Drag me to hell


Sam Raimi’s financial services horror is an energetic return to his roots, writes MICHAEL DWYER

WHEN I FIRST covered Cannes in 1982, the first director I met was Sam Raimi. Raimi, who was experimenting with Super 8 before his teens, was 21 at the time and quite shy until he started talking with infectious enthusiasm about his debut movie, The Evil Dead.

That enterprising, low-budget horror picture was one of hundreds vying for attention in the crowded festival market. It was one of the few showing there that year (another was Neil Jordan’s first feature, Angel)that caught the attention of critics and distributors.

Raimi returned to Cannes last week as one of the world’s most successful film-makers, a reputation built on his hugely profitable Spider-Mantrilogy. Having shown The Evil Deadin dingy little market cinemas at Cannes, Raimi was back to introduce Drag Me to Hell,a midnight presentation on the festival’s biggest screen before an audience of 2,300.

Drag Me to Hell brings Raimi back to his horror movie roots. While it was made for substantially less than a Spider-Manadventure, it gave him complete creative control over a production for the first time since The Evil Dead. He clearly revels in the freedom to get back to the basics of the horror genre, which has been debased so often by tacky parody and gory torture.

Alison Lohman plays Christine, an ambitious young loans officer at a Los Angeles bank. She looks longingly at the empty desk of the bank’s assistant manager, a post she is in contention to fill. When her manager (David Paymer) reminds her that that the job entails making tough decisions, Christine is intent on demonstrating just that when her next customer arrives.

She happens to be an unkempt, elderly widow, Mrs Ganush (the excellent Lorna Raver), whose home is threatened with foreclosure. Christine goes against her own good nature and turns down Mrs Ganush’s request for a loan extension, even when the woman falls to her knees and begs her. Despite her age, Mrs Ganush goes mano a mano with Christine in the car park that night, and then places the curse of the Lamia on her.

Christine sees a seer who explains that this evil spirit will haunt and torment her for three days before claiming her soul and dragging her down to hell. Her boyfriend (Justin Long), being a psychology professor, is too rational to swallow such mumbo-jumbo, but Christine doesn’t share his scepticism.

She gets proved right over the eventful next few days, as things go bump in the night and she suffers an effusive nosebleed and spots an eye-rolling ingredient in a cake. That’s before matters get really nasty and ghastly and she has to find an inner toughness to deal with moral conundrums that ensue.

The plotting is not entirely consistent, although the screenplay (written by Raimi and his brother Ivan, a practising AE doctor) succinctly gives Christine an interesting backstory. Christopher Young’s bombastic score accompanies the deliriously over- the-top set-pieces, orchestrated with spirited flair and relish by Raimi, who injects them with dark tongue-in-cheek humour.

Although shot early last year before the recession bit, Drag Me to Helltells a cautionary tale for our times. It’s certainly not recommended to bank officials seeking a fun night out.