I fondly remember sitting in my kitchen and watching Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn on the fuzzy little 14 inch TV when it screened late at night on Channel 4 when I was a young lad. It was exactly the kind of film I had always wanted to see, a natural extension into extremer territories from an earlier defining film; Beetlejuice. Whilst Tim Burton’s comic-horror masterpiece had a narrative to tell and characters to derive laughter and feelings from, Sam Raimi’s comic-horror masterpiece was a piece of Looney Tunes writ-large. Bruce Campbell was a Wile Coyote, a Daffy Duck, ripe for extreme violence and the willing butt of all jokes. The whole glorious mess was coupled with buckets of blood, gore and mayhem, stop-motion creatures and a great finale that paved the way for the even more cartoony (and often unfairly maligned) Army Of Darkness.
Army Of Darkness represented Raimi’s last foray into comic-horror, since then he’s forged a rather successful career from applying his wild and scrappy style to the Western (The Quick and the Dead), baseball (For The Love of the Game) and superheroes (Spiderman), not to mention abandoning his style to make the under-rated gem A Simple Plan. But now he returns to the manic tics that made his name with the basic, schlocky jumps of Drag Me To Hell.
From the off you are plunged back into the good ol’ world of Sam Raimi horror director thanks to a brief prologue that will remind you just how loud a sound mix on a film can go, and from the flat, ludicrous dialogue down to the brilliant snap-to-title edit, you know that Raimi is turning up the dial marked ‘mad’ and ‘fun’.
Taking on the Bruce Campbell role of ‘human punchbag’ is Alison Lohman, she plays a loan officer with a good heart, a nice boyfriend (Justin Long) and a shot at an assistant manager position; she just has to make more ‘tough decisions’. Naturally her next customer is a delightfully decrepit gypsy woman called Mrs. Ganush, played so beautifully by Lorna Raver. Raimi revels in making Ganush as sickly as possible, she’s coughing and spluttering, bile-like ooze dribbling from her lips, yellow false teeth removed whenever possible, and a distinct resemblance to those good ol’ ‘Hell Hags’ from the Evil Dead movies.
When Lohman’s Christine denies Ganush a loan, the gypsy drops to her knees and begs only to be removed by security guards. However Ganush does not stop there, with a car park tussle that plays with the shock-tactics of horror and the bonkers inventiveness of Tex Avery, Raimi seems to be operating from excised ideas from Ash’s duel with Evil Ash. For Evil Dead fans this is very familiar ground, for newcomers expecting the usual flacid horror moves of the cookie-cutter fare such as The Uninvited, Mirrors or unlimited Asian-cinema remakes this is a plunge into a whole ‘new’ world. Raimi is clearly having a ball and he has two incredibly game cast members to pit against one another, the scene switching expertly from jumps to yucks to laughs.
Once Christine is cursed Raimi’s pace is quite relentless with the evil spirit hounding Christine turning up to fling her around like a rag doll or vomit maggots into her face. Raimi throws in some new fancy tricks whilst recycling plenty of old ones and for the first half of the film it’s an absolutely delightful fun fair spook house experience. Unfortunately things get a bit slack after a seance scene, which borrows so much from Evil Dead 2 it almost seems like a mini-remake. Further elaboration of the film’s plot would be a bit of a spoiler, but the final act is pretty soggy in comparison to some of the more inspired set-pieces of earlier and the plot takes some extremely predictable and poorly executed turns.
However, what Drag Me To Hell has that barely any films have had coming out of the Hollywood system of late – especially horror films – is a sense of fun, pure silly, roller-coaster fun. Raimi can, better than any other director, work an audience like a maestro and here he is showing that he’s still got what it takes to make an audience leap from their seat, almost throw up in disgust and then find themselves laughing. Drag Me To Hell is no masterpiece, but it’s a damn good ride.
© BRWC 2010.
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