roller coaster before you hopped on, would you? There’s not much I can add to what is already exactly right on point, except of course my own absurd observations and ‘iconoclastic’ reflections.
Here’s just a few:
* Hey Justin: Why the Long face? (If I’m the only one who laughs at that one, I’m still good.)
* Along those lines: Drag Me To Hell turns out to be the rare cinematic argument AGAINST dating nerds. I will not explain, but let’s just say that a guy’s hobbies can undo his major plans.
* On the plus side, Drag Me To Hell will hopefully incite a spike inn generosity and kindliness towards ethnically ambiguous old crones. Be nice to gypsies, young’uns, else they curse ye…
* A lesson Sam Raimi has absorbed after nearly thirty years of filmmaking: Asn wonderful as terrorizing Bruce Campbell is, it’s even more enjoyable to throw tons of water and mud at a pretty girl in a tank-top.
* David Paymer has sad eyes. [That one is TM & © my movie-going compadre, but it’s too apt an observation not to share.]
* Repeated threatening of cats makes a movie good.
* So do goat puppets.
* I can’t wait for the transvestite community to embrace this movie. Expect an lot of “Drag Me To Hell” parties across Chelsea and West Hollywood this October.
* Since the movie was rated PG-13, I can’t be too bothered by the parents whon brought their baby along to the screening I attended. But I would enjoy the opportunity to speak with that baby a couple decades from now, just to see how this early developmental influence takes root.
Again, you MUST see this movie with a crowd. Some of the audience reactionsn I overheard were nearly as entertaining as the film itself. One in particular is likely to become my new battle cry:
“Put your hand on the goat! Put your damn hand on the fuckin’ goat!”
Drag Me To Hell is now playing in wide release.
  1. Steph says:

    I hate this movie.

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