The idea of cult director Sam Raimi returning to his horror roots with Drag Me to Hell was an exciting prospect. Add to that enthusiasm an impressive trailer and strong word of mouth and you’ve got some fairly high expectations. Virtually from the get go, they’re almost bettered with a prologue that deafeningly slams you into your seat. It’s a powerful effects belter and provides early evidence that Raimi is in his element here and that he is definitely approaching it with a nostalgic attitude. The fact that the original treatment was drafted up not long after Army of Darkness was completed is not surprising.
The thunderous prologue gets the ball rolling informing us of the existence of a demon, the Lamia, who can be summoned via a gypsy curse to torment its victim before, after three days, literally drags them to hell. Unfortunately for farm-girl-all-grown-up Christine (Alison Lohman), rejecting an old woman’s begging to grant an extension on her mortgage at the bank where she works, proves to be a disaster. The gypsy, Ms. Ganush (Lorna Raver) subsequently unleashes said curse on Christine for her revenge. As the three days play out, we see a strong willed, but morally flawed Christine dragged through a briar patch of unseen spirits, bodily fluids, hallucinations and insects as the Lamia prepares to take her soul. Seeking help in the form of fortune tellers and séances, she is taken on a roller coaster ride with Raimi pulling out all the swift camera zooms, tension building edits – with brilliant use of sound effects, putting us through the ringer as much as Christine herself. It’s a fast paced ninety minutes and never really lets up until after the startling ending.
Alison Lohman shines as Christine, being in almost every scene. Her flaws as a person revel themselves subtly as she slowly starts to lose her mind pushed to her limits during the three days. The supports are fleshed out well for such a film, with Raver’s Ganush a deliciously grotesque creation in particular. The score, handled by original Hellraiser composer, Christopher Young, is suitably gothic adding plenty of depth to the stand alone scare tactics of the sound editing. Overall, Hell is a tour de-force of unmistakable Raimi style and outrageous humour, packed with nods to the films his reputation was built on and a virtual instant classic itself. A totally self contained, well-crafted tale of the supernatural assembled around an idea befitting the genre – all without steeping to far into the ludicrous (we‘re in the territory where leap of faith plot devices or not so subtle twists are all a part of package after all). Darker in tone to Evil Dead 2 for example, but still with plenty of similar (intentional) belly laughs.
Besides it being that pure entertainment indulgence, the film is a revealing stake through the heart of the contemporary Hollywood horror movie genre which though it might be shunned by some of the stiffer filmgoers out there not familiar with the director‘s earlier films, it retains the spirit of what makes horror such a fun experience. At times, it felt like Raimi was rewarding the fans for their patience putting up with so much torture obsessed and remake dross over the last ten years. Its flaws are minor and resemble little more than forgivable genre traits making Drag Me to Hell a unique, memorable entry into what can sometimes be a gruelling, unfun catalogue of recent efforts.