Friday, June 12, 2009

Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)

Expertly tied ponytails seem to be all the rage this year at the movies. From Anna Faris's blonde hair swing in Observe and Report to Zoe Saldana's dangling tour de follicle in the Star Trek reboot, the taming of one's mane with an everyday elastic band or high end scrunchy is a tell-tale sign that a character means business, and that she doesn't have time to brush hair from her eyes. Well, you can now add Alison Lohman's Christine Brown–the ambitious loan arranger in Sam Raimi's precisely titled Drag Me to Hell–to that list, because she happens to sport one of the greatest ponytails in recent movie history. The fact that she left a smallish amount of hair unshackled to careen down the side of her face shows that she has a truckload of self-assurance, as well as an innate desire to retain her femininity (women with overly tied ponytails can sometimes seem a tad tomboyish). In the other words, it was this combination of workplace practicality and small-scale stylishness that made Miss Lohman's multiple hair suspension so enthralling. Check out the way it hangs during Christine's confrontation with that slightly crazed old lady in the parking garage; I guarantee you will think you have died and gone straight to some strange, nonsensical place where horror films are judged solely on the symmetry of the protagonist's hairdo.

Even though this next cluster of mostly English words (I like to molest Welsh colloquialisms in my spare time) has nothing to do with the golden paradise that sits atop of Alison Lohman's finely shaped head, please bear in mind that the regular and irregular dangling of her hair will be in my thoughts and phony prayers.

Never has the modest ambitions of a nondescript bank employee seemed so terrifying. Yet, that's exactly what transpires in this creepy/goofy ode to Romani curses, suspect pet ownership, three-chandelier seances, and natural and unnatural bodily fluids – there are also odes to gaping mouths, Frank Henenlotter-esque dining etiquette, and costly fortune tellers, but I would like to limit the number of odes I sight to around four or five. Anyway, filled with enough bombastic jump scares to keep the bladder apprehensive members of the audience sufficiently damp with fear, the film may neglect the comedic chainsaw gore of Evil Dead II, but it more than makes up for it in terms of sound and fury. Seriously, the sheer quantity of ear destroying noise in this dead chapter had me pinned to the back of my overpriced seat. The manner in which sound was utilized while Christine tried to allude the dark forces in her home was expertly done.

After the audio, the use of liquid in the film was probably its second best technical attribute. I mean, for starters, the arterial quality of Christine's nose bleed as it hosed down her boss (David Paymer from Night of the Creeps) was glorious in terms of out-and-out blanketing. The same goes for the embalming fluid (a youngish woman behind me lost her shit during this scene), the grave water, the maggot-based vomit (actually, I'm not entirely sure what she heaved), and, of course, the mucus (I adore mucus). All these distinct types of moisture helped give Drag Me to Hell the tactile quality that most modern horror films seem to lack. Oh, sure, it relies too heavily on computer generated tomfoolery at times, but I thought the choice to keep menace mostly unseen was a wise one.

Pus covered harvest cake and creaky iron gates are all fine and dandy, but you need compelling characters to make an effective scare flick. And in a refreshing change from the norm, this loud endeavour has two women from vastly different backgrounds battling it out for netherworld supremacy, as supposed to a man tormenting women (or vice versa).

A young go-getter named Christine (Alison Lohman), a bank employee in charge of foreclosures, tells Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) that she can't give her a third extension on her mortgage. Distraught, the frail, one-eyed lady begs for the extension. Eager to prove that she can make the tough decisions (there's promotion in the air), Christine holds firm and basically tells the woman to get bent. Threats are hurled as the old woman is forcibly removed from the bank, but the real damage occurs in the parking garage later that evening when Mrs. Ganush puts a curse on Christine after a tense punch up. Employing the help her kindly boyfriend (Justin Long) and a palm reader (Dileep Rao), Christine tries her best to prevent herself from being dragged to hell.

(Oh, if only she had remembered that episode of Seinfeld where a folder containing information on risk management gets mixed up with a folder full of Ovaltine jokes.)

The wonderful Lorna Raver is excellent while in the bank, as she manages to create a sympathetic character despite her repulsive appearance. However, it's when Mrs. Ganush starts to go all demonic and junk that Miss Raver really comes into her own as the future icon of on-screen derangement that she is destined to become.

