Drag Me to Hell

Movie Information

The Story: When a loan officer refuses an old gypsy an extension on her mortgage, the bank employee finds herself on the business end of a most unpleasant curse. The Lowdown: A wild, goofy ride of cheesy horror that's undeniably clever and fun, but not convincingly scary.
Score:

Genre: Prepackaged Cult Horror
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza
Rated: PG-13

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I can’t get as jazzed about Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell as I’m apparently supposed to. Oh, I had a good enough time with it—a talking goat is pretty hard to resist—but I never felt I was watching the best horror picture in years—as some critics have enthused—and a lot of its efforts at cult appeal came across as totally prefabricated. I’m sure the cries of “instant cult classic” will find good homes on the DVD case, but the whole “set out to make a cult film” approach misunderstands the very idea of a cult movie. Filmmakers don’t make cult movies; audiences do. Whether Drag Me to Hell becomes a cult classic is for viewers and time to decide.

Don’t get me wrong, Drag Me to Hell is an amusing collection of fun-house jolts—augmented by abnormally loud sound effects and musical stings—and some pleasant nods to nuts-and-bolts horror-movie tricks. It’s always nice to see a filmmaker goose you with clever gimmicks like shadows and goat hooves barely glimpsed beneath a door. And I’m not about to complain that there’s a pleasing absence of the sadism that marks far too many modern efforts at horror.

Plus, I’m more than enough of a horror geek to smile at the various references to horror pictures from the past, most notably Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957), from which Raimi’s movie draws a good deal of its premise. Tourneur’s film deals with a curse placed on a professional skeptic who refuses to halt an investigation into a devil-worship cult. The curse—involving a parchment that has to be passed to the victim—conjures a demon that will increasingly haunt the man for two weeks before showing up in what one critic called “full-frontal crudity” to claim his prey. In keeping with our faster-paced world, the victim here, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman)—who has angered an elderly gypsy (Lorna Raver) by foreclosing on her mortgage—only gets three days’ notice and a much less subtle buildup. Think of this as Night of the Demon on amphetamines as reimagined by the Three Stooges.

The movie exists mostly as a series of increasingly flashy—and sometimes surprisingly gross—set pieces. They work because Raimi knows how to deliver a nice jolt in a cartoonish way that allows him to include the expected (the séance is impressive as fairly straightforward horror) and the unexpected (a stapler used as a weapon). Raimi creates such a screwy world that you never question just why anyone who isn’t Wile E. Coyote would just happen to have an anvil suspended from a rope in his or her garage. And even if you did pause to question this, it’s so quickly followed by inspired gross-out splatstick that you can’t dwell on it. But this kind of jokiness comes with a price. The results are fun. They’re a terrific thrill ride. And they’ll make you jump. What they won’t do is actually scare you. Even when Raimi creates an atmospheric scene, it’s so consciously campy that it’s never creepy—and it never stays with you as horrific.

What you have then is a deliberately cheesy B movie that’s a whole lot of really insubstantial fun. Additionally, Drag Me to Hell is never less than predictable. Perhaps because so many of the movies—or types of movies—it draws from are transparent in their plotting, this was inevitable, but it’s hard to deny that Raimi’s setups are alarmingly obvious. If you’re charitably minded, you can change that to “amusingly obvious,” which pretty completely describes the film. Go with that expectation and have a good time, but do not expect the reinvention of the horror genre. Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

24 thoughts on “Drag Me to Hell

  1. I’ll go ahead and say it…

    This is the best AMERICAN horror film in years, maybe even the decade.

    Granted, there has been no competition for the past 10 years. However, Raimi is BACK with cheap thrills, goofy plot and funny as hell.

    You HAVE to see it with a crowd!

  2. Ken Hanke

    This is the best AMERICAN horror film in years, maybe even the decade.

    Uh, no.

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    Name some others.

    These are just some of my personal favorites that I can think of right now. I have not yet seen Drag Me to Hell (though I really want to) so I don’t know how it compares, but this is some possible food for thought:

    The Ring
    28 Days Later
    Shaun of the Dead
    The Descent
    The Host
    28 Weeks Later
    Grindhouse: Planet Terror
    The MIst
    The Orphanage

  4. Dread P. Roberts

    oops…The Host isn’t american, and now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that 28 Days… and Shaun of the Dead are British.

  5. Ken Hanke

    oops…The Host isn’t american, and now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that 28 Days… and Shaun of the Dead are British.

    Actually, one of the ones Marc cited — The Others — isn’t American either.

    I suspect a lot of this has to do with whether you think Raimi is “all that,” and I never have and still don’t. I’ve never seen a Raimi picture — even good ones — that I wanted to see a second time. On the ones where I’ve actually made the effort — Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness — I’ve been disappointed. So bear that in mind.

