MAY 19, 2009
Back in 2007, I was at some party for the LA Film Festival, and Sam Raimi was there to present the winner of some Spider-Man 3 contest with a prize (a film scholarship, if memory serves). Afterwards, he spent a good hour making his way from point A to point B (a distance of about 30 feet) as every 20-30ish male in the room mobbed him. By the time he got close enough to me, I had already had a couple of beers, which puts me in the perfect mood to meet an icon: I’m loose enough to not clam up and stammer, but not drunk and making a fool out of myself (as I did with another icon later that year). I shook his hand, told him that I was honored to meet him, and then leaned in closer and said “Please go back to horror.” (had I already seen Spider-Man 3, I probably would have been less polite with my request). So really, I think I will take all the credit for Drag Me To Hell, because he did as I asked.
And he knocked it out of the f-ing park, if you ask me. He hasn’t made a legitimate horror film since Evil Dead 2 (no, Army of Darkness fans, your beloved film is not a horror movie. Nor is it particularly enjoyable to watch, thanks to your incessant quoting of it over the past 17 years), but he hasn’t lost his ability to fully entertain while combining slapstick-y violence with bodily fluids and monsters. Bruce Campbell might not be around, but this is more of a sequel to Evil Dead 2’s spirit than AOD ever was, and hopefully, it will go on to be the first "summer blockbuster" horror film since 1999 (Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense).
Now, let’s get something out of the way quick: yes, it’s a PG-13 movie. Does it matter in the slightest? Well, let’s see: a little kid is killed in the first 5 minutes, half of a bank gets sprayed in blood, our heroine gets every green/black/red substance ever created for a horror movie in her mouth (and a few body parts as well), and an old woman gets her eye stapled. So... no, it doesn’t. Stop fucking whining about it. Christ, Army of Darkness would have been a PG-13 if Bruce Campbell didn’t swear so much. It’s one thing to make a PG-13 sequel to an R rated franchise like they did with Terminator; it’s another to make an intentionally fun summer rollercoaster movie with monsters and ghosts (and lots of trademark Raimi-style abuse of his actors) and get the same rating.
What’s great about the movie (even more so when you take the rating into consideration) is that there are almost zero false alarm scares. When Alison Lohman sees something by her window or hears a noise, it’s the witch (or a force acting on her behalf), not a bird or a bunch of metal hangers or a goddamn mail delivery. Not only does this keep the audience from rolling their eyes and getting annoyed, but it keeps the pace up to an overly impressive degree. Thinking back, I can’t think of a single time where the movie dragged (heh), which is even more impressive when you consider that there isn’t a particularly high body count and most of the horror/violence is directed at Lohman, who you know won’t be dying anytime soon. It’s not like Evil Dead where you have 4 other people besides Bruce for the monsters to fuck with, Lohman is the only target. Her boyfriend (Justin Long), co-workers, etc are never placed in any direct danger throughout the film.
So it’s with some remorse that I must admit Lohman’s performance is uneven. The entire movie rides on her shoulders, and she’s fine for the most part, but there are key moments that fall a bit flat due to her bizarre decision to channel original star Ellen Page at times. For the record, I think the movie would be insufferable with that talentless bore in the lead (she dropped out supposedly for scheduling conflicts, but she has no movie coming out. I suspect she realized that being tossed around and getting puked on would be too far outside her range of playing her unlikable self in every movie). But it seems like there are a few “ironic” lines that were added to the script to accommodate Page’s razor-thin range, and that Lohman figured she’d say them exactly as Page would. It’s really odd. Other times she simply doesn’t react at all to the nuttiness around her. It’s not too damaging, and she’s terrific in some of the scenes (the car fight, for example), but it’s a shame that someone who really would have dove 100% into the role wasn’t hired instead (Anna Faris would have been a godsend).
But that’s about the only bad thing I have to say about the movie. Otherwise, it delivers on every level that I hoped it would, and surprisingly lives up to the hype that has been surrounding it since the entire horror community seemingly snuck into the test screening for it a few months ago (I was stuck at work and couldn’t go). Raimi fans will be pleased to know that the Oldsmobile and Ted Raimi make appearances (Ted’s is nearly impossible to detect though), and his usual gonzo camerawork is on full display. Whereas the Spider-Man films (and obviously, his more dramatic work like Simple Plan and For Love of The Game) had to settle for mere glimpses of his style, this is 100% unmistakably a Raimi film, making even Quick and the Dead look subtle in comparison. Some have balked at the use of CGI over practicals, but other than a quick shot of a possessed farm animal and some gags involving things going inside of people’s mouths/nostrils/etc (by the way - like yesterday’s Grace, this movie features a fly going into someone’s nose), it all looked great to me (and the farm animal part is so funny I wouldn’t care if it was drawn with a crayon).
In the end, it’s a blast from start to finish. I can’t recall the last major studio horror movie that left me cheering and laughing and smiling the whole way through, without a shred of irony. Hell, even Shaun of the Dead got sappy near the end. There are some minor plot contrivances (does everyone carry a plain white envelope with them at all times?), but they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And I LOVE that in a month with hundreds of millions being spent on underwhelming spectacle (Wolverine) or dull adaptations (Angels & Demons), Sam Raimi comes along with a comparatively small and ORIGINAL movie, beating them at their own game by doing the whole “summer movie” thing completely right for a fraction of the cost.
What say you?