Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Tonight I realized something startling. (No, not the tragic fact that Alice Cooper's abandoned birthname is Vincent Damon Furnier. What a wasted fucking opportunity that was!) Rather, I realized this: that Sam Raimi has not spent the last twenty years continuing to make horror films is a terrific loss for us as film-goers.

Drag Me to Hell is delightful, a breath of fresh air when set against the modern mainstream horror-movie scene. Hollywood is content to trot out remake after remake--all dank, all grim, all flimsy and utterly formulaic. We're lucky to get a handful of independent or foreign winners each year, and even those are generally very serious or very silly. Drag Me to Hell flies in the face of all of these by bringing a large box of tools but a very simple plan.

A quality tragic moral setup places the protagonist, a loan officer, in a pickle: to grease the wheels for her own promotion, she denies a mortgage extension to an old woman of Eastern European descent and, as a result, basically gets mightily fucked up for the next ninety minutes. As with the best classic horror films, the plot is at times quite thin and the acting quite obvious, but you likely won't care through all the expertly-directed harrowing, violent, and often blackly humorous trials the protag goes through in attempting to redeem herself.

Raimi's new work walks the magical line he drew in 1987: the line between action and suspense, comedy and terror, homage and innovation. You'll find the mix recreated well here. Fans of Evil Dead II will not be disappointed. That being said, I can't imagine how it will play to those unfamiliar with Raimi's earlier work. I have to think that some of the classic gags and visuals will fall completely flat for them, particularly the young'uns who will undoubtedly flock to this, what they might perceive to be Just Another Blue-Filtered Boo Flick. Only this weekend's numbers will tell.

It does bear commenting: while most of the gore-and-ghost sequences are very effective, a few of the CG effects are surprisingly unfinished. There's no explanation for this discrepancy, except perhaps that the film was made on a scant budget and the last few hundred-thousand went justifiably toward wooing a certain elusive Mr. Ted Raimi for a cameo that's as heartbreakingly genius as it is brief.

I'm not sure what to make of the depiction of the Romani in this film. Between the "ugly old gypsy" and her requisite dispensation of a vengeance curse, there's essentially no deviation from the archaic stereotypes found in classic film and literature (note that Drag Me to Hell is, in fact, a Universal Pictures release--doesn't quite constitute a justification, but maybe part of an explanation). You feel sympathy for the curse-giver and her family, but they are not well-rounded or respected. I'm curious to learn Raimi's thoughts on the matter (perhaps it's an intentional caricature?), as well as reactions from people more familiar with the culture and its treatment than I.

Also, Justin Long is a fucking blight, a walking Mac ad with all its intrinsic smugness who somehow manages to be surrounded by the Apple logo in a movie that has jack shit to do with that. Is it supposed to be funny? Long has no range and no depth. Neither he nor his character help this movie one iota.

Fortunately for us, Drag Me to Hell doesn't need the Mac's help; it thrives in spite of his abominable presence. It's a triumph of popcorn-horror filmmaking, wall-to-wall fun of all the best gooey and gaspy stripes.

Also, mark me: handkerchiefs are the new cat-jumping-out-of-a-closet. Handkerchiefs, I say!

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