Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

"Losing Your Buttons & Getting Your Goat"
"Do You Want Flies With That?"

Something's been missing from horror movies since the 1970's—I'm talking about the majority of the teen-slasher movies and the current trend of torture porn—there's no sense of humor.

Oh, there's some sadistic glee on the part of the film-makers when planning their little vivisections, but it's rarely communicated, so concerned are they with getting the technical aspects of their horror shows right. I mean, God forbid that you should laugh at it. Horrors!

Sam Raimi. He's still nostalgic for the bad old days when horror movies were fun, and harkens back to the past with the first frames of "Drag Me To Hell"*Raimi uses the old pre-CGI "Universal" film logo to start the film (as well as the "Tour Universal Studio" card at the end...and—what's this?—there are even needless "cigarette burns" in the upper right of the frame**) and deliriously overplays every gambit for chuckles as well as shocks—he is, after all, the man who created the hilarious "Evil Dead" movies before getting caught in the "Spiderman" web.

Horror movies need to reflect their times and fears (atomic monsters in the 50's, serial killers in the 70's) and so the anti-heroine of "
Drag Me to Hell" is ambitious loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). Christine is watching her weight, watching her budget and pining for a hotly contested assistant manager position. In a display to her boss of "making the tough decisions," she refuses the late extension on the mortgage of gypsy woman Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver in a performance that can best be described as "gooey"), who then proceeds to attach the curse of the "Lamia" — "the black goat" — on Christine.

Like every curse, there are rules. Lots of them. For three days, she will be antagonized by the goat (making full use of
shock-cuts, wire-tricks, CGI and surround creaking), and on the fourth day, she will literally be dragged to Hell. Unless...and thereby hangs the movie. Who knew curses had such fine print? It's as bad as...well, getting a bank loan, especially these days. Talk about your curses...

The fun is in how Raimi (in collaboration with his brother Ivan) escalates the may-hem to extremes both in grossness and cartoonishness. This could be an out and out comedy of the "Incredible Mess" variety were it not for the furrowed brows on everyone's forehead. Christine should be putting her affairs in order, if the curse were not so concerned with scattering them in the most extreme ways. Her promotion is put into question with the visions that cause her to freak out at her staid job (her boss is played by wormy
David Paymer), and a nose bleed turns into projectile fountaining. Eyes pop out of heads. There's an extended ker-fluffle at a funeral (yes, it goes there...and beyond), and at a dinner with her boyfriend's (Justin Long, the "Mac" guy in those commercials) upperly-crusty parents. She doesn't make a good first impression.

It would be tragic if it weren't so funny; Christine's happily engineered life is just fragile enough to fall like a line of accessorized domino's. And extreme? Christine may be the only creature on Earth—
besides Wile E. Coyote—that has a suspended anvil in their storage shed!

It's all pretty delirious, and
Allison Lohman wins this year's "Winslet Award"*** for being jerked around, repeatedly doused, dunked, sprayed and goobered upon, and then having to play a scene with a goat—there's a lovely middle distance shot of actress and goat appraising each other, warily.

"Drag Me To Hell" is inventive, fun, and a good unsophisticated time at the movies. It's a fine exception to a genre that in recent years has done nothing but bore me to Hell.

"Drag Me To Hell" is a Rental.

* It was fun to even ask for a ticket: "Drag Me to Hell, Please!" The kid in the booth charitably laughed.

** I don't think this technical nostalgia extended to the exclusion of the 1-frame anti-piracy "liver spots" that infect movies these days, but then the film is dark and spooky, so I may have just missed them.

*** For "pluckiest actress" after Kate of Winslet, who had to act in a sinking ship AND take direction from James Cameron.

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