Drag Me to Hell

Film still for Drag Me to Hell

Sympathy for those working in the financial services industries may not be running high at the moment, yet even the most fervent anti-capitalist will feel pity for career girl Christine, faced with an eternity of infernal torment after being hexed by an aged, cod-eyed Hungarian gypsy to whom she has refused to grant a mortgage extension, and subjected to a series of terrifying visitations by a maleficent spirit assigned to drag her to the dark side at the designated hour.

Not that social criticism is high on the agenda in Spider-Man director Sam Raimi's much anticipated return to the brand of relentless rollercoaster scares with which he first exploded on to the scene with the micro-budget splatter classic The Evil Dead (1981). As he demonstrated in his debut, Raimi is fully attuned to his horror fanbase's tastes and familiarity with generic conventions, and plays cat-and-mouse games with their expectations accordingly. Drag Me to Hell's script, co-written with older brother Ivan, spells out its debt to Stephen King's Thinner (1996), which also features a vindictive gypsy, through references to its protagonist's corpulent past; an early manifestation of a shadowy gatecrasher accompanied by the spectacle of pots and pans dangling eerily in mid-air recalls Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982), while the developments of the last reel echo Nakata Hideo's Ring (1998).

Drag Me to Hell is certainly not without its contrivances, and its characters - Christine's staid yet dependable boyfriend Clay, her brown-nosing office rival Stu - are painted in broad brushstrokes. Fortunately, Raimi's delivery of the goods is quick and knowing enough for such concerns to take a back seat to the ride, with the plot primarily concerned with cuing up its volley of unnerving set pieces, including a bravura sequence in which Christine is menaced by the crone in an underground car park, and more discomfortingly grotesque images such as her bodily invasion by a buzzing fly. The laugh-out-loud outrageousness of some of these effects (a literally eye-popping CGI shot in which the evil is temporarily dispelled by an anvil conveniently suspended overhead owes as much to Tex Avery as to Evil Dead 2, while the vision of a goat spouting obscene oathsfollowing an abortive exorcism attempt proves no less effective for all its ludicrousness) is perfectly judged to leaven the tension before the next barrage of shocks is unleashed.

Raimi clearly has a lot of fun indulging his comic-book sensibilities with peripheral sight gags - such as the kitsch Athena-style poster of a kitten hanging from its claws bearing the slogan 'Baby hang on' spied in Christine's bedroom as she prepares to offer her pet as a blood sacrifice; or a briefly glimpsed photograph of the aspirational girl from the country in her less lissom days beneath a banner proclaiming 'Pork Fair Queen', helping to set up the embarrassed dinner-party scene where she is introduced to Clay's snooty parents. Fortunately these humorous touches never threaten to tip proceedings into the realms of pure silliness. Drag Me to Hell is exactly what it says on the tin, a back-to-basics, white-knuckle ride that will have fans of the Evil Dead series punching the air with delight. While few are going to accuseit of breaking new narrative ground, it proves one of the most satisfying horror films of recent years.

Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011