How often do you get a moralistic horror movie? According to Scream, horror movies are governed by a “sin factor” – have sex? You’re dead. Drinking or drug use? See ya. Lady Justice has no problems balancing her moral scales in these circumstances. But what about the inconspicuous, every day issues humanity struggles with? Shouldn’t horror films weigh in on these? If we consult Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, the answer is an alarming, frenzied yes. The film takes a strong moral stance on what constitutes tasteful behavior and isn’t shy about illustrating the consequences of failure. Thankfully, the film never descends into pure didacticism but provides enough thrills, twists, and camp to lead the audience into a gleeful stupor. Entertainment value is the true modus operandi with the moral center acting as an interesting filling to this harvest cake.
The first scene gives us some context and sets the stakes: a young boy has been cursed for stealing from a group of gypsies, and his family rushes him to a medium with the hope that he can be saved. The fates aren’t satisfied, and the young innocent is immediately – you guessed it – dragged into Hell. Next on Hell’s list is Alison Lohman’s Christine, a 20-something loan officer enjoying an idyllic life with her fiancé Clay, played by Justin Long. With the illustrious assistant manager position on the line, Christine refuses to extend a home loan for the elderly Sylvia Ganush. Ganush begs, Christine withholds, and a small altercation breaks out, resulting in Ganush’s expulsion from the bank. Later that day, in one of the film’s most remarkable scenes, Ganush meets Christine in a nearby parking garage to settle the score. Office supplies, dentures, and a healthy amount of physical combat are utilized in the ensuing fight. Jaw dropping may be the most literal and appropriate definition for the conflict.In the end, Christine is cursed and our countdown begins. Will she or won’t she be dragged into the fiery depths of hell? As Drag Me to Hell races relentlessly towards its final scene we’re constantly on edge, questioning the narrative and our own expectations.
Drag Me to Hell is wonderfully paced, allowing time for all the scares, laughs, character moments, and gore that are hallmarks of a Sam Raimi film. The performances are all great, built with just the right amount of camp. Allison Lohman deserves special recognition for what she’s willing to put up with – when the curtains close, she’s been covered in blood, bile, mud, sweat, and several other unnamable fluids. But the real star of the show is Sam Raimi. While Sam Raimi’s sensibilities were certainly present in his Spider‐Man films, being freed from the shackles of blockbuster filmmaking allowed him to really stretch his legs in a while, and warped sensibilities are present in every frame.
Drag Me to Hell is, ostensibly, a by-the-numbers haunting flick, but new viewers may get a little more projectile weirdness than they were expecting. It’s never off putting and fits perfectly into the tone of the film. The familiar story of the cursed heroine operates as expected, isolating the protagonist in a paranoid world that questions her sanity as well as ours. The most interesting part of the film is how Christine is not an entirely blameless victim. She’s no Regan or Emily Rose operating at the behest of a sadistic force. There’s a propulsiveness to her downfall that forces introspection more exciting and rewarding than what’s usually found in horror films. Christine is an insecure, posturing sycophant, but this alone doesn’t guarantee her potential destruction. Her problems truly begin once she begins affecting those around her who need her help. In a film populated with shadowy figures and unmitigated demons, it’s Christine’s humanity and weakness that grounds the film and gives it weight, propelling the film to a terrifying and well-earned finale that is cathartic in the worst way.
If horror films act as ways for the viewer to purge their worst tendencies, Drag Me to Hell lets us reckon our otherwise harmless characteristics. Scream warns us against drinking and sex, but Drag Me to Hell will be what keeps us from cheating, lying, and exploiting those around us.
About the Author
Matt Dartnell has been fascinated with horror films ever since his dad told him to never ever watch The Exorcist. This attraction has led to exhilarated evenings, sleepless nights, and a lifetime of messed up imagery to haunt him during midnight trips to the bathroom. Matt is in his final semester of film school where he emphasizes in critical theory.