Sam Raimi’s come a long way from that blood-spattered cabin in the woods where he placed his stamp on the comedy-horror genre. His first trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army Of Darkness) gave him a cult following but the films that followed (The Quick & The Dead, A Simple Plan) brought enough credibility to helm his second, the far more lucrative Spider-man franchise. It is here, from the other side of $2,500,000,000 world box office that he returns to disturb and entertain a generation not yet born when he threw his first bucket of blood over Bruce Campbell’s painfully contorted face.
Notably Campbell is absent from this outing so we have spunky heroine Christine (Alison Lohman), a loans officer with a severe confidence issue but a heart of gold. Said heart belongs to Clay (Justin Long) who spends most of the film trying to rationalize the increasingly odd behaviour of his fiancé and offer healthy cynicism to proceedings. Before all this we’re treated to an entirely Spanish language prologue wherein a young mystic woman/housemaid attempts to save a boy brought to her employers’ mansion by concerned parents. Their concern is sadly legitimate and she can only scream as he is ‘dragged to hell’, swearing revenge on the spirits responsible. The title card smash cuts onto the screen and we’re in.
Thirty years on and our girl has problems stemming from a terrifying old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) who needs a third extension on a loan to keep her house. Christine’s boss (David Paymer) wants to see her show some backbone or that dream promotion will go to the gloriously slimy Stu (Reggie Lee) so she denies her the extension. She gets a hefty curse for her trouble and finds her house haunted, her dreams disturbed and is even personally attacked in a couple of particularly morbid encounters. All of this occurs without any real danger; in fact the greatest threat is to Christine’s relationships with Clay, his parents and her work colleagues. This is still a Raimi film so she does get covered in generous amounts of goo, bile, mud and even embalming fluid.
So Christine fears for sanity, desperately justifies her actions to her nearest and dearest and even learns a valuable lesson about assertiveness. She’s forced to see that everything she fears from demons to social faux pas’ to workplace rivalries is manageable with the right attitude. Still, according to the gypsies logic, a deal has been broken and payment must be tendered. The film runs towards the climax as the demon quasher from the prologue sees an opportunity to make good on her promise of retribution. The scene where she summons forth the spirit is probably the most intense that Raimi has ever shot and the film is worth watching in surround sound if you have the chance as a result.
Lohman works well enough as a lead whose main function is to suffer the sadistic tendencies of the director but Justin Long brings grounding to what could have become rather too silly for its own good. He does so with a fair few laughs to boot which is no mean feat. Having studio pressure to cast the face of a franchise instead of actors scuppered more than a few Spider-Man moments and it’s a relief to see real thought put into filling the roles here. Long is the only one to really shine but everyone else puts in sterling work.
So fifteen years away have not dulled the blade with splatter-gore and severed limbs replaced by realistic filth and psychological scarring. The Evil Dead was a welcome puncturing of horror at the time due to its gleeful abandon and nods to the schlocky style of Hammer and Amicus. Today’s horror is dominated by Saw and a number of pale imitators with only a few gems stuck well away from the average moviegoer. Drag Me To Hell brings genuine shocks back to the Multiplex’s without resorting to Saw’s torture porn tactics. It’s cruel, disgusting, and painfully funny, on this form Evil Dead IV should be a blast!