After completing his Spider-Man trilogy in 2007, director Sam Raimi was one of the most sought out directors in Hollywood. But after Spider-Man 3 was riddled with production issues and studio interference, Raimi decided that his next feature would be a return to the genre that put him on the map. While horror was not a genre he had tackled since 1992’s Army of Darkness, Raimi always had a comeback in mind as the original story for Drag Me to Hell was written ten years before the film ever went into production. When Drag Me to Hell debuted in theaters in 2009, Raimi’s return to horror was welcomed with open arms.
Drag Me to Hell follows Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) who is a loans officer at a bank where she is trying to impress her boss (David Paymer) in order to secure an assistant manager position. Christine – who is a bit of a pushover – denies a time extension loan to an old woman named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) in order for her boss to see her in a new light. This infuriates Mrs. Ganush claiming she has been “shamed” and unfortunately for Christine, Mrs. Gaunsh is not one to ask for her manager. Instead, she retaliates by attacking Christine in the parking lot and places a curse on her. In the following days, Christine is subjected to many disturbing, bloody, and embarrassing occurrences that shock and bewilder those around her. While her successful boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) – who Christine continues to fail to impress his wealthy parents – is not exactly on board with believing in the curse, Christine seeks the help of two psychics in order to get rid of her unholy nuisance.
As one of the most fun horror films the 2000s had to offer, Drag Me to Hell is an unapologetic callback to Raimi’s playful and gross origins. When the MPAA only gave Drag Me to Hell a PG-13 rating before its release, it came as a bit of a shock to many hardcore Raimi fans. While horror die-hards are generally skeptic of the rating, there is no lack of over-the-top gory goodness. But that is what makes Raimi stand apart from the rest as many directors of the genre use gore as a way to scare and disturb. Raimi, on the other hand, serves each super-size order of squeamish sequences with a large belly laugh.
Besides Raimi’s retro approach to the film, much of Drag Me to Hell’s success rest on the hands of its leading lady. Christine – who is played by brilliantly by Lohman – goes through a character transformation that needs to be seen. Lohman’s gentle expressions in the early stages of the film showcase Christine’s self-doubt, and experiencing the grueling effects of an ancient curse turns Christine into a bona fide scream queen. A great example of Christine’s transformation is during a climactic showdown in a graveyard where she faces her curse head-on.
It is public knowledge that Raimi was frustrated with the studio interfering with the story of Spider-Man 3 which resulted in a lifeless final product. Drag Me to Hell feels the opposite of that. This is a film – while filled with all sorts of grossness – that is full of joy. It never feels like there were any rules during production and that creative control was given to director whose past accomplishments should entail that he is completely competent in his decision making. During a time where the landscape of horror was completely different from when he directed his Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi brought something retro yet fresh back into the genre.