They say, well the non-biblical they, that the geeks shall inherit the earth – but it’s clear that the horror film directors among their number are already making serious headway. After making their name with their fanboy-chic low-budget horrors, former blood and guts junkies like Peter Jackson and Guilermo del Toro have gone on to dominate the mainstream, giving Hollywood a fresh shot of flair and imagination with the likes of the Hellboy and Lord of the Rings franchises.

Chief among their ranks must surely be Sam Raimi, who, after rising from the underground to give the establishment a near-coronary with the Evil Dead, achieved universal acclaim with his Spider-Man reboot. Drag Me To Hell finds Raimi returning to those grisly roots in full-on, yet utterly accessible style.

Fiendishly simple, yet devastatingly potent, Drag Me To Hell offers a welcome return to the creepier old school of shocks, away from the brutality of modern horror, yet without reducing the shock value. Meek loans officer Christine Brown is keen to prove to her boss that she has the tough streak needed to win the promotion to assistant manager, so she decides against cutting an elderly lady some slack on her mortgage payments.

Being of east European gypsy stock, the proud woman takes umbrage and busts out an ancient curse on her, and soon Christine’s job prospects become the least of her problems. After kicking off with a bout of impressively nasty geriatric catfight action with the gypsy in the confines of her car, Christine finds herself being relentlessly pursued by both the crone and a malevolent spirit who make her life a living hell, from rearranging her furniture and facial features with extreme prejudice and ruining dinner parties to introducing swarms of maggots and flies into her daily diet.

A bit put out by this, Christine goes with boyfriend Clay to see a medium, who has the tricky job of telling her she has 3 days to lift the curse before the spirit claims her soul and gives her a one-way ticket to the one hot place they’ve yet to make a strong enough sun-factor lotion for. Events take a frantic turn as she attempts to prevent her fire and brimstone destiny, as she is forced to compromise her placid nature in the hope of redemption.

Drag Me To Hell is a fun-packed shocker with a strong eye for striking visuals, all merrily soaked in director Raimi’s trademark sick tastes – bodily fluids are exchanged in the worst way imaginable, fists find homes where they rarely belong and stationery is put to bizarre and painful uses.

But curiously, it plays out like a strange cross between two of Raimi’s biggest successes – fusing the teeny melodrama of Spider-Man with the gross-out stunts of the Evil Dead films. The two play-off against each other with great glee; despite the demonic aggravation, Christine still has to try to win over Clay’s snooty parents and deal with a back-stabbing work colleague.

It’s this juxtaposition between the mundane and the outlandish that gives the film its drive. Christine and Clay are irritatingly bland, while she couldn’t be any less of a horror movie heroine, as Raimi pushes the idea of a what a normal person would do in that situation, rather than following the well-worn Hollywood path of heroic dynamism.

But mostly it’s Raimi’s abyss-dark humour that carries the picture. Twisted, playful and more than a touch reminiscent of Tex Avery cartoons, the viewer is repeatedly given a treat as Raimi works his magic to squeeze every ounce of intensity out of the stripped down set-up. 

Price when reviewed:

Raimi set himself a tough task by making a low-budget, mainstream horror without an 18 certificate and pulled it off in great style. The plot and characters, though kept to a minimum, work in service to the rollercoaster ride. Swapping brutality for good old-fashioned primal fear and imagination, Drag Me To Hell turns out as a striking, enjoyable, and at times startlingly visceral shocker.

Rating: 18

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver.

Directed by: Sami Raimi

Extras: Production notes featurette.

Sections TV