Before I watched this film I was firmly convinced that horror had two paths left open to it: the rapidly improving 3-D gimmickery of movies like MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D or the carefully constructed psychological intensity of Asian horrors (and their many remakes like THE UNINVITED, MIRRORS and so on). But is seems there is a third way, closer to the first than the second, but nonetheless very very welcome. And that is sheer unbridled joy in the art of ‘the scare’ combined with the much-missed supernatural monster to drive the whole forward.
The set-up is a simple one, Christine Brown is a loan manager. She’s an ordinary girl (except for the obligatory good looks of every horror leading lady) in a happy relationship with a young college professor. In the hunt for a promotion she makes the decision to repossess the house of a creepy looking old lady. Despite being the norm in these sad economic times, this elderly lady refuses to see the bigger economic picture and places a curse on Christine. In 3 days the Lamia will come and drag her to hell.
Of course the Lamia is one impatient goat demon, and can’t wait that long. So we have plenty of time to see the mythology built up through a series of outstanding plays on the horror genre, combined with outrageous scares and a mind-blowing soundscape. The combination is electric.
In many horrors we’re given the standard build-up to a scare. Actor heads off somewhere quiet, there’s a complete sound vacuum, then a slight creepy (usually deep) noise permeating the screen then BAM: a shape flickers past and the strings are set a-screeching. Raimi knows this as well as we do, but rather than fight the urge he charges at it full pelt. Every shrieking scare is run into at full pelt, causing me and several folks nearby to jump out of our seats on numerous occasions. The best thing, though, is that rather than leave it at that he follows up the adrenaline with either an uproariously funny scene (torrential nosebleeds, eye-filled cake, reanimated corpses) or something sufficiently spine-tingling to have you cringing back into your seat (demonic possessions, violent witches and more).
The central demon, though you don’t see much of him, is also a superb creation. Seeming to be loosely based on a child-stealing demon of the same name, Raimi’s Lamia has become a devilish goat-man from hell whose gleeful undertaking of the task at hand harks back to 80s creations like Freddie Kruger. When we meet the Lamia at a seance I almost got nostalgic for a moment, but then I got scared, and then I laughed, and then I was engrossed for another 30 minutes before leaving the cinema with a smile on my face.
The bottom line is that Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL is the sweet release of a man trapped for two long. Given this kind of creative freedom, he has made a horror film that has all the adrenaline-fuelled fun of the 80s without the need for gimmickery… except for all the CGI. But I for one will let him off. When a film makes me smile this much (you can’t see, but it’s a big smile), for this long (about a week) you know it’s a great one.