Wednesday, May 27, 2009
With Drag Me to Hell, director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) returns to the humor-laced horror subgenre he mined so successfully in his Evil Dead trilogy. Inventive in its staging and photography (credit in part goes to frequent Lynch collaborator, Peter Deming), the movie is clever. But, for better or worse, some of the cheeky humor seems quaint in today's post-"torture porn" era. And though I felt like I was sometimes the only spectator in on the joke, it didn't make me feel smarter as much as it made me feel older and out of step. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer, recently transplanted to the West coast, and insecure about her past as a small-town, overweight farm girl. You get the sense that she'll do anything to repress her origins. She has a boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), who comes from money; she dismisses her cravings for ice cream by pretending she's lactose intolerant; and she's even willing to help her bank evict frail, old Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) from her house to get the promotion she desperately pursues. But Mrs. Ganush, a powerful gypsy witch, places a curse on her. For three days, Christine will be tormented by a goat-demon, the Lamia, before she is ultimately dragged into hell, for all eternity. Raimi and cinematographer Deming collaborated before, on Evil Dead II and Darkman. Like those movies, there's a gag-inflected aesthetic to most of the staging and shot designs. And the jokes are successful. When Christine retreats into her bedroom, as the spirit of the Lamia creeps up the steps, there is a cut to a p.o.v. shot of the locked door from her vantage point in the room. As the long shadow of the Lamia stretches into the room slowly through the crack of light underneath the door, one can't help but chuckle at the poster hanging next to the entrance - of a cat dangling by its paws -captioned, "Hang on, baby." But the humor has an innocent, juvenile nature to it, that seems immature in today's era of horror commingled with gore and sexuality. When Mrs. Ganush attacks Christine in a tool shed, the speedy cuts of the old lady sticking her arm elbow deep into Christine's mouth are more Bugs Bunny than phallic. Evocative of Ash's fight against his demon-possessed hand in Evil Dead II, the camera rapidly gives us the Rube Goldberg-like geography depicting the placement of a hanging anvil, as Christine quickly cuts the rope with an ice skate she finds in the shed, squashing the old gypsy like Wile E. Coyote. Yeah, I get Raimi's brand of comic scares. I've been a casual fan of his for most of his career. But even though Drag Me to Hell's clever frights are a lot more ingenious than much of what you see in horror today, and the film has a phenomenal finale, I was left somewhat sad. For once, I feel like a good filmmaker has pulled out all the stops to impress me, but I've simply outgrown his sensibility. Drag Me to Hell opens in theaters nationwide this Friday.