And yet other than The Gift, his neo-Gothic melodrama, Raimi
hasn’t made a real horror movie since Army of
Darkness in 1993. His mainstream career has never done much to temper his
devoted cult base, but it is enough to make you think twice when Drag
Me to Hell, his ballyhooed return to the genre, makes such an obvious
bid to be a midnight-movie event. The film ravages a doe-eyed
loan officer (Alison Lohman) who denies a mortgage extension to an
elderly gypsy (a brilliant Lorna Raver) and gets a nasty curse in return. It comes equipped with
blood-squirting noses, murdered kittens and oozing body juices galore.
The impetus is clear: Raimi is back to his roots, an overdue corrective
to limp contemporary horror flicks. We, the audience, nod in
The good news is that Drag Me to Hell is a profane, exuberant,
hysterical movie. At times almost shockingly low-rent, it looks and
feels as if it was filmed on the Universal backlot in 1985, which is
obviously intentional. Raimi's acrobatic camera settles on endless ominous winds, shadows with literal claws and a glossy color finish that clashes nicely with the buckets
of projectile muck lovingly hurled at our heroine. In that capacity,
Lohman is surprising well cast, and the movie traces the evolution of
her character from a self-professed vegetarian farm girl into
a ruthless, often hilarious defender of her soul. She goes to amazing
measures to avoid the titular fate, always with gamely good humor.
Oddly, then, Raimi never quite takes the movie as far as he could. As
versed in this kind of material as he obviously is, he also seems
decidedly resigned—the film is content to trade in stock monster-movie gimmicks
rather than the more inventive sequences that made the director famous. This is clearest in a marquee moment involving a séance, which
might be the strangest, most exhilarating set piece staged in any movie
this year. It offers a taste of the kind of transportative filmmaking within Raimi's range, but most of the movie can't reach those heights.
And really, maybe it doesn’t
need them. Raimi kicks back like a master who doesn’t have anything to
prove, but enthusiasts of Evil Dead will find it difficult to
complain. Even if Drag Me to Hell isn’t particularly scary, even if it
idly disregards its potential, it’s been a long time since a horror
movie of such obvious wit and loving theatrics hit American theaters.
It would be unreasonable not to indulge.