Leave it to Sam Raimi to find humor in even the scariest of prospects, like being cursed, harassed by evil spirits and destined to go to hell in three days. In the director’s cut of Drag Me to Hell, which was just released on DVD, the master of goofy horror (not to mention those little Spider-Man films) offers a full dose of his creative vision. Thoughtfully, the DVD release includes the theatrical version of the film and Raimi’s unrated version, which is, apparently, not intended for the squeamish -- nor to be enjoyed with a meal.
Drag Me to Hell is the dark tale of Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a Los Angeles loan officer who seems poised for a great life: She has a promotion coming up, a smart, caring boyfriend (Justin Long), and sweet, farm-girl looks framed with flowing blond curls. Of course, all it takes is one angry, shriveled old woman with loose dentures to unravel all of Christine’s plans.
When our doe-eyed, innocent heroine grudgingly decides to evict Mrs. Shriveled from her home, the haggard woman curses Christine with a one-way ticket to Doomsville. Farm girl isn’t going to go down without a fight, though, and the film follows her struggle as spirits torment her with screechy noises, bad dreams and lots of rattling windows. Their ensuing three-day conflict features countless stomach-turning scenarios: Vomit of varied substances makes frequent appearances, reliable in its intense gross-out factor that somehow doesn’t ease with repetition. Christine’s sympathy factor skyrockets, for example, after Mrs. S’s spirit makes her spew blood at a really inopportune moment.
Like any good horror movie, Drag Me to Hell is fantastical and far-fetched, but propels itself with the most banal of human pitfalls -- in this case the desire to get ahead, class issues and shame. As Christine battles her nemesis, she’s also navigating dangerous political waters at work, disapproval from her boyfriend’s wealthy, uptight mother and vestigial insecurity about having been a chubby teen.
While the movie’s writing leaves nuance by the wayside (Raimi co-wrote the script with his brother, Ivan Raimi), it features incredible, wink-wink asides, often delivered seamlessly by the poker-faced Justin Long. Just when Christine’s contemplating her future in Hell over a bowl of ice cream, Long walks in and notes, “I thought you were lactose intolerant.” Other scenes shamelessly point to product placement, including an AmEx moment at the medium’s house and a nod to Long’s appearance in Mac ads.
With its relatable characters and empathic premise, Drag Me to Hell has a great mix of requisite scary scenes and a good-natured sensibility. Perhaps its best quality, however, is that the film left this reviewer wanting more.