Sam Raimi Horror Review – Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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After completeing the infamous Spider-Man trilogy in the mid 2000s, Sam Raimi decided it would be time to return to the horror genre with Drag Me To Hell, a film that he and his brother Ivan Raimi wrote nearly ten years earlier. I remember this movie being a really big thing back when it was originally released. I remember seeing trailers and posters for this movie absolutely everywhere. This was before I knew who Sam Raimi was and back then I hadn’t even seen the Evil Dead trilogy, but I knew that Drag Me To Hell was supposed to be a big thing. Luckily I watched the Evil Dead trilogy before I watched this movie, because the Evil Dead is definitely Sam Raimi at his best and Drag Me To Hell is so different from what Sam Raimi had ever done before, and sometimes not in a good way. Nonetheless, Drag Me To Hell was a success at the box office with it’s 60 million dollar profit and gaining even more on dvd releases, although I mainly chalk that up to some excellent marketing because, like I said, I remember the marketing for this movie being absolutely everywhere.

Firstly, I want to state that Drag Me To Hell does not feel like a ‘Sam Raimi’ horror film. This movie could not be more different than the Evil Dead franchise. It’s not overly gory, the slapstick humor is few and far between, there’s no appearance from the legendary Bruce Campbell, and there are very few ‘Raimi-isms’ that crop up sparingly, such as that bloody yellow car appearing once again and the ending that royally screws over the main character. Most of the film’s story – a story about a young woman, Christine Brown,  who becomes cursed with a demon by a gypsy woman when Cristine denies her an extension on her mortgage – is a straight-faced morality tale with elements of slapstick humor and gross out humor added in for good measure. Granted, the film did get a few belly laughs out of me from time to time like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead stylings, but what caught my attention was how serious the story tried to be. Unlike Sam Raimi’s previous horror comedy works, the silliness isn’t abundant in Drag Me To Hell and it’s used very sparingly, injecting a bit of humor between long periods of dialogue. In fact, that’s another thing that stands out about this film: it is incredibly dialogue heavy. For a man who’s whole career stemmed from physical humor, having so much dialogue is such a gear change that it’s almost off-putting. Sometimes it feels like the movie needs to breath, that it needs to take a break from the dialogue and offer some quiet, more physical scenes to balance out the heavy abundance of dialogue.

That’s not to say that the story was actually bad, the characters are fleshed out well enough that a viewer can empathise with their problems and the whole story of struggle and redemption against a supernatural force actually flows quite well. I felt like I could get behind Christine Brown’s story and I wanted her to succeed because she wasn’t just an irredeemable asshole. Although Alison Lohman is definitely no Bruce Campbell, she still manages to sell the role quite well and her performance is supported by a fairly strong cast of actors: Justin Long does quite a decent job as Christine Brown’s supporting boyfriend (although it weirdly feels like the role was originally written for Ted Raimi, or is that just me?), Dileep Rao gives a minimal performance as Rham jas the seer that weirdly fits the character perfectly, and Lorna Raver gives a fantastically hilarious performance as Mrs. Ganush the gypsy. There’s a lot about this movie to like such as the film’s fantastic cinema quality, the fantastic practical effects such as puppetry, wire work and well designed props, the beautiful sets which are rich and detailed, and the clever juxtapositions that help enforce the story and flesh out the characters.

Unfortunately, though, there’s also a few things that really let this movie down. The first is the tone: I’ve mentioned how the film plays itself straight-faced with humor thrown in, but the humor really does feel like it comes out of nowhere. The humor doesn’t fit in with the overall tone of the movie like it does in the original Evil Dead movies and can sometimes feel really jarring. Secondly, the CGI is very hit and miss. Drag Me To Hell mixes CGI with practical effects, and at some points the CGI can be very effective, but when the CGI flops, it flops hard. In 2009, CGI was at a decent place in cinema but Sam Raimi’s production team either didn’t have the skill or the tecnology to pull it off quite so effectively in this movie. Sometimes the poor CGI sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s really distracting to witness. It mars the entire production and blemishes what could have been a fantastic movie.

The worst element of Drag Me To Hell, or at least the worst thing for me, personally, was how cliched the film was. Drag Me to Hell was released during a black hole of American horror cinema, it was a time where focus groups were king, remakes were everywhere and barely anything was actually ‘memorable’ or worth watching. Drag Me To Hell should have stood out amongst the rest because it marked the return of a legendary director in the genre that he built his career upon, but, sadly, it’s marred with the many cliches that ruined potentially good horror films of the 2000s. Drag Me To Hell is full of ineffective jumpscares, underwhelming ‘tense’ sequences and at times it lacks a lot of substance in its characters, even going so far to reducing them to bland stereotypes. I personally believe that the characters can be quite interesting as they have some well-written moments and are portrayed by fairly decent actors, but at times they are marred by cliches and stereotypes that just end up hurting them in the long run. The jump-scares are the worst though. It’s really a sign of the times and the black hole that horror cinema had ended up becoming at the time. The jumpscares are everywhere, and they’re not scary even though they really try to be. It’s so jarring because Sam Raimi was never a ‘jump-scare’ guy, the first Evil Dead was scary because it was so intense, not chock full of pathetically useless CGI jump-scares. They don’t add anything, they’re not effective, and they really distracted me from the movie because they’re far too blatant, and far too blatantly dumb.

All in all, I found Drag Me To Hell to be quite disappointing as a Sam Raimi movie. It’s different, but not in a good way, not after seeing how good Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy was. That being said, though, Drag Me To Hell isn’t actually that bad, I think it could be a decent Friday night flick, but, then again, that’s all it is: a flick. It doesn’t have the memorable staying power of any of the Evil Dead movies. In conclusion, Drag Me To Hell is pretty middle of the road for me. It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. If you haven’t seen it then it’s worth checking out, but don’t expect it to rank up with Sam Raimi’s much better projects.

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