Not as plucky as she needed to be, but plucky enough to get herself out of trouble on several occasions, Alison Lohman is a winsome delight as the wide-eyed Christine, an agreeable loan officer who not only has to battle the forces of darkness, but also simultaneously stave off Stu (Reggie Lee), a co-worker who is vying for the same promotion. Boasting an inoffensive face that is perfect for screaming in a domestic setting, Alison gives a first-rate portrayal of a modern woman who desperately wants to put her rustic past behind her and make it big in the highfalutin world of banking. There are many instances where Alison shines while under extreme duress (the Romani wake, fly consumption, and nose bleed scenes spring immediately to mind), but the look of triumph on her face as the rain pores down from above (great camera angle) was classic horror heroine haughtiness.


  1. Thanks for the review. I'll view this when it gets released on dvd. I haven't been to the theater in ages because it's so expensive to go now.

  2. Sophie Ellis Bextor? Get out!

    My mom and sis saw this today. Mom's review: ca ca.

    d. wanted to see it, but he talked me into The Hangover instead. Uh, yeah, not my thing, but he liked it, and marriage is all about compromise!

    I'm afraid of Alison Lohman ever since I saw that wretched Atom Egoyan movie she was in. :)

    If you are a fan of the Welsh language, check this out:

    Useless trivia: David Paymer was originally cast in the Wayne Fiscus role on St. Elsewhere. He was replaced by Howie Mandel.

  3. I had wondered if this was any good or not. I might check it out when it hits DVD.

  4. I am hoping to get to this in the theatres.

    So, Mrs. Ganush? If she has grandkids, wouldn't that make her Baba Ganush? That whacky Sam Raimi!

  5. >>women with overly tied ponytails can sometimes seem a tad tomboyish

    You should add a corollary to this law: "UNLESS they are wearing leather corsets and thigh-high boots and brandishing a riding crop."

    Not that I'm in any way familiar with such things.

    I keep trying to get excited enough about this movie to go see it in the theaters, but haven't managed the muster yet. I will see it at home on DVD at the latest, but I'll feel guilty about not making my voice heard at the box office in support of the flick's director. I know he needs the vote of confidence after his last few flicks. ;)

  6. -METALHEAD-: Very expensive, indeed. I mean, nowadays I give the ticket selling person 20 bucks and get hardly any change back.

    Karim Amir: I like irregular eye makeup, robotic dancing, and disco. So, yeah, I'm out, baby.

    ca ca? I'll assume your mom is referring to Brazilian footballer Kaká, who isn't in Drag Me to Hell, but the film does have a distinct Kaká air about it at times.

    I've heard that compromise is important.

    The image of Alison Lohman screaming on the DMTH poster is what sold me on the movie. (Haven't seen Egoyan wretchedness.)

    Hee! That explains how the name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch came about.

    Yikes! Being replaced by Howie Mandel is a tad embarrassing.

    Keith: I hope your sound system can handle it; it's one loud flick.

    Darius Whiteplume: Baba ghanoush is also a Middle Eastern eggplant dish.

    By the way, cool Tumblr blog. (Woo hoo! Valerie Bertinelli and Milla Jovovich pics.)

    The Vicar of VHS: This may sound hard to believe, but I wasn't thinking about leather corsets and thigh-high boots when I made that statement. Stupidly, my mind was filled with images of women playing soccer and, for some reason, bruised avocados.

  7. Glad you like the Tumblr. Hope I steer some of the right people your way.

    I should have known how to spell ghanoush. I am a bi-vegetarian; I eat fish, which if I were jewish might still make me a vegetarian if in fact lox & cream cheese does not violate the meat & milk taboo. Unless they don't consider cream cheese milk... but that would be truly odd.

    Alas, I'll never be narrow minded if I don't stop examining the world around me.

  8. I liked Alison Lohman but, as for the movie itself, overall I'm one of the few people (it seems) who really just did not care for it at all. Great review though!

  9. The fact that I could not get her resemblance to a young Jessica Lange out of my mind's eye kept me entranced. I also love her slightly imperfect teeth.
    Overall, the film left me a bit flat, though I did laugh loudly on more than one occasion and felt right about doing so. This I feel is Raimi's strong point, successfully mixing horror with comedy (I still loathe ARMY OF DARKNESS) in the way that Hong Kong films from the '80s & '90s did. I can easily see how DRAG ME TO HELL could make an unaware youngster search out his back catalog.

    Loved the ending; so glad he didn't cop out. ;)

    Your almost fetishised attention to tiny details (ponytails) is one of the things I treasure in your writings. Details which rise to mythic proportions after they've milled through that mind of yours.

  10. I noticed yet another version of Army of Darkness while out browsing for DVDs earlier today; I think this one is called the "Screwhead Edition."

    Yeah, the film's title does not lie.

    Holy crap! Is that ever a lot of ponytail detail (I kinda forgot about this entry). Anyway, I'm glad you likey.