Drag Me to Hell (2009) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The episode of Revisited covering Drag Me to Hell was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Tyler Nichols, Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Director Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (watch it HERE) isn’t technically one of his Evil Dead movies. There’s no Bruce Campbell, no Necromicon. But it really feels like it’s set in the same world as the Evil Dead franchise. There’s demons, possession, over-the-top fight scenes, disgusting sight gags… and it’s all mixed with a strong dash of humor. Drag Me to Hell may not be as popular as its Evil Dead cousins. But it’s a great horror movie in its own right – and it’s time for it to be Revisited.

After directing three Spider-Man movies in a row, Sam Raimi needed to take a breather. Spider-Man 4 was in development… It wouldn’t end up being made, but a script was in progress at the time… And before he got to that sequel he wanted to do something different. He wanted to go back to his roots. His career had started in the horror genre – The Evil Dead was his feature debut, after all. And now it was time to return to horror. He and his brother Ivan had written a thirty page short story in 1989. It centered on a young woman named Stephanie Brown… although, by the time the story became a movie, she was renamed Christine. Christine has moved from a Midwestern farm town out to Los Angeles. And she’s aiming to reinvent herself. She has lost weight. She’s working on getting rid of her accent. She has a successful, wealthy boyfriend who works as a professor. She has a job at a bank, working as a loan officer. And she’s aiming to win a promotion to become assistant branch manager. Which would be a great boost to her personally, but would also really impress her boyfriend’s judgmental parents. She just has to prove that she’s capable of making tough decisions. Unfortunately for her, she picks the wrong person to get tough with. An elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush comes into the bank to ask her for a third extension on her mortgage. She has fallen on hard times. A sickness has taken her sight in one eye. She hasn’t been able to pay her mortgage because she’s dealing with medical bills. But Christine doesn’t take pity on her. She denies the extension request. Mrs. Ganush is going to lose her home. That night, the old woman attacks Christine in the parking garage. Their tussle ends with Mrs. Ganush tearing a button from Christine’s coat and putting a curse on it. The curse of the Lamia. For three days, Christine will be tormented by this demonic spirit – and then she will be dragged to Hell.

Sam and Ivan turned their short story into a screenplay in 2002. The same year the first Spider-Man was released. At that time, Sam didn’t intend to direct the film himself. He was going to produce it through his newly formed company Ghost House Pictures. And choose a different person to direct it. The problem was, if someone else directed it, it would have to be made on a lower budget. Studios would put more money into the project if the guy who made Spider-Man directed it himself. The Raimis tried to figure out how to cut down the script for a lower budget. But Sam realized he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to make Drag Me to Hell exactly as it was when they first wrote it. So, after Spider-Man 3 was released in 2007, he decided Drag Me to Hell would be his next movie.

Drag Me to Hell had a budget of thirty million. Not small, but far below the budgets of Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. And low enough that he would have complete creative freedom. There was no studio interference. No negotiating ideas with executives. Raimi even had final cut. And he found it very refreshing to be working on an original project with a lower budget. Comparing the experience of making Drag Me to Hell to working on his bigger movies, he told Cinema.com, “This was much more hands-on. No department heads to deal with – just the actors, and the technicians. And it’s much more rewarding, I think.”

Raimi assembled a strong cast for his new horror movie… but he did lose his lead on the way to production. Elliot Page, fresh off earning an Oscar nomination for starring in Juno, was initially cast as Stephanie in Drag Me to Hell. Then had to drop out due to scheduling issues. So Raimi made a call to Alison Lohman. Who had received a lot of attention and accolades for her roles in movies like White Oleander, Matchstick Men, and Big Fish. Raimi and Lohman had a four hour conversation about the project – and during this phone call, the director warned Lohman that he was going to put her through Hell. But she signed on anyway. And once they were on set, he proved to be true to his word.

