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10 October, 2009

DVD Review: DRAG ME TO HELL—Unrated Director’s Cut

Title: DRAG ME TO HELL—Unrated Director’s Cut

Year of Release—Film: 2009

Year of Release—DVD: 2009

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment


The first big Horror Film of the summer season, Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL takes Horror back to basics—gypsy curses, old dark houses, vomiting corpses and all. The film, which earned more than $42 million in ten weeks of release, is now coming home, just in time for Halloween!

Raimi, who became a Horror prodigy with his first feature, EVIL DEAD, is now a bona fide Hollywood A-List director following his success with Marvel’s SPIDER-MAN franchise. Several years ago, he teamed with filmmaker Rob Tapert and others to form Ghost House Pictures, an independent production company specializing in Horror Films. Their first release was the 2004 remake of JU-ON, THE GRUDGE, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Since then they’ve had a string of financial, if not critical, hits, including the sequel to THE GRUDGE, Stephen Kay’s BOOGEYMAN, and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, David Slade’s 2007 hit Vampire tale. DRAG ME TO HELL is the latest offering from Ghost House, the first directed by Raimi, and by far the best the company has so far produced.

Alison Lohman is Christine Brown, a mid-level bank manager anxious to become an upper-level bank manager. Two obstacles lie in her path: Stu, her competition for the job, and her boss’ perception that she’s too weak to make the, “tough decisions.” Into her life comes Sylvia Ganush, an elderly woman (played with convincing ferocity by Lorna Raver) hoping to stave off foreclosure. The decision is Christine’s—show compassion, and give the woman yet another extension… or demonstrate her toughness and proceed with the eviction and foreclosure. As her boss looks on approvingly, she denies the old woman’s request. The woman flies into a rage, trying to attack Christine, and is carried out of the building by security.

As Christine leaves for the night, Mrs. Ganush appears in her back seat and carries out the attack she had attempted earlier in the day. After an epic battle, it appears that Christine lies at her mercy, as Ganush’s gnarled, claw-like fingers reach for her—only to pull a button off Christine’s coat. She mutters something in a dark, guttural tongue, and places the button back in Christine’s hand. Then she’s gone.

Christine’s boyfriend Clay (a good performance from the consistently good Justin Long) helps her cope with the stress and anxiety that is normal after such an assault, but Christine has more than that on her mind—she’s soon convinced that the old woman had placed a curse upon her, one that may soon drag her literally into Hell.

Raimi, whose EVIL DEAD trilogy is one of the most loved franchises in Horror (why this is so frankly escapes me, but to each their own…), demonstrates a refinement brought on by nearly thirty years experience since he first cracked open the Necronomicon in that backwoods cabin. The Raimi trademarks are there—the frenetic fight scenes, the long, zooming, POV camera shots, the twist at the end—but toned down, smoother, more subtly executed. What made the EVIL DEAD films high camp when applied in giant, economy-sized doses makes DRAG ME TO HELL an effective Horror Film when Raimi uses just the right amount.

The cast is good… not spectacular, with the possible exception of Raver, but they do well enough, supported by a very good script from Raimi and older brother Ivan. Justin Long is a better comedic actor than he is in dramatic roles, but he does well here. He’s been a favorite of mine since his role as the nerdy high school kid in DODGEBALL (yes, the Unimonster does watch something other than Horror—occasionally), and this performance does nothing to change that opinion of him. This is my first exposure to Alison Lohman, though, and I must admit I was less than impressed. She does a competent job with the role of Christine, and she is attractive enough, true. But one never gets the impression that there’s a genuine star within the actress, or that she’ll ever be more than the current flavor of the month.

DRAG ME TO HELL is a very good, very original Horror Film in a year marked by remakes, sequels, and remakes of sequels. It is also the most effective production yet mounted by Ghost House, doubtless due in large part to Raimi’s hand on the tiller. It might not be the year’s best Horror Film—but it certainly makes my short list. It should be on yours, as well.

















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