Saturday, 30 May 2009

Film Review: Sam Raimi's idea of Heaven...Drag Me To Hell

Licking his wounds from the sadly-deserved critical drubbing given to his bloated third Spider-Man movie in 2007, director Sam Raimi scuttled back to the horror genre which made his name (via the Evil Dead series), exhumed an old script he’d written with his brother Ivan and turned it into ‘Drag Me To Hell’, the slickest/sickest, grossest and funniest horror movie I’ve seen in ages. It’s packed with nasty stuff – projectile blood-spewing, fly-eating, embalming-fluid devouring, kitten-killing and all manner of general unpleasantness – and yet it’s bagged itself a 15 certificate in the UK. But this is because, despite the shrieks and he scares and the jumps, it’s actually a sort of good-natured horror film, tongue firmly in both cheeks, with none of the brutality and downright nastiness of your ‘Saw’s ad your ‘My Bloody Valentine’s. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ doesn’t take itself too seriously; it doesn’t really want to gross you out (although it manages it in places) it just wants to make you scream a bit, usually just after you’ve been laughing out loud.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohmann) is an ambitious loan arranger who seriously annoys a repellent and frankly disgusting old Hungarian gypsy Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) when she refuses to allow her more time to make her mortgage repayments. The old crone goes ballistic and puts a curse on Alison – a curse which involves her being tormented by a demon called Lamia for three nights. Unless Alison can somehow break the curse the Lamia will take her soul and literally drag her to Hell. Alison’s kindly boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) is sympathetic but sceptical and after a terrifyingly nail-biting encounter with the old biddy in a car park,Alison decides to visit a medium to help remove the curse. But nothing he suggests makes a difference; Alison is tormented in her own home, thrown about the place, attacked and brutalised. She eventually pays $10,000 to psychic Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) to try and banish the Lamia back to the otherworldly dimension it’s come from – but it takes more than a determined psychic to see off a Lamia.

‘Drag Me To Hell’ reminded me of one of better Hammer horror movies of the 1960s; even though it’s gruesome and graphic there’s an odd sort of purity in its horror, a horror that’s so extreme it can’t help but raise a smile – and the audience I saw it with (when they weren’t checking their mobile phones – more of which later) were in hysterics (but in a good way). It also reminded me of one of those old portmanteau movies with titles like ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’ which consisted of three of four short, sharp horror stories with stings in their tails. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ has of a sting in its tail too in an ending which you can sort of see coming but still shocks when it happens.
Sam Raimi is clearly having the time of his life with this one; he’s back in his element in the world of low-budget shlock horror and his direction, evoking much of his earlier work, is lively and dynamic. The movie works because it never does quite what you expect; you’re waiting to be shocked and he pulls back, only to spring something worse out at you moments later. The visuals are wonderfully imaginative and sometimes hilarious – who won’t laugh at the scene where one of San Dena’s assistants, possessed by the Lamia, spews out the kitten Alison has earlier killed in an attempt to appease the demon? Or the absolutely magnificently-ludicrous scene in Alison’s shed where she flattens a representation of the rampaging demon by releasing an anvil she has suspended on a rope from the rafters. As you do. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ works so well because it treads that fine line between humour and real horror; it knows it’s silly, it knows it’s nonsense but it seems to be winking at you all the way through even as does its best to get you leaping out of your seat and squealing like a girl.

I’m no huge fan of modern horror because much of it is just concerned with cruelty and unpleasantness and mutilation and gore which just gets a bit wearing after a while. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ redresses the balance a bit and puts the fun back into the genre. And it’s about time too.

On a personal note though, I saw the film in the company of the most appallingly-behaved and restless crowd I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit in the cinema with. Throughout the film the cinema was lit by the firefly glow of mobile phones being feverishly checked for messages, people jumping up and down and walking out of the auditorium jabbing feverishly at their phone keypads, the swaggering gang who came in ten minutes late, proceeded to shout incomprehensibly and for no apparent reason and then have a loud conversation with a gang of youths sprawled in one of the front rows. Now we all know that standards of public behaviour have plummeted in the last few years and most people now act like brain-dead Neanderthals with no interest in or concern for anyone else, but surely the whole point in going to a cinema is know...sit and watch a film? So take some advice from someone who loves going to the cinema but would really rather arrange private viewings....leave your bl**dy mobile phones at home (you can actually survive for more than five minutes without them), sit down, shut up and watch the film you’ve paid £6 to see. Thank you and good night!

Stuff coming soon: DVD reviews - Escape Into Night, Sky, The Rivals of Sherlock Dear Father (?)....Reality TV: Enough's enough...

No comments: