in Shocktober

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

A good PG-13 horror film is a rare and beautiful thing. Because of the way the genre has evolved, as perhaps the only type of movie that can find audiences despite budget, star power, or IP; I think it makes sense that the luminaries are drawn toward taking advantage of the most creative freedom they possibly can… and that means an R rating. But every once in a while, someone who really knows their shit takes a shot at playing within the boundaries that confine most bigger movies. Sam Raimi, hot off doing his Spider-Man trilogy, was extremely up for that challenge when he made Drag Me to Hell. He had worked his spooky quirks into the mainstream and succeeded and naturally the next step was to see if he could bring his new audience with him to something much further out of their comfort zone. So he went and found out exactly how gross a movie can be and still get a PG-13 rating. Bless him for it.

Christine (Alison Lohman) is a bank loan officer in Los Angeles who is anxious about the direction her life is going in. She’s about to meet her boyfriend Clay’s (Justin Long) parents, who are wealthy and surely won’t approve of her (she literally overhears his mom say this). She’s also up for a big promotion at work, but her slimy coworker Stu (Reggie Lee) is trying to steal her opportunity. Maybe if she can get that new job, everything will fall into place? Well, an opportunity presents itself when a… disheveled (that’s the nice way Wikipedia put it, at least)… old woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), comes to the bank to ask Christine for a third extension on her mortgage. Christine’s boss (David Paymer) tells her it’s her decision, but the bank stands to make a great deal of money by repossessing the house. Tired of being pushed over and hoping to get further in her boss’ good graces, Christine denies Ganush’s request.

The old woman is very upset, she gets on her knees and begs Christine for help. Instead, Christine calls for security. Ganush is shocked to be shamed in this way. That night, Ganush appears in the back of Christine’s car and attacks her. Christine manages to escape, but not before Ganush can rip a button off of Christine’s jacket, invoke a curse, and return the button to her. Unsettled by the experience, Christine convinces Clay to take her to a fortune teller (Dileep Rao), who tells her she’s been cursed to be tormented by the demon Lamia for three days, then dragged to hell for an eternity of suffering. So yeah, a bad deal. Clay scoffs at the whole situation but Christine quickly realizes she’s in a lot of a trouble as an escalating series of nightmarish things happen to her.

Drag Me to Hell largely exists on the line between comedy and horror because so much of the movie is about gross out gags. Ganush loses her fucked up dentures and gums Christine’s face multiple times. In fact, all sorts of substances and fluids go into and out of Christine. Bugs and eyes appear in food. I think enjoying the first two-thirds of the movie really does depend on how strong your stomach is. But it’s all worth it to get to the ending. For people who’ve seen it: once the séance starts I was absolutely all-in on this movie. What a load of fun and absolutely signature Raimi stuff. I had to rewind and watch the last few shots of the movie a few times because they were just so good. Seriously, this is a three-star movie with a five-star last act.

Cards on the table, I did request John let me review this movie and he allowed it because there definitely is some possession stuff in this movie (and it’s my favorite part and I bet his too). But this is mostly a curse movie, where the demon is harassing Christine more than possessing her or the people (and animals!) around her. If that bothers you, here’s my pitch: Christine is possessed by something even worse than Lamia when she makes her one terrible decision: the spirit of capitalism. Her soul was already damned when she decided she was the kind of person who could work at a bank. A banker! Outside of her job, Christine is happy and kind and generous. But at work she sucks up to terrible people and does evil just because it might possibly help her stupid career. Boo money!

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