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Review: 'Drag Me to Hell'

A good, old-fashioned terror tale with some dark humor

Posted: May 28, 2009 2:08 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2009 6:00 a.m.

Alison Lohman is shown in a scene from Universal Pictures' "Drag Me To Hell," which opens today.

 
The name alone, "Drag Me to Hell," tells you exactly what this is: an unabashed celebration of B-movie schlockery. But the dichotomies director Sam Raimi presents within that familiar genre are what make this such a kick.

Raimi returns to the kind of cheeky horror that made him a cult favorite with the low-budget "Evil Dead" trilogy, but he applies all the high-tech tricks he's acquired with the blockbuster "Spider-Man" franchise.

He and brother Ivan Raimi have written a rather old-fashioned terror tale, full of curses and creaks, bumps and shrieks, but they've added a heavy splattering of their trademark dark humor. (Some of the absurdly funny visual gags include creative uses for office supplies, a talking goat, a persistent fly and an unsuspecting kitty.) The physical comedy is cartoony, but in a clever, classic way, and it never detracts from the genuine suspense.

All these contradictions add up to one hell of a ride: You'll squirm, you'll scream, you'll laugh your butt off and beg for more.
Alison Lohman's character, the innocent Christine Brown, gets way more than she ever could have imagined. A bank loan officer competing for a promotion, she denies a creepy old woman an extension on her mortgage loan, thinking that's the right decision to impress her boss (David Paymer).

Turns out she turned down the wrong customer: Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) is a vengeful gypsy who feels so shamed, she places a powerful curse on Christine that torments her day and night. Shadows start following her and gusts of wind blow through her doors and windows, violently tossing her about the house. (Raimi gets a little repetitive with the shock moments and their accompanying blasts of noise; having said that, this is also where his newfound use of CGI comes in handy.)

But we could have figured out something was a bit off with Mrs. Ganush by the glass eye, rotting fingernails, jagged dentures and copious globs of phlegm she hocks up into her dainty handkerchief. She may look frail but she is fearsome; the Raimis have created one memorable villain.

Christine tries to extricate herself from this hex with the help of her skeptical but patient boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), as well as a psychic (Dileep Rao) who's in over his head. Rao gets some of the movie's best deadpan lines and he's just one example of the inspired supporting casting. Chelcie Ross and Molly Cheek are perfect as Clay's WASPy parents, who look down on Christine for her farm-girl upbringing, and Reggie Lee brings unexpected unctuousness to the role of Stu, Christine's chief rival for the assistant manager gig.

As in Raimi's underseen but suspenseful "A Simple Plan," "Drag Me to Hell" tracks what happens when an ordinary person finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance, and how one bad move leads to another and another. Lohman makes this crazy scenario almost relatable because she's just like you and me: She probably means well, but her ambition leads her down a dangerous path.
You'll be glad you got dragged along with her.

"Drag Me to Hell," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language. Running time: 99 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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