I absolutely loathe the phrase, "It isn't personal: it's business," which is often corporate code for: "please understand that I'm screwing you over, because money is involved. Money occupies a separate sphere from my morality, so forgive me." Sam Raimi's return to horror after his highly-successful trio of Spider-Man films plays jokingly on the phrase, as Alison Lohman's Christine Brown learns in Drag Me to Hell (2009).
Christine is a bank officer who is competing with colleague, Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee) for the coveted position of Assistant Bank Manager. This position involves greater responsibility (and some prestige and more money) but also involves, as Christine's boss (David Paymer) says, "making the tough decisions." An elderly and ill woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), sits at Christine's desk, tapping her grotesque and brittle fingernails. Mrs. Ganush tells her tale: her recent medical problems, as she coughs phlegm into her handkerchief, have put a strain on her finances and she is not able to make her mortgage payments. She needs an extension. As Mrs. Ganush removes her ghastly dentures to make room to loot Christine's desktop candy display, Christine consults her boss who tells her: "Your call." With a quick glance at her competition and the empty desk of the new Assistant Bank Manager, Christine is turning this woman's request down. Mrs. Ganush is not above begging and she takes to her knees. "Security," yells Christine, and the woman stands, now proud and resentful that Christine shamed her. Paymer's boss praises Christine's behavior, and as Christine leaves the parking garage that evening, Mrs. Ganush is waiting in the backseat of her car...
Sam Raimi, today, is one of the elite Hollywood directors after a successful trilogy of big-budget summer blockbusters, Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007). His roots, however, lay in low-budget horror, and his early trilogy, Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1989), and Army of Darkness (1992), is very much loved by horror fans worldwide. Raimi can conjure scares: there are enough in the original Evil Dead for the whole series. Raimi, also, can really bring the laughs, as Evil Dead 2 can testify. His sense of humor is tightly-woven with his horror, and Rami's blend of horror and hijinx is truly unique to him. Drag Me to Hell is a return to his roots, and Raimi succeeds.
Mrs. Ganush's backseat confrontation with Christine is truly horrific, as the two beat on each other in a small space, but I'll be damned (bad pun intended) if it isn't hilarious as well. It's absolutely ridiculous to watch Christine beat Mrs. Ganush with a stapler and even catching a lucky shot stapling her right eye shut. The prolonged scene of car combat ends with Mrs. Ganush casting a curse upon Christine. The curse involves three days of torture and ends with the titular trip to the underworld, and over the course of the three days, Christine tries to end the curse. One of the best scenes (and is torture to anyone who has been in the situation) is when Christine first meets her boyfriend's parents (with her boyfriend played by Justin Long as Clay Dalton). Clay is a sweet guy, and he really loves Christine. Clay's parents are affluent folks in a fancy mansion who only want the best person for their son. Rami jokes on this scenario: making Christine's dinner scene like an interview for a position, as she begins freaking out to the demonic visions coming out of the kitchen (and the cake that she baked as gift for his parents). Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a local fortune-teller who has been helping Christine end the curse, hooks Christine up with Ms. Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza), a medium who previously witnessed the same curse firsthand but was unable to stop it. Ms. San Dena has been waiting forty years for the opportunity to confront the evil again, and she'll do it...for ten thousand dollars.
The humor of Drag Me to Hell is rich, as Rami's playing on the joke about the "almighty dollar." Raimi still loves the Three Stooges jokes: an anvil tied to a rope is fortuitously dropped on a foe in the flick. I was laughing almost the entire runtime of Drag Me to Hell. A lot of the horror scenes are jump scares with a lot gross-out scenes, which mostly involves fluids coming out of or going into people's mouths. The script by Sam and Ivan Raimi is smart, and the story is paced well (chronicling Christine's cursed three days). The humor and scares are fantastic, and Lohman is terrific as Christine. Rao and Barraza are also standout with their eccentric characters. Save a predictable plot device towards the end, which anyone could see coming, there are few flaws within Drag Me to Hell. Raimi's unique humor and blend of horror carries the day.
I love it when veteran film makers loosen up and have fun again with cinema, as Raimi certainly is with Drag Me to Hell. It's a helluva lot of fun, and one certainly worth checking out. See it.