Confession: a good friend of mine (who is notorious for loving absolutely god-awful movies) pointed this out to me when the trailer surfaced, saying he thought it would just be so. great. I was, not surprisingly, unimpressed. Sure, I like Alison Lohman; she was fabulous in White Oleander (a book and movie I find severely underrated), and, well, what has she done since then? I have no idea, but I was excited to see her getting work, especially with a big name director like Sam Raimi (of Evil Dead and Spiderman fame). Back to the trailer. Whatever else I’m called, I’m really not a film snob; many of my favorites are a bit weighty on the pretension scale (see: Lars Von Trier’s films, David Lynch, The Hours, underground stuff like Birth, Margot at the Wedding, and foreign directorial empires like Hayao Miyazaki and Wong Kar-Wai), but I’m assuredly not above seeing complete and utter train wrecks. Especially with the horror genre, to which I am entirely and nerdishly devoted. I saw The Eye (with Jessica ‘Don’t Call Me Latina’ Alba) in theatres, for christ’s sakes. So when my friend said that Drag Me to Hell looked ‘great,’ my skeptically-arched brow rose, even though I knew my seeing it would be inevitable.
The sister paid for my ticket last night. She owes me, as usual, and none of her prissy/skanky Twilight-loving accomplices would see it with her—so she came to me. We have a history of sibling-bonding over horror films; last summer, we saw The Strangers in a deserted theatre, late at night, and spent the entirety of the film with our knees at our chins and our shrieks echoing through the soiled seats. (At the end of the film we discovered that there had been only one other person in the theatre with us—a shadowy man sitting in the very back row, directly behind us. Needless to say, that alone would have scared us shitless.) So we waded through the previews; Orphan looks like a really eerie The Bad Seed remake; Bruno will likely play right into the hands of the homophobic audiences of America; a couple of bang-bang-boom-boom action flicks look just the same as all the many, many others that are infesting the silver screen now—and have since the dawn of time and scrotal ignorance.
Then, the opening of Drag Me to Hell, replete with a scene as likely to come out of an INS cautionary video as a creature feature. Cue entrance of small, cursed Latino boy, worried, Spanish-spewing parents, foreboding gypsy (?) medium, bad music, and somewhat laughable special effects. Sister whispers in my ear: “Is this going to be really fucking dumb?” I glance over at her. “I don’t know.” And you know what? At several points it was pretty fucking dumb, in the most wonderfully campy of senses. At turns horrifying, gag-inducing, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and a bit puzzling, Drag Me to Hell has a little something for all horror-lovers. My sister said at the end of the film that she simply didn’t have an opinion; she didn’t know what to think of it. For me, the film evoked the same kind of schizophrenic experience as watching a zombie film often does. I think, for example, of the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead, where you spend half your time shrieking in terror, and the other half guffawing, as when the survivors blow out Zombie-Jay Leno’s brains, or when the pregnant woman propels a zombie infant from her rather unfortunate twat.
Here, however, we have a vomitous octogenarian Gypsy woman who inflicts the—DUN DUN DUH—curse of the Lamia on well-meaning, former porker, Alison Lohman. Until the Lamia arrives, however, Lohman is subjected to the old woman ralphing a bucketful of maggots on her face, the woman futilely attempting to gnaw on her with toothless gums, and a nosebleed of epic proportions. My sister claims to have not caught the humor; but when Lohman shrieks at her coworker to get his “Filthy pig knuckle off my desk!” or when the gross-out moments are so over-the-top as to have you giggling and holding back bile simultaneously, I don’t know what else to call it, but incredibly dark (and yucky!) humor. The premise is simple enough, and Lohman’s guilt is something any viewer can sympathize with; she makes one vaguely cruel decision in the effort to grab onto a promotion at work, and suddenly she’s got a demon throwing her across her own kitchen, and eyeballs exploding on her porcelain cheeks. Not to mention the fact that the films offers quite a bit of worthwhile character development—the boyfriend is a psychologist without much faith in Lohman’s fears (though he ends up tugging our heartstrings), the potential in-laws are sneeringly blue-blood, the aforementioned coworker is a sexist bovine who actually deserved the curse of the Lamia. In the end, we are inextricable from Lohman’s character, because we’ve all been in these situations with our coworkers or our family members and friends; and we’ve all got guilty consciences that may have us rolling between the sheets at night, praying that we never have a nasty run in with a half-blind gypsy freak.
The movie falls in line with the aesthetic of old-school horror, with the added benefit of a strong cast (which in itself is an achievement for the horror genre) and modern moviemaking techniques. It’s got the gore of a slasher flick, the camp of a zombie flick, and the psychological depth of a character piece. It’s not perfect; American horror movies really rarely are these days (the only ones in recent memory are The Ring, The Descent, and The Strangers)—but if you’ve got a sense of humor and a non-existent gag reflex, Drag Me to Hell will prove an enjoyable little feat of escapism.