Movie News & Reviews

'Drag Me to Hell' blends humor with horror

People talk about returning to their roots like it's a good thing, butI think they're forgetting that roots are usually surrounded byhalf-buried garbage and bug-digested corpses.

If I were to return to my roots, I would be back squatting on someguy's balcony and using fishing line to snag bratwurst off mydownstairs neighbor's hibachi because it's too hard to catch pigeonsafter your second 40 of Ballantine Ale. Does that sound like goodtimes to you? Really? In that case, I'm an Aquarius, and I really dolike long walks on the beach.

Fact is, our "roots" are usually the things we did because we were toopoor and dumb to do any better back then. At least that's thedefinition for normal people, i.e. those of us who only wish we couldafford hookers to get busted in the tabloids with. It's different forartists and entertainers, though; for them, going back to their rootsmeans going back to the way they thought before they had kids and gotboring.

Director Sam Raimi came up doing crazy horror films, but he'sspent most of the last decade running a gigantic Hollywood flagship.By all indications, his latest film, Drag Me to Hell, would bea trip back to the style that made his career.

-- Times, theaters.

If loan officer Alison Lohman wants the assistant manager position ather bank, she's told she'll have to prove she can make the toughdecisions. Her first test comes in the form of Lorna Raver, an oldwoman whose home is about to be repossessed.

To the delight of her manager and the dismay of Raver, Lohman turnsthe old woman down. Enraged and humiliated, Raver returns after workto place Lohman under a terrible gypsy curse.

Lohman soon learns she's being tormented by a soul-eating demon calleda lamia. If she doesn't banish the beast or remove the curse withinthree days, the lamia will steal her soul down to hell and she'llnever live again.

Sam Raimi was a ballsy choice to direct the Spider-Manfranchise: he's made a couple crummy movies, and his classics, likeEvil Dead and Army of Darkness, aren't things you wouldrecommend to anyone you think would be fazed by a little girl-on-treeaction. That's not really the resume of a dude you'd tap to makemegajumbo summer blockbusters. But that choice paid off to the tune ofenough money to buy a stealth bomber and incinerate anyone who talkssmack about him, making it an especially good thing that Drag Me toHell is a mostly successful return to Raimi's horror roots.

This includes the kinetic, absurdist violence that made his earlymovies so much fun. Lots of horror films have creaking gates andbanging pots and pans, but few carry the raw physical menace you gethere. And except for Red Blender: The Secret Ingredient IsDeath, none build sequences around the sheer terror of a killercake. In a Raimi movie, the whole world is out to kill you.

Sure, this gets silly when a floating handkerchief repeatedlythreatens Lohman's life, but Drag Me to Hell finds a way to befunny without interrupting the scary. It's often both at once; duringscenes like when Raver is barfing floods of worms straight intoLohman's screaming mouth, it's hard to know whether to laugh or yurkinto an empty popcorn bucket.

All this character and personality helps the movie through a prettystandard story: girl gets haunted/cursed/possessed, weird shit ensues,then someone calls in the God Squad for a big crazy exorcism. For onceI'd like to see the afflicted party banish their demon through a hotdog-eating contest. Or a little canasta maybe?

But Raimi pushes it further than most exorcism movies, taking Lohman'sefforts to free herself in an odd, comically disturbing direction thatmakes you wish the rest of the film had been as thoughtful yet wild.

Still, despite the lack of imagination at its center, Drag Me toHell is loud, angry, gross and funny — a good movie from a manwho's proven he's capable of greatness.

Grade: B