The opening scene of Sam Raimi’s return to horror kicks you in the gut like an Army mule and he wastes little foreplay before throwing you into the abyss. Raimi has a gift for the arcane, and like the Book of the Dead and Kandarian demons from Evil Dead, in Drag Me to Hell he creates a new universe of monstrous lore. The Lamia is a vile demon that gypsies can sick on their enemies by cursing an object that belongs to them and returning it. The Lamia comes to torment the owner of the object for three days (i.e. visual and auditory hallucinations, metaphysical beatings and the like) and claims the soul of the accursed on the fourth day.
Christine, a mousey loan officer finds herself on the business end of said curse when she denies an old gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush a third extension on her mortgage in the hopes of clinching a promotion. Christine seeks out the seer Rham Jas, who reads her fortune and informs her of the horrible fate that awaits her. Justin Long plays Christine's boyfriend Clay Dalton, a staunchly logical psychology professor. Long seems to channel the misogynistic psychiatrist from Dracula’s Daughter as he tries to convince Christine that her bouts with the Lamia are really just the side effects of post traumatic stress or hysteria. But neither mysticism nor reason holds the definitive answer, as Christine goes to desperate lengths to rid herself of the curse.
Drag Me to Hell is a feast for the senses, as the audience is bombarded by the nerve-snapping screech of violins and heart throbbing cello. Canted angles during Christine's hallucinations heighten the tension, and are reminiscent of camera work in the reanimation scene from James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. Raimi also revels in his mastery of comic abjection which includes vomitous worms, an out of control nosebleed and my favorite, an acme-style effect involving an ice skate and a suspended anvil.
But putting aside Raimi’s stylistic genius, Drag Me to Hell is a convicting film about the state of our society. The plot is poignantly topical to the recession we find ourselves in where thousands of people have been made homeless by foreclosure over the past year. Raimi successfully critiques a world where when the goal is the bottom line, people don’t matter. This is clear when Christine’s boss lays out the benefits of denying Mrs. Ganush a renewal—the bank makes a tidy sum in fees.
Raimi also criticizes the twenty first century’s pandemic lack of personal responsibility. It seems that the foreclosure of Mrs. Ganush’s home is everyone’s fault but Christine’s. Christine denies her responsibility a total of three times, first to Mrs. Ganush, a second time to her daughter and then to the Lamia itself. The audience can’t help but laugh as in a panic she screams at the demon, “It’s not my fault! It was my manager, Mr. Jacks!” Her denial brings to mind the countless bank representatives and business executives who still refuse to accept responsibility in the aftermath of loan and real estate collapses. But who is really at fault here? According to Raimi, we all are. It isn’t until Christine finally owns up to her decision that she gets what’s coming to her, driving home the principle that it’s not our intentions but our actions that count.
In an era dominated by torture porn and gory remakes, years from now Drag Me to Hell will be seen as an important cultural landmark in horror, and one that should be enjoyed in theaters while it lasts.