DRAG ME TO HELL (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: A bank loan officer refuses a loan extension to a woman of Gypsy origin. In return, the officer is cursed. The effects of the curse are horrifying and frequently revolting. Were this a new story written by Sam Raimi and his elder brother Ivan it would have been a better piece of horror. The effects and the action are all Raimi, but the story is cobbled together from familiar pieces. Largely this is a high-octane version of M. R. James's "Casting the Runes" with equal parts of shock and humor. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Sam Raimi made a name for himself with his "Evil Dead" films, one of the rare trilogies in which the second film is probably the best. However, his style was mostly to put people in a cabin and then to drop the contents of Hell's cutlery drawer on their heads. There was little time for Raimi to provide for plot or characterization. Since that time Raimi has graduated to films with more plot and characters. A SIMPLE PLAN had plenty of both, though Raimi got them from the novel that film was based on. With DRAG ME TO HELL Raimi had a chance to combine plot and characters with sequences of his slam-bang horror style. This meant, however, that he had to create "his own" story to surround and show off his horror segments. I put "his own" in quotes because he borrowed heavily from existing stories that were not his own. Much of DRAG ME TO HELL is borrowed from the once nearly-forgotten classic horror film NIGHT OF THE DEMON (in the United States it is CURSE OF THE DEMON), a somewhat free adaptation of M. R. James's story "Casting the Runes". To add spice he adds Gypsy Curse horror borrowed possibly from Stephen King's novel THINNER and Tom Holland's screen adaptation. There is also a nice little homage to ERASERHEAD. To be fair, not every good horror film ever made is startlingly original. Atmosphere, style, and production design count for a lot, and the familiarity of aspects of DRAG ME TO HELL is a disappointment, not a fatal flaw.
A prolog establishes that the fictional Gypsies have dangerous supernatural powers and throws in an impressive horror effects scene. Then we get to the main line of the story. Bank loan officer Christine Brown (played by Allison Lohman) is in a desperate competition with Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee) for the position of assistant manager of the loan department. Rubin plays less than fairly and the manager, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) suggests to Christine that she be a little more forceful and less forgiving with people who are late on their loans. (Bank officials who foreclose seem very timely villains.) The Gypsy Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) who has missed two mortgage payments is her first opportunity. Christine refuses another extension to the woman. Even when the old woman gets on her knees and begs Christine for an extension, kissing Christine's skirt, Christine is forced to refuse. When Christine remains firm Mrs. Ganush tells her in rage, "You shamed me." This incident is far from over. Christine is about to face the full force of Gypsy vengeance magic.
It should be noted that while the film as a lot of visual horror, it is not the kind that requires an R-rating. This is PG-13 horror. One scene does have blood, but these are not the razor blade, knife, and needle sorts of scares--such a mainstay of insipid modern horror films. The scary scenes are every bit as intense, but it is more icky goo all over everything and "Oooo, what's that in her mouth?" sort of shock. Nothing has a sharp edge including the wit or the scares. But the visual images do come literally fast and furious.
What is nice about this film is it is different from most of the horror films being made currently. What is disappointing is that it is not enough different from some of the classics of the horror genre. I rate DRAG ME TO HELL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
It is one thing to use vampires or flesh-eating zombies for horror. But isn't it about time we got past using members of persecuted minorities like Gypsies as horror icons? I am sure that Raimi would not make a film suggesting Jews or Presbyterians have evil mystical powers. Why pick on Gypsies? Elsewhere Raimi does play with our ethnic expectations. Christine's competitor for the promotion is Stu Rubin, a Jewish-sounding name, but he is played by a Filipino.
Film Credits: <http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1127180/>
What others are saying: <http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/drag_me_to_hell/>
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper
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