Film Review: Drag Me To Hell (directed by Sam Raimi)

There are exactly two things that keep Sam Raimi’s otherwise entertaining 2009 horror romp Drag Me To Hell from being a classic.

The first is that, about halfway through the movie, Alison Lohman murders her pet kitten.  Admittedly, Lohman’s character is trying to thwart a gypsy curse at the time and the action does show just how terrified she’s become.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cute kitten and quite frankly, I’m getting sick of seeing cats being killed in horror films.  There’s something truly hypocritical about how far most filmmakers are willing to go to assure an audience that a dog has somehow survived the end of the world while cats are continually killed on-screen without a second thought.

Am I saying that the film would have been better is Lohman had murdered a cute puppy instead?  Yes, I am.  At least that would have been unexpected.  That would have let the audience know that all the rules no longer applied.  Quite frankly, whenever you see a cat in a horror film, you know that cat is going to end up either pinned to a door or hanging in the closet.  Dogs, however, always make it to the end.

I imagine this is because there’s more “dog people” than “cat people” in the world.  People — especially men of a certain age — just love dogs and I’ve never really understood why.  I guess there’s a charm to a loud, smelly, slobbering beast eating its own fecal matter that I’ve never been able to pick up on.

The second thing that keeps Drag Me To Hell from reaching classic status is the fact that Bruce Campbell is nowhere to be found, making this the 1st Raimi film not to feature Bruce in at least a cameo.  Regardless of how well-made or entertaining the movie may have been, I sat through the entire thing waiting for Bruce to show up and, when he didn’t, it was hard not to feel as if perhaps an era in filmmaking had come to an end.

However, despite these two issues, Drag Me To Hell is probably one of the best horror movies to have been released in the past few years.  If nothing else, it proves that, even after directing three Spiderman films, Raimi is still a B-movie director at heart and a brilliant one at that.

In Drag Me To Hell, Alison Lohman plays Christine, a young bank loan officer who, attempting to impress her boss and win a promotion, refuses to give a loan to a decrepit old gypsy woman (played, wonderfully, by Lorna Raver as the type of grotesque character who could only appear in a Raimi film).  The gypsy woman responds by promptly dying but before doing so, she puts a curse on Christine.  In three days, Christine will be dragged to Hell.

What makes this is so effective is that Raimi, as opposed to a less adventurous director, sets the film up to suggest that perhaps Christine deserves to be dragged to Hell.  As disgusting as the old woman is, she clearly doesn’t deserve to be treated as badly as she is by Christine and Christine herself (even before she kills that poor kitten) is a bit of a fake, a former “fat girl” who, when she lets her guard down, reverts back to a country hick accent that she’s obviously spent a lot of time trying to lose. 

Lohman does an excellent job in the lead role, giving a likeable performance as an unlikeable character.  Speaking as a former country girl who still occasionally feels a twinge of shame when I hear myself say “git” instead of “get,” one of my pet peeves is when an actor or actress trots out an unconvincing, patronizing attempt at a rural accent.  However, Lohman captures the accent perfectly and, unlike most actors who try to play country, never allows her performance to just be about doing dialect.  Instead, both she and Raimi show how Christine’s insecurities lead to her actions without ever suggesting that they excuse them.

Though absence of Bruce Campbell is painfully obvious, Raimi still surrounds Lohman with a very strong supporting cast who all bring just the right amount of B-movie seriousness to their roles.  As Raver’s daughter, Bojana Novakovic appears in one the film’s best scenes in which she tauntingly explains the cure to Lohman.  Dileep Rao (who would be wasted later that year in Avatar) steals almost every scene he’s in as a friendly psychic who tries to help Lohman.  Lohman’s boyfriend is played by Justin Long (of the “I’m a Mac” fame) and he’s perfect as a somewhat nerdy guy who, quite frankly, seems like he might be a little bit too nice for his own good.  Plus, the film’s final scene proves that Long can shed a tear with the best of them.  Bruce Campbell would have been ideally cast as Lohman’s boss but, in Campbell’s absence, David Paymer fills the role well enough.

When Drag Me To Hell was first released in 2009, the majority of reviews described it as being an entertaining throwback to the old school horror films of the 50s and 60s.  And, in many ways, this is a totally correct assessment.  What wasn’t often mentioned was that Drag Me To Hell is one of the very few Hollywood horror films to capture the chaotic spirit of H.P. Lovecraft.  Countless filmmakers have attempted to bring Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos to the screen and they’ve failed because they could never translate to the screen Lovecraft’s theme of mankind as a bunch of powerless pawns, existing and dying at the whims of a bunch of “demons” whose motivations could never be understood or questioned.  Though Drag Me To Hell is not based on Lovecraft’s work, it perfectly captures the feeling of helplessness in the face of metaphysical chaos that runs through Lovecraft’s best stories.  As the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that Christine isn’t going to be dragged to Hell so much because of the gypsy curse as much as just because the movie’s demon has decided to drag her to Hell.  It’s this theme (and the way that Raimi relentlessly develops it) that takes Drag Me To Hell to a whole other level and which makes its final scene so powerful and effective.

When first released, Drag Me To Hell’s special effects were criticized by some and it is true that the film’s demon, when he does show up, is an obvious CGI creation but who cares?  If anything, the obvious fakeness of the demon adds to the film’s exploitation charm (though the demon is probably another role that Bruce Campbell could have done wonders with).  If you want perfect CGI devoid of subtext or originality, Avatar’s out on DVD.  Me, I’ll take Drag Me To Hell any day.

2 responses to “Film Review: Drag Me To Hell (directed by Sam Raimi)

  1. Nice observation on the Lovecraftian influence. I have this film on my top 20 horror films of the past decade.


  2. Pingback: 4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Sam Raimi Edition | Through the Shattered Lens

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.