Monday, 1 June 2009

Drag Me To Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)

Early reviews had this pegged as a welcome return to comedy shock-horror for the man who, in 1982, rejuvenated the genre with the incredible 'The Evil Dead'. So naturally, I was rather excited upon entering the cinema. Would it live up to his former horror classics? Would (nay, could?) it be better than his slapstick-gorefest swansong, Evil Dead 2?
The opening credits roll up straight away reminding me of the Evil Dead series, white, wobbly lettering over dark background, with the title filling the entire black screen as the fantastic score swells and tingles. We get a short, terrifying prologue of a young boy who has stolen a gypsy necklace. His parents take him to a medium who attempts to save him but to no avail, as he falls from a balcony to the ground below which cracks and opens, demonic hands sprouting forth to literally 'drag him to hell'. A fantastic, fast-paced introduction, immediately reminiscent of Raimi's 'quick-intro' that he mastered on his horror series.
Following this we meet Christine (Alison Lohman), a loans officer in a bank, who, vying for a promotion, refuses a loan extension to an old woman, Mrs. Ganush, resulting in the repossession of her home. The woman then breaks down in front of Christine and begs her, but Christine's panicked reaction ends with Mrs. Ganush on the floor, exclaiming, "You have shamed me!"
From here on in Raimi ramps up the terror, with Mrs. Ganush waiting for Christine in the car park, (hiding in her car!), attacking her before eventually stealing a button from Christine's coat. It is on this object that she places a curse, that she will be tormented by a demon and after three days - 'dragged to hell!' The scene begins with musical queues and suberb camerawork building the tension, with audience jitters mirroring the protagonist's nerves. Raimi's trademark car, the Oldsmobile Delta 88, his car when he was a student film-maker appears once again as Mrs. Ganush's car, lit sinisterly opposite Christine's. This adds to the tension, indicating the old woman is doubtlessly near-by, but also acting as a visual joke for Raimi fans.
The film continues in the hilarious Evil Dead 2 vein, although Raimi truly untilises modern technology, namely CG, to push the horror past possible limitations. While Raimi has never been limited by effects, (his prosthetic work in the Evil Dead series is astonishing, as is the stuntwork) he uses computer-effects to cast horrific shadows, bulge eyes and make goats talk(!). The prescence of CG, if anything, adds a slight smoothness to the editing, doing away with the slightly jerky quality of earlier efforts. As in his early work, the adventurous camera again acts as its own character, darting about the action and learing at gory effects. Visually speaking, its very much a return to form for Raimi, having flexed his muscles on the Spiderman series, he's now returning to his former love, that of horror-comedy, armed with a few new effect tricks.
The sheer amount of punishment inflicted upon our protagonist, Christine, is gruelling, almost surpassing Raimi's former punching-bag Bruce Campbell (but not quite, Raimi did send him back in time!), one scene featuring her being thrown around her room by a demonic force, almost like in the original Nightmare on Elm Street! In all shes thrown, splattered, beaten and driven to desperation; and while we should feel some empathy toward her, (after all, she is the victim here), the sheer ludicrousness and gross-out comedy of her ordeal leave you in stitches all the way through.
Bruce Campbell, usually present nowadays in an amusing cameo, is absent this time due to scheduling conflicts, but Alison Lohman has obviously been studying his rubber-faced expressions and body language, and plays the part of the punished protagonist excellently, with both terror and later on, steely determination as her impending doom alters her morals to the point of survival.
Overall, the gut-busting humour and gross out splatter-comedy combine groans and grins perfectly, jolting the viewer from creeping dread to shock horror to laugh-out-loud humour within a moments notice. Raimi's bold camera and visual flair work with a solid story, great performances, spot-on comic timing and genuinly scary set pieces to make this a welcome return to his roots. Fantastic!

Rating 9 / 10

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