Okay, maybe I'm getting old. This film got quite a few horror fans into a stir on its release, and with Sam Raimi at the helm it's not at all surprising. Myself, as a cynical type, avoided Drag Me To Hell at the cinema as I expected it to be a pale imitation of Raimi's exquisite Evil Dead trilogy. Yet after a sustained buzz surrounding it and many positive reviews, I thought 'what the hell' (pun shamefully intended) and got hold of the DVD. Sitting back with gleefully childish expectations of a horror master returning to form I dimmed the lights and pushed play...
The opening was a rather crude CGI bout of uninspired cliché and I couldn't quite decide on its intentions; a boy who appears to be possessed is brought to a gypsy's house. As soon as he is laid down a supernatural presence enters and whisks the boy into a fiery fissure in the ground. The gypsy woman cheesily vows to meet this demon again in the future. This scene is neither at all scary nor particularly funny – if it intended to pack some kind of punch on either count, it missed the mark with this horror fan.
Then we set up our generic young, attractive, blond female protagonist, Christine (a competent Alison Lohman). In this case she works in a bank and is hankering after a promotion. This is all played airily, yet the cast are unable to find that golden deadpan comedy line that made Bruce Campbell so memorable in the Evil Dead films. The introduction of the crazy old woman marks the most inspired character in the film by far. If you ignore the possible connotation of casual racism implied in such a character (and let's face it, most audiences do, alas), she provides just the right amount of gross-out humour and tangible eeriness, and it is the scenes with her that remind you of Raimi's gift for gore-tastic ridiculousness. Anyway, after our heroine is cursed by this old woman for not granting her an extension on her mortgage, she is faced with her once again in a great scene in an underground car park. Here Raimi pulls out all the stops in one of the most memorable sequences in the film, and was one of the two occasions I found myself laughing out loud (or LOLing, for those of the MSN generation) at the silliness of it all.
From here cue irritatingly supportive-yet-humorous boyfriend – played by American comedy cool kid Justin Long – who makes his first really impressionable impact by accompanying Alison to see a medium after her bizarre encounter with the old lady. He is a loathsome character and the true downfall of this picture for me is the fact that the bastard doesn't die! I waited in earnest for his demise, but it never came to pass. After his stock stint as non-believer, where I'm surprised medium Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) didn't at the very least tell the annoying little cretin to leave the room, the séance takes a dark turn and Alison is informed of an evil presence within her. At this point the film loses momentum and an Amityville Horror-style Poltergeist-like house terrorising fails to up the tension or provide humour. There is however a welcome return of the crazy old lady, Mrs Ganush (played wonderfully by Lorna Raver), where she visits Alison in bed and does something quite marvellously stomach churning to her – this I won't spoil.
Back at work, with Alison starting to feel the force of this oncoming demon, Raimi has another go at cranking up the gore-for-laughs with an event that is very reminiscent of the cherry vomiting scene in The Witches of Eastwick. Its funny enough, but in no way an improvement on Miller's offering, that had a tinge of darkness Drag Me To Hell is bereft of.
After going to see Mrs Ganush and finding out she's not quite as she was last time they met, Alison consults Rham Jas, and there are some unnecessary antics involving a kitten after the demon visits her again. There is a sequence here involving the approaching monster through a closed door that puts me in mind of Ghostbusters, a film Drag Me To Hell could only dream of equalling in ghoulish thrills. More unoriginal borrowings occur when Alison goes to meet her boyfriends stereotypically rich and disapproving parents. Things go unexpectedly well until Alison begins see an eye in her desert, and – surprisingly – no one else can see it. This reminds me of, amongst others, a far more effective version of this idea in the TV movie IT. Coupled with a ghoulish door rattling, Alison loses it and embarrasses herself and the boyfriend, giving him another opportunity to be unflinchingly supportive.
There is a rather fantastically stupid séance involving the gypsy from the opening of the film and a goat, not to mention some rather brilliantly silly possessed dancing, marking a woefully predictable yet rather entertaining final act. The ending I found to be the saving grace of a film that has terminal originality problems, unforgivable from a past master such as Raimi.
The cinematography and sound are both sufficient in doing their jobs in backing up the script, and the acting is reasonable, but nothing retracts from, for the most part, half-baked writing and insipid direction.
So, yes – maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I just can't enjoy a knockabout horror comedy as much as in my teens or early twenties. Or perhaps there just isn't the quality out there that there used to be. Or equally likely, perhaps I've just seen it all before. That is certainly the case with Drag Me To Hell. I have been harsh on this film, but rightly so when a talent like Raimi is reduced to crowd-pleasing tactics and unoriginal horror staples (those who have seen the film will see my second pun there). Okay, it is a refreshing change to the endless stream of slasher remakes and Hollywood horror-by-numbers fodder, it's just a shame it isn't very good! With the likes of Let The Right One In reinventing the modern horror film and Zombieland claiming the crown from Raimi himself as a landmark comedy zombie movie, Mr Raimi, along with other past masters, really have to up their game.
An unsurprisingly clean and attractive 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that displays a good level of detail, well balance contrast even in night shots, and pleasing reproduction of the slightly toned down colour palette.
The Dolby 5.1 surround track displays a good range and clear separation of sound effects and music elements and some effective surround work during the livelier sequences, but it doesn't quite have the punch you'd expect from a modern Hollywood horror movie.
The extra features are as uninspired as the film itself unfortunately. There is only one feature, Production Diaries (33.42). This includes a series of mini-features concerning effects, both on-set and in post-production. There is interview footage with cast and crew regarding each scene mentioned, but none of it goes into any depth. There is a lack of any real insight into the production and time is wasted with a pointless introduction and conclusion by the annoyingly unfunny Justin Long. I would wait for special edition to come out if you decide you really must own this film.
I seldom review something that I urge people to not buy, but I recommend this as a rental at best. Any big Raimi fan will probably like Drag Me To Hell, but anyone with a true passion for horror cinema will see through it and pick out its flaws pretty quickly. I was hoping for something special in Raimi's return to horror – unfortunately what I got was an uninspired imitation of what he is truly capable of.