Well, Sam Raimi is at it again. It’s been close to twenty years since his last foray into “The Evil Dead Territory” with Army of Darkness, but one of the masters of the oddball horror film is at it again. Raimi last dabbled in the genre with The Gift (2000) but while a great film, it was played entirely straight and lacked the director’s signature mix of genuine chills mixed with broad sight gags. After a decade long vacation into blockbuster land to tank up on some mega-cash (Raimi directed the Spiderman trilogy) the man is back in action crafting a fun little spookshow as only he knows how.
Leading up to its release a lot has been made of Drag Me to Hell, both good and bad. First there was backlash when it was announced the film would carry a PG-13 rating (the bane of the horror community, it would seem). It also carried the stigma of its star dropping out early in production (the film was to originally star Hard Candy and Juno‘s Ellen Page). Once the film was screened at this year’s Sundance film fest that bad buzz did a complete 180 and the film was hailed by some early reviewers as a bon-a-fide horror classic.
What’s the truth? Is it a classic? Probably not. Is it a ton-of-fun throwback to Raimi’s early career? Yes.
A synopsis would be counter-productive, all you need to know is this: Evil Gypsy. Can I get an Amen? Raimi is no hack. He blends innovative, “highbrow” camera work with decidedly lowbrow material to form something pleasantly different.
The film’s comedic high jinks show that Raimi will always be a much greater admirer of Moe, Larry, and Curly than Freddy, Michael and Jason. This alone should be enough to make Evil Dead fans giddy, but it will probably come as news to the general public this weekend when they attend the film expecting a “scary” movie. The film’s marketing has downplayed the film’s lighter tone to the point of full-out false advertising.
For me, this disingenuous marketing on Universal’s part is awesome. I can just imagine the teeny-boppers surprise when they sit down and are lulled in by the film’s fairly serious first 15 minutes and are then sucker-punched by gross-out gag after gag. For example, there is one particular scene toward the end that gained riotous laughter from me, as a teen girl behind me said “Oh you gotta be kidding me, that was stupid.” Instead of turning around and telling her it was supposed to be, I just enjoyed Raimi’s wink to his audience and let the pot call the kettle black.
The problem with the film is one of length and pacing. If the film had maybe spent 10 minutes less on developing character’s that Raimi himself obviously has no love for, the film would run along at a nice brisk clip. As is, the film is “clumpy”– missing opportunities for escalated absurdity while lingering on its protagonist’s pouting (for those who have seen the film: I find this especially true in the “meet the parents” scene, which could have been priceless).
This is a minor qualm because by the time the film arrives at its inevitable (but still nicely reminiscent of EC comics) conclusion, the audience has shared more laughs and shocks than any PG-13 horror film has ever provided.