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“Drag Me to Hell”- (Chris)
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Universal Studios
Genre:
Horror
Release Date:
10/13/09
Special Features:

Two versions of the film / behind the scenes featurette

Review:

Sam Raimi made the right decision by not using “Drag Me to Hell” as an opportunity to transcend its genre. This is a classic-style horror movie, one that’s not only aware of its clichés but also makes it a point to have fun with them. It’s a thrill-a-minute story of gypsy curses and evil spirits, menacing shadows and unexplained gusts of wind, disgusting makeup effects and moments that make you jump, sudden noises and squeaky gates, old houses and creepy cemeteries that can only be desecrated in the middle of a rainstorm. ***

It was undoubtedly made with the intention of producing both shrieks and giggles. Having been attached to the Spider-Man trilogy for the past seven years, Raimi returns to the genre that made him famous and genuinely seems to be enjoying himself in the process. ***

At the heart of this story is Allison Lohman, who brings such great naivety and enthusiasm to a role that doesn’t require anything other than screaming helplessly while looking pretty. She plays Christine Brown, a young Los Angeles loan officer who has her eye on a vacant managerial position. ***

Trying to prove herself capable of making tough decisions, she refuses to extend a loan on a house owned by an old Eastern European woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver). Sporting a bad eye and a thick accent that fans of Maria Ouspenskaya would recognize, the elderly gypsy violently places a curse on Christine in a parking garage, enraged over having been shamed in public. Later on, Christine seeks spiritual guidance from a psychic named Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) and learns that she’s being stalked by a demon that will claim her soul in three days. ***

There to support Christine is her boyfriend, Dr. Clay Dalton (Justin Long), who believes in the rational more than the mystical. Little does he realize what Christine is going through; her life is now plagued with horrific visions and destructive supernatural events, and what’s worse, no one else can see or hear them occurring. She appeals to Ms. Ganush’s family, only to be matter-of-factly told, “You deserve everything you have coming to you.” ***

And no wonder--when Ms. Ganush first curses her, she ominously tells her, “Soon, it will be you who comes begging to me.” Is there any way at all to reverse the curse? Rham Jas thinks there may be. Here enters Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza), who had a very personal encounter with Christine’s demon forty years ago. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Pasadena and holds séances in a vast chamber that rivals the decorative opulence of Hill House (as reinterpreted by Jan de Bont). ***

Horror fans will not be disappointed with this film. Raimi makes sure to give them a little bit of everything, including a few well-placed moments of humor. You’ll note that I said horror fans. It probably won’t appeal to the slasher crowd, which is just as well since slashers are more about sex, nudity, and dead teenagers than they are about scares. “Drag Me to Hell” is clearly more interested in genuine, primal fright, relying more on the things that go bump in the night than on elaborate murder scenes with masked killers. ***

Even during the funnier moments, each laugh seemed lovingly put into place, as if to underscore the fact that what you’re watching can’t be taken seriously. Raimi has always been fairly good at balancing horror and humor, and it’s nice to see that the years of more family friendly fare have done nothing to diminish that. ***

But this movie works for reasons other than its story. Christopher Young’s score is brooding, gothic, and melodramatic, a wonderfully theatrical counterpart to the horrific visuals. It effectively evokes the themes that go with being cursed by a gypsy. Steve Saklad’s production design nicely combines smaller, more intimate spaces with grandiose settings. ***

Peter Deming’s cinematography is probably the most important creative aspect of all, seeing as lighting is everything in a horror film. Nowhere is it put to better use than in a scene late in the film, one in which Christine digs up a grave in the rain. Thunder continuously pierces the air while lightning gives just the right amount of illumination. ***

And as for the makeup effects, all I can say is be prepared to do a lot of cringing. It’s not so much that they’re gory (although there is scene that takes a nosebleed to the nth degree), but they definitely aren’t shy about being revolting. I could describe them for you, but you’d probably be better off getting disgusted on your own. All in all, “Drag Me to Hell” is quite an effective horror movie, slick and stylish, funny and frightening, ghoulish and gruesome. ***

Special Features:

This DVD includes both the PG-13 theatrical version of the film and a new unrated director’s cut. Also included are thirty minutes of behind the scenes scares, secrets, and surprises featuring stars Alison Lohman and Justin Long. Both versions of the film are presented in a 2.40:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound. ***

Final Words:

With something this well crafted, however, I find it interesting that Raimi didn’t go for broke and cast Bruce Campbell, his frequent collaborator and star of the highly popular Evil Dead films. Would that have been too much of a throwback? Maybe, but considering how successfully the two have worked together, it still gets me to wonder.

 

 
 
 
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