(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Gypsies, Scares and Screams

Poor Christine Brown (Allison Lohman)! As the heroine of Drag Me to Hell, she’s a loan officer with a cold-hearted boss (David Paymer) and a backstabbing co-worker, and she is desperate for a promotion to prove she’s worthy to her boyfriend’s snooty parents. Things go from bad to worse when she is pressed to show some backbone and turn down an old gypsy woman’s request for a home loan extension. The wheezy old crone (Lorna Raver, who may find it hard to get a date for a long time!) doesn’t take rejection well, and puts the ol’ gypsy death curse on the poor girl. This is after she has nearly killed Christine in a thrillingly gross parking garage bitch fight, which led me to wonder, “This woman has a handicapped license plate?” She’s stronger than Randy the Ram in The Wrestler!

Sam Raimi made a name for himself with the Evil Dead Trilogy, which set new records for grossly hilarious scares. He has since helmed the Spider-Man films, but Drag Me to Hell is a glorious return to his purposely-schlocky horror movie roots. From its over-the-top title to its gotcha scares to its stomach-turning gross-outs, Drag Me to Hell is a classic scary movie like you used to see in the ’70s. It’s a relief that it’s rated PG-13, since I’d be terrified to know what else would befall the unlucky Christine in an R-rated version. I’m no fan of torture porn like Hostel and the Saw movies, and unlike the anemic and incompetent PG-13 Prom Night remake, Drag Me to Hell earns its scares the right way (except for the irritating “silent close-up before a loud shock” jolts that Raimi uses way too much).

Lohman is an inspired choice to play Christine. She is sweet and likeable, but her career choices have revealed an actress not afraid to take chances. In Drag Me to Hell, she may well have snatched the crown from Tippi Hedren in The Birds as the most tortured cinematic blonde of all time. She’s bashed, buried and barfed on, but her cherubic countenance tells you, “I’m OK!”, kind of like when Mary Richards had that one bad hair day on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Justin Long, while not the most convincing psychology professor, is the perfect choice for Lohman’s rational yuppie boyfriend. The dinner scene with his fusty society parents involving a cake with “secret ingredients” is sublimely ridiculous. I wish that the ending weren’t so obvious; because I really tried to imagine how great the film would have been had it caught me by surprise.

As it is, Drag Me to Hell still has a richly satisfying black comedy ending, and being dragged through it by Raimi is good schlocky fun.

UPDATE: Drag Me to Hell is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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