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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Were you as disappointed as I was to discover that Drag Me To Hell was not a spin-off from “RuPaul’s Drag Race?” Anybody who watched the Logo TV reality show knows that some of those drag queens on RuPaul’s show could scare the bejezuz out of anyone, so it is only natural to imagine them having a dance contest called “Drag Me To Hell”, featuring transvestites doing their best to outshine one another on the runway as models and dancers, with RuPaul imperiously banishing one lowly drag queen straight to hell at the end of each episode. They could even feature Richard Simmons dressed up as Satan to make an entrance at the end of the episode and instead of the old trick of using a hook to yank someone off the stage he could simply jump up there and herd the loser away with his devilish pitchfork. Listen, if Sam Raimi had seen “RuPaul’s Drag Race” before he wrote the script for Drag Me To Hell this is exactly how it would have turned out. I can feel it in my bones.

In actuality,
Drag Me To Hell is a horror movie with that old-time feeling so many of today’s fright fests lack. Director Sam Raimi, who has earned a lot of Hollywood street cred as director of all three Spiderman movies, returns to his roots with this one, only with a lot bigger budget than he ever had with his earlier horror hits, which included The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness. With Drag Me To Hell, Raimi and brother Ivan (who co-wrote the script along with Sam) are not afraid to go to the obvious places that produce lots of scares and a few laughs but there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done well. For instance, what is worse than an allegedly empty parking garage very late at night when you are nervous and your car is ever so far from the elevator doors? That’s just one of the scenarios leading lady Alison Lohman (Beowulf) faces as loan officer Christine Brown after she has already experienced the worse day of her life. It begins normally enough, with her coming in to work and brown-nosing her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer; Redbelt), since she is competing for the open Assistant Manager position at the bank where she works. Suck-up Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee; Tropic Thunder) is her only real challenger, and he has his head so far up Jacks’ ass it means she has to do something remarkable to prove herself to the boss. It’s just too bad she chooses to turn down an extension on the mortgage of a Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver; Rebecca Kaplan of tv’s “The Young and Restless”) to make her point. It’s never a good idea to refuse any snaggle-toothed, one-eyed gypsy woman, especially if it means the old gal’s going to be left homeless AND she is already dressed in rags AND ahe has a Romanian accent AND it is especially a bad idea if you just happen to be living in a horror movie.

Poor Christine. In no time at all she finds she’s got the curse. No, not that every-twenty-eight-days kind of curse. This is a really big time curse: a Gypsy curse that will Drag her in a convoluted and slow way not so Straight To Hell. In other words, she’s got to either grovel for forgiveness from Mrs. Ganush or find a “cure” some other way in the few days she has before the promised “big event.” So when things go south at the Ganush residence (you’ll have to see the movie to enjoy what happens there), she drags along her skeptical and less than supportive boyfriend Clay (Justin Long; He's Just Not That Into You, but more likely you know him as “the Mac Guy” in those dozens of Mac vs. PC ads that air incessantly on tv) as they scour the world of the supernatural for a way to save her.

Christine latches onto psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao; Avatar), who knows what or who the demon is that is coming after her, but he’s not going to be able to do anything until Raimi gets tired of having scary things jump out of the dark or having gross stuff ooze, drip or spill onto Christine when she least expects it.

When the big finale eventually comes Rham Jas pulls a surprise out of his you-know-where and suddenly brings Judge Sonia Sotomayor on the scene to perform an exorcism and an animal sacrifice during a séance. Okay, it’s not really Sotomayor, just a look-and-sound-alike; she’s Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza; Rage), this crazy lady who hasn’t left her home for thirty years or so, since the demon last appeared and swallowed up some kid in the foyer. Granted, she’s got some fine house. It makes Buckingham Palace look tacky by comparison (well, except for her collection of oil paintings of clowns on black velvet).

I adore horror movie séances. It’s like “Eeanie, meanie, jelly beanie. The spirits are about to speak!” Need I say much happens and little of it is pretty during the big blow-out rock-their-world confrontation with Lamia, the Demon (voiced by Art Kimbro; Osmosis Jones). I can’t really comment too much on the last fifteen minutes or so of the film without giving away the ending, but I will give Raimi credit for making the only movie out of the literally thousands I have seen that includes a full-frontal scene featuring someone vomiting up a full-sized cat. Now that is an achievement.

Drag Me To Hell is a devilish delight for connoisseurs of horror. It is old-fashioned fun chock full of visions straight out of hell ~ there’s a corpse pouring its embalming fluid into the mouth of a very alive and horrified victim, another scene with the same stiff popping its gooey eyeballs into the same poor soul’s open, screaming mouth, and a third with this same vibrant cadaver spilling its chest full of maggots into… well, you know. By this time you’d think everybody would be walking around with their mouths duct-taped shut just to be safe, but nooooooooo! Perhaps it’s these absurdities that bring just enough laughs to balance Drag Me To Hell’s otherwise ghastly story to make it such a gem. Raimi is genius enough to know that exact moment when too much blood or vomit or gore crosses the line from shocking to sick to disgusting and then to funny and finally ridiculous. He keeps the movie on a tightrope somewhere between shocking and funny but he never quite falls over the line either direction.

Although I still think
Drag Me To Hell would have been better served with RuPaul in the lead, I can put that aside and say with confidence that it is still what my grandmother would call a “panty changer” as in it will scare the crap out of you and then you’ll need to change yours. I can’t think of a higher endorsement for a horror movie than that.

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