After a spidery sabbatical, Sam Raimi returns to the horror genre in 2009 to do for bank branches what The Evil Dead did for tree branches.
Drag Me to Hell has an ingeniously simple premise (or structurally complex compared to the Evil Dead films) – a bank clerk (Alison Lohman) is cursed by an old woman (Lorna Raver) after denying her a loan. Sylvia needed a third extension before her house gets repossessed; now Christine has three days until she does.
Hot on the heels of the 2008 financial crash, Christine rejects Sylvia’s plea in order to demonstrate the ruthlessness needed to secure a promotion. Following in the hoofprints of Rosemary’s Baby, The Devil Wears Prada and The Devil’s Advocate, she puts career before humanity and finds the corporate ladder slick with bile.
And maggots. And flies. And explosive nosebleeds. 30 years on from practically inventing the modern horror/comedy, the director has lost none of his patter for splatter – though admittedly the CGI lacks the physicality of the Evil Dead movies, and the 15 certificate the grotesquery of the Ash vs. Evil Dead TV show.
A master of exploiting limited means for maximum carnage, Raimi can still rattle a slumber party with surprisingly few elements: dancing shadows, screeching windows, anvils and eyeballs that fly out of nowhere – and Christopher Young’s infernal score (recalling his work on Hellraiser) is the eyes-ing on the cake.
But for all its thunderous noise and chunderous visuals, Raimi and his co-writer/brother Ivan ground the film with a bank-based moral and sweet central relationship; features it shares with 1984 classic Gremlins. In fact if you remove the iPhones you could be forgiven for thinking this was the ’80s – complete with gross-out satire and regrettable racial stereotypes (Gypsy crone, Indian spiritualist etc).
And yet there is a lot to be said for a movie that follows through on its premise, even if it means throwing certain ethnicities and kittens under the bus. And as we know from The Witch, the mark of a good horror flick is when a goat starts talking, you go with it. Raver plays the spurned spinster with gusto, Justin Long brings balance as the kind boyfriend and Lohman does her best with Christine’s slight characterisation, developing a personality a little late in proceedings.
Drag Me to Hell stands out in Raimi’s oeuvre because you can see how gleeful he is to be back, as opposed to Dr Strange 2 which looked like he’d been dragged into the director’s chair. It has a setup that puts the mort in mortgages, an ending to die for, and the 90 minutes of madness in between? You have goat to be kitten me.