    Also, I don’t think it’s really fair to call this a horror film, since it’s mostly a goof. Yes, its annoyingly loud soundtrack and the shock cuts will make you jump, but that’s easy. It can also gross you out — also pretty easy. Did it ever creep me out? No, not for a minute. I found it very lightweight stuff.

    I’m not avoiding listing movies I think were better than it, but it’ll have to wait, because I’m out the door…

  6. It’s a stretch to call THE OTHERS American, but since Cruise and Kidman produced it…

    I think only THE MIST and PLANET TERROR on your list are American, Dread. And those two are not better.

    See? It’s lot harder than it seems!

  7. Rogers

    Sure, this is a great movie if you like watching Sam Raimi continue to use the same tired tropes and angles over and over again that were old when he was using them in Army of Darkness, let alone when he continued to essentially make the same film again and again during the Spider-Man years.

    A return to form? I’m curious as to when exactly he was supposed to have left.

  8. Steven

    [b]Name some others. The only two I can think of is SESSION 9 and THE OTHERS.[/b]

    [i]Let The Right One In
    The Orphanage
    28 Days Later[/i]

    These are far better than Drag Me to Hell. I’m not even sure can consider Drag Me to Hell horror..

  9. Ken Hanke

    It’s a stretch to call THE OTHERS American, but since Cruise and Kidman produced it…

    That’s still pretty much a stretch, don’t you think? At the same time, I’m finding myself forced to ask why this should need a qualifier? Are you basically saying that Drag Me to Hell is good only in the context of American movies? And that it’s not so hot once you start including the rest of the world?

    I think only THE MIST and PLANET TERROR on your list are American, Dread. And those two are not better.

    I’d say Planet Terror is better. The problem is that no one’s going to change his mind based on anything that’s said here, but, for the record, I’d go with Planet Terror. I’d add Verbinski’s The Ring, too, and certainly The Others if we’re calling it American.

    In addition — flawed though they are (though so is Raimi’s film) — I’d rate Silent Hill (clunky opening, stupid tag scene) and Mirrors (awful dialogue that’s often unintentionally funny) much higher in terms of generating atmosphere. These movies are actually unsettlingly creepy. Where was the atmosphere in Drag Me to Hell? Was it ever creepy? If it was, I missed it. Even more flawed is Dead Silence (ludicrous set-up and too concerned with showing you how clever it was at the end), but I still liked it better, and I think it was more interestingly made.

    In terms of being interestingly made, I’d even bring in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. Yeah, the movie’s pretty much a mess, but it’s a fascinating one, made by somebody who is really trying to do something with film. With Raimi’s film, I’m getting nothing but Raimi 101. I’m not seeing anything new being brought to the table. I’m not even seeing an attempt at it.

    Okay, now all these — Planet Terror to one side — are reasonably serious attempts at horror. They’re not jokey like Drag. For comedic horror, I’d not only take Planet Terror over it, but also Seed of Chucky. (And before anyone points out that the writer-director is a friend of mine, let me point out that he wasn’t when I saw and reviewed the film.) If we take off the American restriction, I’d also rate Shaun of the Dead higher.

    And if we just tackle horror in a broad sense and take off the American proviso, I’d add 28 Days Later…. and (to a lesser degree) 28 Weeks Later…. to my list. Also, The Orphanage and Let the Right One In. A case can be made that Pan’s Labyrinth is a horror picture, and it’s certainly way ahead of Drag Me to Hell.

    So, if we take the restriction of American horror off it, I’m coming up with 14 movies I liked better than Drag Me to Hell. And I’m probably forgetting something.

    Am I saying all these movies are great? By no stretch of the imagination. But then, neither is Drag Me to Hell. It’s cheesy fun in Raimi’s particular Three Stooges style, but what exactly is it beyond that? The set-ups for twists are painfully transparent. Alison Lohman strikes me as very weak in the lead. There were times when Justin Long made me think Bruce Campbell could act. It has the typically abrupt and, to me, unsatisfying Raimi ending. I’ll agree that the movie is goofy fun and that Raimi can splash body fluids around like nobody’s business. (What’d they do to the old gal? Fill her with anti-freeze to embalm her?) But I just don’t see the greatness of it.

  10. If I take off the American restriction, then DRAG ME TO HELL will not be in my top 10. What the Asians have done in the earlier part of the decade and what the Europeans are doing right now far exceed anything that we have churned out.

    Most of your examples are weaker films in my opinion. I liked PLANET TERROR as well, but to me it was as goofy as this film. Rob Zombie’s films are fun, but I think he’s trying too hard. And now that I think about it, how well does THE OTHERS hold up after repeated viewings? However I did forgot about the black and white version of THE MIST, which is great btw.

