DRAG ME TO HELL is a mix of old school horror, unrelenting terror, humor, and ethical challenges. I’m not certain why people aren’t fond of it. I love this film.
Sam Raimi returns from directing the SPIDER-MAN trilogy, to going back to his roots, what made him successful in the first place, horror. Not just any horror, though, it’s the odd twisted kind that can only come from the mind of Sam Raimi. The kind that has you cringing one moment, and laughing the next. Enter DRAG ME TO HELL, a film about a woman, cursed by a gypsy, who will lose her soul and be…well…dragged to hell in three-day-time.
Well, I guess I can see why some people didn’t like it. If you aren’t familiar with Sam Raimi’s earlier work (THE EVIL DEAD trilogy) the film can come off as cheesy and/or over the top. If you’ve seen EVIL DEAD II this should all be pretty familiar to you and you know that this is Sam Raimi honoring old him, before he was given millions of dollars to make a SPIDER-MAN movie. Back when his budget was low, his passion was high (not saying his passion has since conked out, but he has slapped his name as producer on several turds in the past years, including this year’s POLTERGEIST), and he was forced to be inventive and creative to make it looks how he wants, without the money to get him there. Before you see this, I highly suggest you watch THE EVIL DEAD trilogy, or if you’re short on time, just the second one (as that’s the one that goes way, way, way over the top…in the good way) before watching DRAG ME TO HELL. If you like your comedy separated from your horror, if you see DRAG ME TO HELL and think Sam Raimi can only do tongue-in-cheek films, watch A SIMPLE PLAN from the late 90s, or THE GIFT. Two movies that show off Sam Raimi’s more serious side. He also directed FOR LOVE OF THE GAME and THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, but I don’t like baseball…or westerns, so I don’t want to use them as examples. Although I hear they were good.
One of the things I like about this film is that it’s horror, hard horror (not to be confused with torture porn or gory horror, it’s more suggestive and has a much quicker pace), but it’s entertaining, enjoyable, even downright fun at times. Which is a strange thing to say about a movie where an innocent, sweet, woman is condemned to an eternity in hell (yes, she didn’t give the gypsy an extension on her loan and therefore evicted her from her home, but that was under duress. In all her other dealings, she is a good-hearted woman). Perhaps part of the horror is that this sort of thing can happen to anyone, regardless of how good or bad they are. It only takes one misstep to fall over the edge.
Also, there’s a great pace to this film. It opens with the successful damnation of a young kid. Yeah, that’s right, this movie opens with a 9 or 11 year old being pulled down into hell. Right from the beginning we’re set up with the idea that this movie can—and will—do anything to terrify or horrify us.
The rest of the movie moves pretty fast, but not in the way that a movie deletes scenes to tighten up their film. DRAG ME TO HELL feels complete, whole, even the abrupt ending of the film doesn’t leave me with feeling there should have been more, a scene missing or something.
On Blu-ray (and maybe on DVD too, I can’t remember) there are two versions of the film, PG-13 and Unrated. I saw the theatrical version in the theater and the few times I’ve watched this on Blu-ray I always watch the Unrated version. The only difference I can readily recall is something that was horrifying, and ties in with my last Your Moment of Rage.
Here’s the story, it’s kinda funny. Patrick did not go with me to see it in the theater, so when it came out on Blu-ray I wanted to show it to him. His first question always is “do any animals die?”, to which I honestly told him no. There was a scene that hinted that a cat was going to die, but they don’t show the cats death. The scene setup is she finds out that the sacrifice of a small animal might appease the Lamia (the demon that is after her). After a particularly harsh haunt by the Lamia, she decides to make the sacrifice because she can’t take it anymore. So in the theatrical version she walks down the steps, with a knife in her hand, saying “Here, kitty kitty kitty”. These things I told Patrick. However, that’s not how the scene plays in the Unrated version. Instead of the funny search for kitty, she has kitty (under frame) on a table and she stabs it a few times with blood shooting up at her. Patrick, and I, were horrified. Patrick more than me. So as an extension to the last Your Moment of Rage, the theatrical version of this scene that infers she is going to kill the cat. But since it is never shown, and it does further the plot, I can let this one slide by. However, the Unrated version, where she actually kills the cat, is going above and beyond what was necessary.
But is that complaint no better than those that claim the film is too over-the-top to begin with? Isn’t this a complaint of something that goes over-the-top? That it’s okay to kill a cat if it happens between scenes, but it’s not okay if it’s shown? Sounds like a double standard to me. Eh, maybe. Perhaps I should just stick to the PG-13 version from now on. Than this dilemma doesn’t come up, because when it comes down to it, it’s my only complaint.
So yeah, watch it, PG-13 or Unrated if you don’t mind kitten murder (that sounds judgmental when I say it out loud, it isn’t meant to). It’s a great film, it goes from 0 to 60 in the first few minutes, and it doesn’t slow down until the end credits roll. This is all helped by excellent (and loud) sound design, a great rollercoaster of a score, seamless editing, and some very Raimi-esque cinematography. Make sure you watch at least EVIL DEAD II first, it’ll help you get used to the idea that Sam Raimi likes to break through the wall. All in all, I hope you enjoy it. I really enjoy it.