Drag Me to Hell

(2009) *** Pg-13
99 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, Alison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer.


Anyone who knows Sam Raimi knows that in his heart he's a horror filmmaker (or, rather, he's still a grade-schooler who loves nothing more than horror movies). Raimi practically invented "splatstick," the slasher-meets-Three Stooges-style defined by the Evil Dead films. It's been seventeen years since the last Evil Dead film, and though Raimi has produced a slew of horror films in the interim (and made the Gothic suspense film The Gift in 2000), he's been long overdue for a return to his favorite form. Giving the Spider-Man films a rest, Raimi puts his pent-up energy to good use in Drag Me to Hell, an unpretentious horror hoot that's scary and funny in equal measure.

Alison Lohman (Big Fish) plays Christine Brown, an ambitious loan officer who has every intention of scoring a big promotion to assistant manager. Neck and neck with slimy competitor Stu (Reggie Lee), Christine can't afford to let her bureaucratic boss (a sly David Paymer) smell any weakness. So when a Hungarian gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) begs for one more loan extension, Christine swallows her sympathy and denies the request. Bad move: the gypsy woman goes ballistic, smacking Christine down with a terrible curse. Unless Christine can find a workaround, she's doomed to die in three days. With the bemused support of her psychology-professor boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and her newfound psychic and spirit-world adviser Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), Christine attempts to navigate her way to salvation.

As written with hand-rubbing glee by Raimi and his brother Ivan, Drag Me to Hell is—every inch of it—politically and socially incorrect. I suppose the Raimis must have sent a fruit basket to the Gypsy Anti-Defamation League for this one: they go hog wild depicting Raver's character as a mucousy hell-hag who spews, intentionally and not, all manner of bodily fluids. The gross-out humor is just the stuff to get audiences happily squirming (did I mention the disgusting dentures) before the horror elements get down to bloody business and truly scary imagery: rapping fingernails and loud voices, rattling doors and broken glass, and eyeballs that won't stay where they belong. Almost as terrorizing to Christine is the prospect of meeting Clay's parents, which occurs in a deliriously farcical scene of the gypsy curse unhinging Clay's poor, unfortunate fiancé (as if she's not freaked out enough, she's also anxious about keeping the secret that she was once an overweight farmgirl).

The jokes keep on coming, like the well-timed reveal of a "Baby, hang on!" kitty poster (also the deadpan line "That is so strange. Hecuba is usually very sweet") and some prime splatstick involving an anvil that might as well be stamped "ACME." The things you can do with CGI these days... For all the yuks, the Raimis also wisely ground the story in troublesome moral quandaries that simultaneously shade the heroine with a Jungian shadow and implicate the audience with the implicit question of "What would you do?" Raimi enlists a crack support staff, including makeup legends Greg Nicotero & Howard Berger, composer Christopher Young (Spider-Man 3), director of photography Peter Deming (Lost Highway), and guest star Adriana Barraza (Oscar nominee for Babel). For good reason, Raimi's fan base got very excited about Drag Me to Hell, enough so that (serious) talk has arisen of another Evil Dead sequel to supplant the cursed idea of a remake. Since there's little doubt he can make one with the skill, chills, and spills of Drag Me to Hell—which bows out with the year's best horror punchline—more power to him.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 10/13/2009

Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment


Universal outdoes itself with the hi-def transfer showcased on the Blu-ray release of Drag Me to Hell. The flawless image recreates to a "T" the filmmakers' intended color scheme and contrast. Black levels are rock solid, skin tones are natural and texture and detail are revelatory. It's a dazlling presentation, well matched by a skin-crawlingly effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. As powerful as the effects are, they're well balanced with dialogue and music for a full and fully satisfying surround experience.

The Blu-ray and DVD present for the first time the Unrated Director's Cut as well as the original Theatrical Version. They're not terribly different, but the Director's Cut reinstates seconds of footage (and, perhaps, audio) trimmed to satisfy the MPAA that the films was acceptable for public consumption.

Only one real bonus feature accompanies the film, but it's a good one. Thirteen "Production Video Diaries" (35:08, HD) come with an "Intro" by Justin Long. These chapters add up to a substantial making-of doc featuring tons of fascinating behind-the-scenes B-roll, as well as informative interviews with the likes of director/co-screenwriter Sam Raimi, Alison Lohman, Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, director of photography Peter Deming, producer Grant Curtis, co-producer Cristen Carr Strubbe, production designer Steve Saklad, special makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero, special effects coordinator James Schwalm, visual effects supervisor Bruce Jones, stunt coordinator Randy Beckman, prop master Ellen Freund, set decorator Don Diers, co-sound supervisor Jussi Tegelman and re-recording mixers Marti Humphrey and Chris Jacobson. The diaries often focus in on the filming of a particular scene, including glimpses at test footage and stunt rehearsals.

The BD disc is also BD-Live and D-BOX enabled for a little extra excitement.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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