Drag Me to Hell

  Drag Me to Hell
  Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Ruth Livier, Lorna Raver

  3.5 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

What the hell? A funny horror movie? "Drag Me to Hell" is an inventive, entertaining horror flick pulled from the twisted imagination of Sam Riami. Raimi gave us the very visceral "Evil Dead" series and "Army of Darkness," a hilarious howler in which hardware store hero Bruce Campbell gets teleported back to the 14th century and winds up battling skeletons with a chain saw attached to his arm. "Darkness" was rife with blood and guts, but was balanced by witty one-liners and gut-busting visuals. (Campbell's Three Stooges inspired eye-poking scene with a bunch of skeletal appendages will tickle your funny bone.)

Riami's latest, "Drag Me to Hell" isn't your typical slasher, mangled mutant or poltergeist blood bath. Riami deftly employs tension, surprise and slapstick to create some must see madness.
Christine Brown's future looks heavenly - she's up for a promotion at the bank and has an ideal relationship with her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (pretty All American boy Justin Long). It all goes to hell in one afternoon. Her chief competition for the assistant manager job, sleazy, posterior-kissing Stu Rubin (weasely Reggie Lee), is making progress buttering up their bottom line boss, Mr. Jacks (uptight David Paymer). Mr. Jacks tells Chris (squeaky clean Alison Lohman) she might have a better chance at getting the job if she can show him she can make the tough decisions. In walks Mrs. Ganush (a rave perf by Lorna Raver), an old, sickly gypsy with a milky blind eye and rotting finger nails (which figure heavily in helping to establish tension in the plot). Mrs. Ganush asks Chris for a third extension on her mortgage. Seizing the moment, Chris turns Mrs. Ganush down. Mrs. Ganush prostrates herself in front of Chris, begging her to reconsider. Surprised and befuddled by Mrs. Ganush clawing at her, Chris panics. Mrs. Ganush takes Chris' reaction as an insult. As the security guards haul her away, she screams she'll get her revenge against Chris for shaming her in public.

After work, Chris notices Mrs. Ganush's beat up Chevy in the parking lot and hears the old woman's phlegmy death rattle. When Chris gets in her car, she's attacked by Mrs. Ganush, who tries to sink her stained dentures in her face. During their struggle, Mrs. Ganush tears a button from Chris' jacket, using it to put a curse on her. Soon after, things really begin to go to hell for Chris. An unseen demon tosses her around her apartment, and she dreams that Mrs. Ganush attacks her in bed. Seeking relief and forgiveness, Chris goes to Mrs.Ganush's soon to be foreclosed home, and literally stumbles into the midst of the old woman's wake, knocking her body out of its coffin. (A sure bet she'll have trouble getting that forgiveness she's seeking!)
Chris seeks out the help of Ram Jas (Dileep Rao), a pseudo-celebrity psychic who tells her that Mrs. Ganush has sent a hellhound (well hell goat, actually) after her called a Lamia that will drag her to Hell in three days unless she can break the corpse's curse. Chris tries to placate the Lamia with a sacrifice (here, kitty kitty). Desperate, she submits to a séance, hoping that a medium who battled the Lamia forty years before (and lost, by the way) can trap the Lamia in a live goat and destroy it by killing the unsuspecting animal. (Baaad move.) The calling up of the Lamia is the film's special effects du jour - there's plenty of flying furniture, possessed participants, and a talking goat that curses like Andrew Dice Clay with his junk caught in a vise. The séance only momentarily chases away the Lamia - Ram Jas informs Chris she has to pass the cursed item, the button, on to someone she's willing to send to hell for eternity. It's time for Chris to pick out a victim before the Lamia can play button, button, who's got the button...

Alison Lohman (Christine Brown) is a dead ringer for Jennifer Jason Leigh, another blonde-tressed actress frequently in distress. She's got the corn fed Midwestern innocence act down pat and did her own stunts, getting tossed around a room like a human rag doll, having a prosthesis jammed down her gullet, gagging up a mouthful of maggots and nearly drowning in manufactured mud. Lorna Raver (Mrs. Ganush) will scare the hell out of you, especially the way she pops up at unexpected and inopportune times to try sink her ill-fitting fangs into Chris' neck. The veteran actress really dove into her role, studying Hungarian curses and telling Lohman that it was okay to belt her for the sake of realism in their fight scenes. In Mrs. Ganush, Raver has fashioned a boogey woman as frightening as Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West. 

Aside from being Drew Scarymore's boyfriend (in heaven's name, why?), Justin Long is the slacker in the Apple computer commercials. As far as I'm concerned, his claim to fame was as Darry Jenner, the male half of the brother/sister duo chased through the flatlands by an indomitable demon in 2001's very original scare fest "Jeepers Creepers."(4 out of 5 stars). He's window dressing here, called upon to play the doubting, devoted boyfriend, but the shattered look on his face in the last scene is worth whatever private hell he may have endured. Dileep Rao (Rham Jas) exhibits cool psychic chic, never succumbing to the gibberish spouting stereotypical image of a movieland Indian mystic.

"Hell" never drags and the special effects are hellacious. The funeral scene is a prime example of the film's dark humor. I recall carrying my cousin's casket as a pallbearer, realizing all the tall guys were on one side of the coffin and watching his body roll out onto the floor. When we revived his mother, she didn't find the incident anywhere near as funny as you'll find Chris' spillage of Mrs. Ganush. Other special special effects include a gut-check gross-out grave ransacking, Chris' head butt encounter with the Lamia; a nose bleed that springs forth like Old Faithful; Chris and Clay's disastrous dessert get together with his parents; and the fast-paced final scene, which will be a surprise for your eyes.

A Helluva Lotta Extras

When "Hell" is over, drag yourself back to the screen for the dozen of so mini-features about the making of the film. They're as much fun to watch as the finished product. Introduced by Justin Long (hey, they had to give him something to do), "The Production Video Diaries" include "Bloody Nose," which shows the trickery involved in creating a gushing nose bleed; "The Parking Lot Fight," which blocks out the fisticuffs and hair pulling match between Chris and Mrs. Ganush, and "The Nightmare," which reveals how the geriatric gypsy was able to spill bucket loads of maggots into Chris' mouth.

Among my fives were "Inside the Psychic World," an interview with Dileep Rao where he shows off how thorough he was in researching his character's background and the crew showcases their meticulous attention to detail in decorating Rham Das' back room parlor. Lorna Raver's interview reveals her to be - as you might suspect - a kindly grandma who also immersed herself in her part: "I was shocked, a little surprised (at the role) and then I thought, 'Let's go'!"

My favorite of the mini-documentaries is - you guessed it - "The Goat," in which the secrets of the invective-flinging farm animal are revealed.

You can't go wrong with a talking goat. Drag me to hell...Please.  

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