Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me to Hell

 

You know, I’ve never had a gypsy curse me.  The closest I’ve come to that was in college, a guy in drag cursed at me.  He sort of looked like a gypsy.  Does that count?

One time I opened a fortune cookie and the little slip of paper inside was blank.  I’ve gotten empty cookies before and  just chocked that up to an oversight on the part of the fortune cookie bakery.  A blank fortune is another matter all together.  That’s not a “Hey, Captain Midnight, we missed that cookie.  Sorry.  Try opening another one.”  It’s more like, “We totally meant to do that!  Start sweating!  Doom is near!  Next time, don’t order the shellfish! Mwah-ha-ha!”  That’s a pretty far cry from a blank fortune to a full-on Gypsy Curse, though I can to this very day still faintly taste those scallops. Bleh.

 

The movie opens with a young couple bringing their son to see a  Ms. Shaun San Dena (Flor de Maria Chahua), a mystic.  They explain that the boy has been hearing voices for the last three days and that he claims there is something coming for him.  The boy says that the voices are getting louder.  San Dena asks the parents what the boy did.  They reluctantly admit that he stole a silver necklace from a gypsy.  They tried to give it back, but the gypsies wouldn’t take it.  San Dena invites them in.

Immediately after they enter the house an all-out demon attack begins, complete with scary shadows, screamy noises, unexplained wind, invisible hands slapping faces and a gateway to Hell opening in the floor.  The credits haven’t even started yet.  Cool!

The movie then hops forty years to the present day with Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a loan officer at a bank.  She’s trying to get a promotion.  She works hard and is trying to do her best.  This isn’t easy.  Her boss is a fickle moron. A fellow loan officer is pulling out all the stops to undermine her. To add to her stress, her potential in-laws are judgmental, haughty rich folks.

Enter Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), the very embodiment of the scary Hollywood gypsy matron.  She’s come to the bank to plead for a little more time to come up with enough money to prevent her house from going into foreclosure.   Christine agrees to take this to her boss, who informs her that if she expects to be promoted, she needs to make the tough decisions.  Christine, not feeling too good about herself at the moment,  informs the old gypsy woman that the bank can do nothing for her.  Her house will be repossessed.  Mrs. Ganush falls to her knees and starts with regular begging, then ramps it up to “On my Mother’s grave” level begging.  Christine, trying to be nice about the whole thing, politely explains that there is nothing she can do and starts to back away.  Mrs. Ganush, on her knees, grabs at Christine and starts kissing the hem of her dress.  Christine calls for the security officers.  Suddenly the bank gets quiet and Mrs. Ganush asks, “You shame me?  I beg you and you shame me?”   Cue the full-on old school “Gypsy Curse with Throat Grab.” Awesome!   After Mrs. Ganush deals out the curse, she escorted from the building by two large security guards.

Now Christine has the gypsy curse.  Bad things start happening immediately.  Christine consults a fortune teller/ psychic who gives her and us a little exposition.   This isn’t your ordinary gypsy curse. This curse unleashes a demon that will torment the victim for three days.  At the conclusion of those three days, the demon shows up to drag the victim off to Hell.   The only way to stop it is to . . . (spoiler).

This is the first Sam Raimi film that I’ve enjoyed watching quite a while.  I didn’t care for Spider-Man (gasp!).  I have enjoyed all of his horror movies, which pretty much amounts to The Evil Dead and its sequels.  Drag Me to Hell, has a lot in common with Raimi’s earlier horror films.  The psychological torment Ash receives at the hands of the deadites in The Evil Dead II is strongly echoed in Drag Me to Hell.  As in the Evil Dead films, our protagonist gathers strength and begins to fight back.  Christine undergoes a metamorphosis from self-conscious and deferential to self-assured and assertive.  Drag Me to Hell is certainly less gory, with a sense humor that is more subtle and dark, than the slapstick oriented than The Evil Dead.

The special effects are pretty fair though obviously CGI.  I’m not a big fan of CGI (to put it mildly) and find computer effects often do not look real.  I can forgive that in the case of Drag Me to Hell because the effects never break my suspension of disbelief.  The film’s quick pace coupled with the impending doom that casts a shadow over story draws you in and never lets you dwell too much on the merits of the effects.  The story and the characters carry the movie, rather than the effects.

The performances are solid.  Lorna Raver, as Mrs. Ganush, leaves an indelible mark on the rest of the story.  It’s the character of Mrs. Ganush that sets the tone of menace for the rest of the characters to play off.   It would be so easy to write such an over-the-top character off as comedic or ridiculous. Raver gives her part enough grounding in reality to make us take her seriously as a threat.  Alison Lohman does a fine job as well.  For Drag Me to Hell to work we have to care about Christine Brown, and I did.  We also have to buy her transition, and I did.

I’m hoping the success of Drag Me to Hell heralds a return of solid traditional horror movies and an end to the recent ascendance of torture-porn-wannabe-shocksploitation films that have been shoveled at us for the last several years.  Up yours, Eli Roth.

Starring:
Alison Lohman
Justin Long
Lorna Raver
Dileep Rao
Adriana Barraza

Screenplay:
Sam Raimi
Ivan Raimi

Director:
Sam Raimi

Three and a half out of five Vincents

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