    Look, there’s no doubt that Raimi set out to make popcorn fluff. It’s a carnival ride. It’s a throwback to my 80s horror viewing experiences. In fact, I haven’t had more fun at a horror movie since HELLRAISER 2.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I liked PLANET TERROR as well, but to me it was as goofy as this film

    I’m not arguing its goofiness. I’m just saying it’s more creative and original at it. And it’s funnier.

    Rob Zombie’s films are fun, but I think he’s trying too hard.

    In a way, that’s my point — he’s trying. Raimi really isn’t. He’s just knocked out a pretty lazy film here that offers nothing new. It’s just trotting out the same old stuff and playing to his fanbase — you know, the guys who are trained to applaud whenever Bruce Campbell shows up to mug for the camera. In fact, the bravest thing Raimi did here was not bringing on Campbell. There’s nothing particularly wrong with playing to the fans, but it’s not very exciting.

    It’s been awhile since I saw The Others, so I’m not going to weigh in on how well it holds up on repeat viewings. That said, I’ve never made it through Raimi’s movies a second time without getting bored. That’s not a problem I’ve had with any of the other titles I named.

    Look, there’s no doubt that Raimi set out to make popcorn fluff. It’s a carnival ride. It’s a throwback to my 80s horror viewing experiences.

    And that’s fine, but it doesn’t make this a masterpiece.

    Of course, a lot of this comes down to personal taste. For example, I don’t share your enthusiasm for Asian horror. I’ve yet to see the Asian horror movie that really impressed me. And I’m wary of doling out too much blanket praise to the Euro-horror scene, because some of it isn’t all that great. The best of it is better than just about anything we’re making, but that doesn’t mean that everything that’s not in English is great.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    you know, the guys who are trained to applaud whenever Bruce Campbell shows up to mug for the camera.

    I definitely don’t fit into the extremes of the category that you’re describing, but I’ve got to admit, I probably would’ve already seen this movie if Bruce had been the main character. I’m not saying he is a great actor (because he really isn’t), but there is a very strong sense of Evil Dead nostalgia that is accompanied with this sort of thing. Ken, I understand your desire to see something new and fresh, but I feel like the whole point of this movie is purely for the Evil Dead crowd. The adolescents, like me, who have fond memories of hanging out with their friends, overdosing on junk food, soda and video games until 2 o’clock in the morning, at which point they decide to watch Evil Dead 2, and have a great time together as they laugh out loud at the absurdity of a guy who replaces his severed arm with a chain-saw, while wielding a shot gun in the other hand. Once you’ve had good, memorable experiences like that, you want more. It’s not about quality or originality, it’s about nostalgia. No offense, but for anyone who was never a part of that sort of experience, I don’t think this movie is aimed at you.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I understand your desire to see something new and fresh, but I feel like the whole point of this movie is purely for the Evil Dead crowd.

    And since I was 26 or 27 when the first one came out, I’m probably not that crowd, though I found the first one amusing enough, especially for the obvious lack of budget. But even so, I’d feel this was truer if the film had had Campbell in it and if it hadn’t gone for the PG-13 rating.

    Once you’ve had good, memorable experiences like that, you want more. It’s not about quality or originality, it’s about nostalgia.

    My basic problem with that as a concept is that it rarely works for me. It’s so calculated — like an indulgent uncle doing the same schtick that amused you when you were ten. It’s kind of like a 1960s Bob Hope picture.

    But say it does work and you don’t end up with a flock of people yowling that their childhood has been ruined — a la Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — have you really ended up with the best horror picture in years? Or have you ended up with a pleasant trip down memory lane? There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but I don’t think it’s interchangeable with the former.

  14. Dread P. Roberts

    Good point(s). What made Evil Dead 11 so enjoyable was the over-the-top surprise factor. So, technically, a ‘new’ film trying to have the same sort of effect or experience would HAVE to be original and creative with what it throws at you. Otherwise it wouldn’t work.

    But even so, I’d feel this was truer if the film had had Campbell in it and if it hadn’t gone for the PG-13 rating.

    Well, because I have not yet seen this movie, I can’t fully comment. My thought process is based off of what little I have seen and heard.

  15. >It’s kind of like a 1960s Bob Hope picture.

    Ouch. This may be one of the most painfully accurate remarks made by M. Hanke in these comment sections (re nostalgic rehashes in general; I’m in no position to weigh in as far as Raimi is concerned.)

  16. Ken Hanke

    Well, because I have not yet seen this movie, I can’t fully comment. My thought process is based off of what little I have seen and heard.

