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Drag Me to Hell (2009): ***½

Directed by Sam Raimi

Drag Me to Hell is, thankfully, what you'd expect from the guy who directed the Evil Dead trilogy: It's a horror movie with liberal doses of slapstick comedy thrown in, like a big-budget Evil Dead movie. But unlike Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, this film also ratchets up the horror element; there are parts that are genuinely scary, which you can't really say about the Evil Dead sequels. Drag Me to Hell is funny and scary. It's just a whole metric tonne of fun.

The structure of the movie is genius: a young woman, Christine, gets cursed in the first act. The curse involves her being tormented by the Lamia, a goat-headed but unseen demon-like thing, for three days. The day after the third day it will drag her bodily to Hell. So the entire second act of the movie (and most of the third) involves Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan coming up with three days' worth of grueling torment to put our heroine through, which she always manages to come out of more-or-less physically unscathed. All the Sam Raimi tropes are represented in these attacks, including being attacked by an unseen foe, hovering possessions, and of course all manner of vile bodily fluids and opportunities for weird and hilarious slapstick comedy. In the third act Christine is presented with two possible solutions for the curse, which brings up opportunities for all sorts of more punishment and slapstick, including the best-ever fight scene with an inanimate corpse.

Christine is an engaging and mostly-sympathetic main character who does something wrong at the beginning, but surely she doesn't deserve what she got. Right? The main theme of the movie is spelled out pretty explicitly, and in fact basically just said by one character: You'd be surprised how far you'd be willing to go to keep the Lamia from coming for you. Indeed, as the movie goes on and the appointed date gets closer, Christine tries increasingly desperate and morally questionable tactics to try to get out of the curse, including almostcommitting an act that would certainly make it so that she actually deserved the fate that was coming for her. It's nice to see her straddle the line of being a victim verses deserving what's coming to her. It's also nice to see her get her gumption about her at times (the line, "Choke on it, bitch!" might just become this movie's "Gimme some sugar, baby.") and really claw, tooth-and-nail, against her fate. Allison Lohman, as Christine, is given the thankless task of being in damned near every single frame of the film and having to react to horrible things happening to her without seeming a whiny, ineffectual victim or letting her reactions get stale. It's when she starts getting really pissed that her performance really takes off. It's a great comedic role.

The bigger budget at times actually works against the charm of the film. Some of the digital effects aren't nearly as effective as they would have been if done via old-fashioned Evil Dead II means.

There is a very funny recurring joke of Christine and her boyfriend talking about going off into this secluded cabin deep in the woods, where there's nobody around them, just to get away from it all and relax. The movie never does end up there, though. Guess we'll have to wait for Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods for that movie.

The end (the very-very end) felt like a bit of a let-down, following horror movie cliches a bit too closely with no clever twist or surprise--just the standard twists and surprises that anybody who has ever seen any horror movie ever could see coming from a mile away. I would have like some little extra something to give the finale a little bit of extra oomph.

But all in all it's great fun. The comedy is hilarious. The spring-loaded cats are extra loud. If you like the Evil Dead movies (particularly Evil Dead II), then you'll most likely enjoy Drag Me to Hell, which is another return to similar territory.

Oh, hey, D&D and/or Final Fantasy nerds: isn't a "Lamia" a snake-lady in these games? Weird that it's a goat-man in this movie.


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