Wickedly funny, delightfully campy, and diabolically gross, Drag Me to Hell is a slapstick splatterfest, a spook-a-blast shocker, an unpretentious horror hoot that’s devoid of sadism and mean-spiritedness and cringeworthy for all the right reasons. It’s schlock cinema with a Ph.D.
Determined to impress her boss (the peerlessly officious David Paymer) and get a much-needed promotion at work, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman as spoiled brat/plucky heroine/tenacious survivalist), an ambitious LA loan officer, lays down the law when mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), a malevolent gypsy, literally comes begging for mercy at her feet. In retaliation for being publicly shamed, Mrs. Ganush places the dreaded curse of the Lamia on her unfortunate target, transforming Christine’s life into a waking nightmare.
With efficient, eye-bulging enthusiasm, Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II) concocts a screamingly giddy piece of entertainment, a frenetic funhouse freak show that blows the doors off its big-budget competition. Hellaciously effective and mind-meltingly clever, Drag Me to Hell keeps the audience on the edge of hysteria throughout, so that every thump sets the heart racing and every joke earns an out-of-control laugh. It feels distinctly unburdened and fun, happily frolicking in its own pulp silliness.
Raimi is still very much up to his old tricks, retaining the deliriously over-the-top brand of Grand Guignol horror that he abandoned a decade ago in pursuit of genetically-altered spider superheroes. Here, there’s gore and guffaws galore, buoyed by meticulously storyboarding, wonderful sound design, and a goofy, tonic playfulness that’s unabashedly retro.
Directed with a light touch but delivered like a hammer blow to the head, Drag Me to Hell is a fearsomely scary dashed-off flick; a blunt, brief, and brilliant blast of humour, terror, and satire. Yet it’s also a PG-13 ghost story that presents its audience with a faintly absurd but aggressively non-stop cavalcade of jump scares interspersed with comic relief and well-worn techniques that make you squirm and shriek.
Raimi tosses out a gooey batch of rickety, tense, hilarious set pieces: his “return” is a malicious and spine-tingling bogey tale of repellent effluvia, floating handkerchiefs, flinging dentures, talking goats, killer staplers, open-grave catfights, and buzzing hell-flies. His excitement is infectious, and Drag Me to Hell is cheerfully macabre and full of pent-up energy, provoking giggles and gasps. It’s something for all who love to watch movies bubble and pop and boil over.
Cunningly crafted in every detail from thunderous start to delicious finish, this is the best thing Raimi’s done since Bruce Campbell stalked a cabin in the woods; he should go slumming more often. It’s not on the level of the greats, but it’s one of the greatest of the aughts. With Drag Me to Hell, Raimi has cooked up a heck of a blood pudding – and put on a hell of a show.