“The only thing worse than someone vomiting in your mouth,” says make-up artist Greg Nicotero in one of Drag Me To Hell’s production diaries, “would be someone vomiting maggots and bugs into your mouth. I said that to Sam and he replied, ‘Oh, we have to do that...’”
For his post-Spidey return to stripped-back schlock, Raimi channels the splatter clatter of his Evil Dead beginnings, adding a jolt of Creepshow-style horror and a sprinkle of pre-Hammer spice.
Eager to act tough in a promotion battle with rival Stu (Reggie Lee, wonderfully slimy), loan clerk Christine (Alison Lohman) denies the last-ditch mortgage deferral of witchy customer Sylvia (Lorna Raver). After a stupendous set-piece catfight in the car park, Sylvia unleashes the beast.
Although Raimi ladles on the blood and chunder, the extras reveal a professorial level of depth and diligence. What kind of coffee cup would Dileep Rao’s demon expert drink from? Precisely which shade of beige would make the loan office extra bland?
This is a knockabout genre picture with the production values of a major release. The OCD-ish attention to detail is probably a side effect of Raimi wrestling himself away from big-studio control and doing things just the way he likes them again.
Drag Me To Hell is equal parts gore and guffaw, with an infectious fiendishness that recalls Evil Dead II at its squelchiest. Best bit: the grand guignol giggles of the disastrous séance scene, with a tense set-up hilariously shattered as Raimi dashes around like, uh, a man possessed, flipping all his favourite levers (floating monsterman, wayward sharp objects, roaring vortex gateway to some unspeakable purgatory). Some scenes seem constructed to max out the ick factor.
There’s a steady escalation from stringysaliva false teeth and bubbling, necrotic flesh right up to projectile nosebleeds and, yep, vomit-inmouth moments (once with maggots, once with embalming fluid). This relentless anarchy dwarfs the barely workable plot, but it does create the thrilling effect that no one – and nothing – is safe. Not dear old grannies, cute girls, furry kitties...
Raimi asks a lot of Lohman and, although clearly game for the gunge, she does feel a little lightweight, while Justin Long phones in his jaunty boyfriend role. But this is all about the director – cutting loose and having fun after the moody, studio-sanctioned stodge of Spider-Man 3.
In short, his heart’s back in it, as proven by a comment he made in the recent Twitter interview with totalfilm.com. Why the horror comeback now, we wondered? “I wrote a screenplay with my brother,” Raimi replied. “I found I cared about the characters...”
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