Sam Raimi made a name for himself alongside his childhood friend Bruce Campbell while creating the low budget horror film "The Evil Dead." The director would go on to make two more films in the series and the third "Army of Darkness" was created with a large budget via Universal Studios. That film was not the success that anybody had hoped for and while Raimi had written the story for "Drag Me to Hell," he moved onto other endeavors such as "The Quick and the Dead" and "For Love of the Game." Then, the relatively unknown director struck gold when he was hired to helm the "Spider-Man" series and the rest is history. Between the third and fourth films of the webslinger's franchise Raimi finally returned to horror and put his script to film.
Alison Lohman is perhaps best known for her role as Nicolas Cage's daughter in "Matchstick Men" and Justin Long has become synonymous with Apple while starring in the long-running series of advertisements for the Mac computer alongside John Hodgman. They are the stars of "Drag Me to Hell" and without a cameo by Bruce Campbell, the film's only true familiar faces are those of supporting actors David Paymer and Chelcie Ross. Raimi relies on storytelling, effects and direction to power "Drag Me to Hell" through its hour and a half running length. The film has received mostly positive reviews and without any discerning A-Listers beyond the director, "Drag Me to Hell" shows Raimi's strength as a director to need only his own talents to create a successful experience.
"Drag Me to Hell" has Lohman portraying the film's star Christine Brown. She is a young woman who was raised on a farm and works hard at a bank run by Jim Jacks (Paymer). Christine is hoping for a promotion to an assistant manager position and finds herself in competition with the newly hired but aggressive Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee). She has the love and support of her boyfriend Clay Dalton (Long) and has been dating the professor for a year. Unfortunately, Clay's parents Leonard (Ross) and Trudy (Molly Cheek) do not necessarily approve of their son dating a simple farm girl and Christine's own insecurities between her job, her physique and her relationship cause the girl great stress. She has been successful, but struggles to keep everything together.
One day an old lady driving Sam Raimi's yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 arrives at the bank. Mrs. Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) is being evicted from her house after failing to keep up with mortgage and after two previous loan extensions, Christine is forced to make the decision to help the old lady out with her loan and forfeit the promotion or turn down Mrs. Ganush and make the bank some money to put her at the top of the list over Stu for the position. She decides she needs to make the tough decision and puts her career over her personal feelings and the sickly lady with gross dentures and a diseased eye attacks Christine. She is stopped by security, but attacks her in the parking garage later that evening and removes a button from Christine's coat.
The button becomes a cursed object and Christine is soon haunted by a gypsy demon known as Lamia. A psychic named Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) explains that this dark goat demon will torment Christine for three days while she is in possession as the owner of the cursed object and tries to help her appease the evil spirit in hopes of saving the girl from having Lamia take her soul with him to Hell. The story moves along as Christine nears the point of death and a failed séance and very predictable moment between Christine and the corpse of Ganush bring the film to a near close in an ending that roughly ended as I had expected for most of the film.
The easy to guess ending is my only major complaint against the film, but it is not quite enough to me to dislike the film as a whole. I found "Drag Me to Hell" to be an affable and nicely done horror film that shows Raimi understands what is needed to create an original and engaging frightful experience although the director has created a picture that is nowhere near horrifying and pays more tribute to "The Evil Dead's" more entertaining and comical moments and the gore effects of the earlier films than it does to straight horror. The film moves along nicely and while the Lamia is hardly a top notch Hollywood monster, it allows for an effective mythology that doesn't rely on heavy make-up or overly expensive special effects to create evil. Shadows and moving objects are the delivers of terror and a pink handkerchief is used as one of the film's scarier objects.
While the film lacks starpower and Campbell not appearing the film just doesn't seem right, young Alison Lohman and Justin "Mac" Long do a fine job of carrying the lead roles in the Raimi film. Lohman has the lungs and ability to show terror effectively and while she isn't going to rival the legendary scream queens of Hollywood, she portrays a farm-girl turned insecure city girl rather nicely. She is perky and attractive and can match her looks with an ability to act. Long has become a cultural icon for hipness with his portrayal of the overly hip "Mac" in the "Get a Mac" ad campaign against the overly nerdy "PC" of John Hodgman. At 31 years old, it seems a stretch to imagine him as a college professor, but he plays the part of the well-to-do, but caring boyfriend with conviction. Raimi's decision to go with these actors over bigger names was the right decision.