    And you should see it. I’m not trying to keep anyone from seeing it and hopefully enjoying it. I’m only asking for a little perspective.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Ouch. This may be one of the most painfully accurate remarks made by M. Hanke in these comment sections (re nostalgic rehashes in general; I’m in no position to weigh in as far as Raimi is concerned.)

    It isn’t really aimed directly at Raimi, but to the mindset. I’d say Raimi hasn’t descended to 60s era Hope God-awfulness. But…I kinda like Call Me Bwana on a nostalgic basis.

  18. bobaloo

    I’d feel this was truer if the film had had Campbell in it and if it hadn’t gone for the PG-13 rating.

    Bingo. Everything is better with Campbell. And an R rating.

    That said, I’m a huge Evil Dead fan. Personally it’s my favorite horror movie of all time, so I’m probably biased.

  19. Nick Jones

    As a horror/comedy, I thought it was good, but not great; at least I didn’t feel my money had been wasted. Once Christine dropped the envelope in the car, I pretty much knew how things were going to turn out; the mix-up could have been done with a little more subtlety. And when it took so long for her to get done with ‘formally returning the curse’ to Mrs. Ganush, I knew it was all done but for the screaming for Christine (or, perhaps, Clay.) I felt it would have made better ending if Christine had 30 minutes instead 30 seconds to try to save herself, even if it still ended badly. I also think that it would have been better to show the OTHER people on the train platform freaking out at what they had just witnessed, too.

    On the Wikipedia page for DMTH (which references this review), Ivan and Sam Raimi said they chose to make a PG-13 rating because they didn’t want to do another film that was gore-driven.

    I also noticed the similarities to “Night/Curse of the Demon.” But beyond that, I thought the graveyard scene was reminiscent of the pool scene in the first “Poltergeist.” And, since I haven’t seen it years correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there also a breathing, maggot-spewing piece of steak in “Poltergeist.” That, and the dinners in “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and perhaps “Eraserhead” seemed to be somewhat hinted at during the dinner with Clay’s parents.

    Best American horror film of the decade? Hardly. Granting that I haven’t seen every horror film ever made, I have to go back to 1995’s “The Prophecy” for a great (IMO) horror film (and black comedy). “The Orphanage” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” were more dramas with horror and fantasy elements. In the last decade the films I thought best were the US version of “The Grudge” (yes), “Final Destination’, the second film a little less, and the third not at all, except for the climax in the subway (where we get to see Death himself!); and, stretching it a bit, John Carpenter’s “Cigarette Burns,” from the “Masters of Horror” series.

  20. khanate

    The golden age of the horror film is over.
    Just avoid the 12.00 watered down PG-13 crap and rent or buy these.
    Carl Theodor Dryer’s Vampyr
    Cronenberg’s “The Brood”
    Friedkin’s Bug
    Eyes without a Face
    Dario Argento’s Suspiria
    Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku
    Argento’s Four flies on Grey velvet
    Of course some may think these all suck
    regardless, Don’t be afraid to look around. There’s some great stuff out there.

  21. Finally saw this over the weekend, and I have to say that I think Mr. Hanke was extremely charitable in his review, to say the least. I, personally, loved the first two EVIL DEAD films (I thought ARMY OF DARKNESS was just so-so) and even DARKMAN, and still thought DRAG ME TO HELL was a disappointing pile of hackjob editing and excessive closeups.

    The overabundance of goo was also very annoying to me. Whenever the film achieved any level of creepiness (which it actually managed to do a few times), the filmmakers saw it necessary to dump excesses of kitchen-mixed fluids all over the scene in some pathetic bid to add gross-out shocks to the proceedings, but these, in effect, killed the creepiness instantly in every single case. The dialog was absolute crap, even when compared to that in the EVIL DEAD films, and the cinematography was so stylistically uneven that it gave me the impression of being conducted by two very different directors.

    I don’t believe the PG-13 rating did anything to weaken the film, since the movie seemed to be every bit as gory as it wanted to be, and I don’t believe any amount of boobs and f-bombs would’ve saved this flick from the self-conscious, “please-accept-me-as-an-instant-cult-classic” presentation that it was.

    I went into the film with a very forgiving, just-have-fun-watching-it attitude, and came out feeling like I had spent 97 minutes being begged to become the best friend of someone annoyingly desperate & tiresome. ‘Tis a pity.

  22. Steve O'Rourke

    I see that I confused two films above. When I wrote The Orphanage, I meant The Devil’s Backbone.

  23. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps I was too kind, Mr. Strauss. I can see where that might happen just based on how completely over Raimi I am. (That was confirmed the other night when I saw the first 20 to 30 minutes of Evil Dead 2 on TCM — and spent every one of those minutes wondering why I’d like this movie when it was new.) With that in mind, I may have cut this more slack to balance my bias.

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