A foreclosure unleashes horrors - and laughs

Alison Lohman plays a bank loan officer whose refusal of an old woman's plea to keep her house brings down a curse.
Alison Lohman plays a bank loan officer whose refusal of an old woman's plea to keep her house brings down a curse.
Posted: May 29, 2009

Finally, a horror movie about the mortgage crisis!

In Drag Me to Hell - Sam Raimi's return to scarific fare after slumming in the Spider-Man franchise - a loan officer is put through the wringer when she denies an old woman's plea to keep her house. Foreclosure is imminent.

Sadly for perky banker Christine Brown (a game Alison Lohman), a powerful curse is imminent, too. Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), the unpleasant hag getting her eviction papers, may not have money to pay her bills, but she knows how to deliver payback. Demons and dementia are in store for Ms. Brown.

And a Raimi-esque mix of gross-out madness and sick laughs is in store as well. Drag Me to Hell, which the Evil Dead horrormeister cowrote with his doctor brother, Ivan Raimi, is a tongue-in-cheek terrorfest in which one person's greed (and ambition) is rewarded with, among other things, a slice of cake with an eyeball in it, a fly with a penchant for exploring facial cavities, and a mud-wrestling match with the undead.

Lohman, taking the lead in her first horror flick, has a Hitchcock-heroine placidity (and plasticity) about her. Christine's mounting despair and disbelief, as the consequences of the elderly Hungarian's curse begin to manifest themselves, are palpable. And whether you laugh or shudder when the vegetarian bank officer who volunteers at an animal shelter takes a kitchen knife and beckons her kitty, it remains a moment to remember.

Drag Me to Hell, with Justin Long as Christine's rich-kid boyfriend and David Paymer as her petty and unappealing boss, takes the familiar stalked-through-the-parking-garage scenario to new realms with a claw-and-smash match between Christine and Mrs. Ganush. And a meet-the-parents dinner, with the former farm-girl heroine facing her beau's patronizing mother and dad for the first time, turns into a nightmare of faux pas and free-flowing body fluids.

Raimi uses editing techniques that evoke Psycho, and gore and ick! effects remindful of George Romero and The Exorcist. (And, of course, vintage Raimi.) In his own American indie way the director brings to mind, too, the psychological horror of Roman Polanski's early, and eerie, Repulsion. (Raimi's roots are certainly in indie, even if his three Spidey titles are among the biggest grossers in Hollywood history.)

Drag Me to Hell is, in short, a lot of fun, even as it presents itself as a morality tale about avarice and moral hypocrisy. There's some business with a collectible coin and a coat button that perhaps shouldn't have been telegraphed so noisily. And there are sloppy, or just slow-to-get-going, scenes. But with the same twisted humor Raimi displayed in Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, his Drag Me to Hell is wickedly jolly and disturbingly frightening - often at the same time.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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