Raimi's return to horror is something I accept with open arms, but after watching "Drag Me to Hell," I'm not so sure that Raimi's magic works with larger budgets. "Army of Darkness" had a campy and cheesy quality to it that salvaged the film's flaws from burying it permanently as the film has become a solid selling catalog title. While most of the problems with "Army of Darkness" are not repeated with "Drag Me to Hell," it is clear that Raimi pines to replicate his gross-out and over the top moments with a large budget, but profuse amounts of blood vomiting just doesn't seem special when done properly with a large budget. What made the first two "Evil Dead" films so special and what worked in the early Peter Jackson films was the low budget nature of the effects. "Drag Me to Hell" is too pretty and too polished to pull off the Raimi magic, but the film is still a solid entry in the horror genre.
My first experience watching "Drag Me to Hell" was on high definition Blu-ray and while the image is not quite as impressive, Raimi's creation still looks very good on DVD. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer shows that "Drag Me to Hell" is a slickly crafted film where director Sam Raimi seems intent on using the budget allotted after his success with the "Spider-Man" films to make a visually impressive horror film and the director varies between busy sets full of action to the frightfully empty parking garage that scares many in their daily lives. Detail is strong throughout the film and the opening helicopter show showing traffic gridlock is a testament to this. The image is clean and colorful. When the lovely Christine suffers the world's worst nosebleed, the blood is rich and deep in color. The flames of Hell show how nicely the detailed transfer handles warm hues and the cold decrepit looking Mrs. Ganush shows the drab cold hues off nicely. Overall, this is an above average looking DVD release.
The DVD release of "Drag Me to Hell" is delivered with both an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. The multi-channel surround mix is clearly superior and the film sounds very strong on DVD. One of my earlier thoughts while watching "Drag Me to Hell" was that the score by Christopher Young seemed too good to be part of a horror film and Raimi must have enjoyed having a full orchestra performs his score compared to the limited music provided for "The Evil Dead." The music and the sound effects all sound very good throughout the film. Lamia arrives during his first three days as a specter in the wind and the swirling sound effects fill every channel cleanly and create an enveloping experience that is amplified as things can be heard crashing in every channel. There is a lot going on in the sound mix for "Drag Me to Hell" and Raimi has always and continues to use sound as an extra character in his films.
The standard definition version of "Drag Me to Hell" contains everything the higher priced Blu-ray release does. Unfortunatley, you are treated to a number of advertising clips as the film boots. The upcoming video releases for "Bruno," "Public Enemies," Jim Jarmush's "Out of Control" and "Land of the Lost" are advertised as well as the forthcoming direct-to-video release of "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan" and ads for the Blu-ray format and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights theme park attraction. The Blu-ray release had only a pair of promotional clips and I suppose part of the discount price of the older format and the larger installed base of DVD forces the viewer to have to sit through far more advertisements that those that fork out the cash for the premium Blu-ray release.
The disc contains both the Unrated Director's Cut (1:38:51) of the film and the Theatrical Version (1:39:05). The major differences are different cuts and angles of the cat murder scene, blood is also vomited during the nosebleed scene and the fight between Christine and Mrs. Ganush is far more violent. This is done with seemless branching, but should play fine on most players. The only bon-a-fide supplement beyond the two versions of the film is the fourteen Production Video Diaries (35:08). Justin Long provides the intro and some good behind-the-scenes footage is included throughout these relatively short diary entries. While they aren't as impressive as the "King Kong" diaries from Peter Jackson, these provide a good look at the making of Raimi's film. Some of the entries are based upon the filming of a certain scene, while others are general looks at the overall process of filmmaking such as makeup and effects.
"Drag Me to Hell" is a nice little horror film that was budgeted at thirty million dollars. When compared to Raimi's early cult film "The Evil Dead," this is a massive budget. "Drag Me to Hell" marks Raimi's return to the horror genre and watching the film you can see many of the elements that has made the "Evil Dead" trilogy such a beloved set of films and helped launch Raimi onto the A-List of Hollywood directors. The film has its flaws, but it isn't meant to be a large and grand horror production. As the classic Universal bumpers suggest, this is homage to the old days and it works well as such. The DVD release is not far off the quality of the Blu-ray version and contains a very good looking picture and great sound. The supplements are identical and if you like advertisements, the DVD certainly has more of them. Fans of the "Evil Dead" films and Raimi should love this picture and for most others it should be a fun little spooky film, even if it isn't frightening and has its share of flaws.