Lohman was the one who suggested changing the character’s name from Stephanie to Christine. The name Christine just seemed more fitting to her. And Raimi went along with it. Her co-stars in the film include genre regular Justin Long as Christine’s boyfriend Clay. Lorna Raver as Mrs. Ganush. Dileep Rao as fortune teller Rham Jas. David Paymer as Christine’s boss, who is named in tribute to a friend of Raimi’s, producer James Jacks. Adriana Barraza plays medium Shaun San Dena. Flor de Maria Chahua plays that character in a flashback to 1969. Which is when she first encountered the Lamia. Kevin Foster plays her briefly possessed assistant. Reggie Lee is Christine’s co-worker Stu, her competition for the assistant manager job. Chelcie Ross and Molly Cheek show up as Clay’s parents. Raimi wanted to work in a cameo for his buddy Bruce Campbell… but Campbell had to miss out on this one because he was too busy working on the TV series Burn Notice.

Lohman had never seen Raimi’s horror movies before agreeing to star in Drag Me to Hell. But she quickly caught up on them – and had even watched Evil Dead 2 five times by the start of filming. She was especially drawn to that one because it seemed similar to the approach Raimi was taking to his new film. The tone, the blend of horror and comedy. And she knew she was essentially the Bruce Campbell of Drag Me to Hell. Although she felt she couldn’t even come close to Campbell, who she described as being “absolutely brilliant”. He knew very well how much joy Raimi gets out of tormenting his actors. And Lohman quickly found out. From the moment Christine rejects Mrs. Ganush’s request for an extension, the movie is all about putting her through the wringer. And that meant Lohman had to be put through it, too.

She told Fangoria magazine, “When I first started talking to Sam about this movie, he kept saying, ‘Are you up for this, do you think you can handle it?’ In the script, it seemed more digestible. I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t seem too bad.’ But after doing it, I see how Sam puts in new scenes, changes things around and makes it a little more difficult. So when I was being beat up in the car by Mrs. Ganush, we did that for seven days straight – sixteen hour days. It was very intense and exhausting, to be honest. If it weren’t for Sam, it would have probably been the worst experience of my life, but he made it fun and enjoyable, oddly enough. It was torturous, though. The worst for me was probably when I was drenched in mud and sopping wet for a good two weeks, every day. And we would often film in the morning, so not only was I drenched, I was exhausted. It probably worked for the character, though; she’s at the end of her rope.”

Christine is tossed around rooms. Flung through the air. She has a crazy physical confrontation with Mrs. Ganush. She gets caught in a flooding grave. She’s splattered with gore, slime, and vomit. There’s a scene where she gets a nosebleed, and in the script it was just a regular nosebleed. Drips of blood. On set, Raimi decided to make it a spray. He also decided they should film a moment where Christine gets a mouthful of maggots and worms. Which meant Lohman getting a mouthful of those things. Filming was so intense, the actress had a breakout of shingles. She definitely put everything she had into this production… and it paid off. Lohman carries this movie on her shoulders and does a great job playing Christine. As Raimi described her, she is a morally bankrupt character. She makes bad choices. She risks losing the audience completely when she tries to break the curse by sacrificing her kitten to the Lamia. When she finds out she could pass the curse to someone else, she goes to a diner. And considers giving the cursed button to random strangers. We may not like Christine as a person, but Lohman makes her fascinating to watch. And as bad as the character is, she might not deserve to be dragged straight to Hell.

Drag Me to Hell Revisited

Several of the trials Christine endures are reminiscent of something you’d see in an Evil Dead movie. Like when she locks herself in a room, but the demon can still grab her by sending its shadow under the door. Or when she’s attacked by a living handkerchief. That’s definitely something you can imagine Bruce Campbell having to deal with. Some of the action is so cartoony, it almost reaches Army of Darkness levels. For example, there’s the fact that Christine has an anvil hanging on a rope in her shed. And when the violent, angry image of Mrs. Ganush appears to her, she drops the anvil on her head. It’s straight out of Looney Tunes. The most Evil Dead scene in the movie is a séance. Christine, Rham Jas, San Dena, and her assistant gather together. They’re going to summon the spirit of the Lamia. It will possess San Dena, but then they’re going to pass it into the body of a goat. And then kill the goat to banish the Lamia. Of course, things don’t work out as planned. But it’s a treat for Evil Dead fans. When the Lamia enters human bodies, their voices and behavior become reminiscent of Deadites. And when it enters the goat, we get to see a talking animal call Christine a black-hearted whore. The Evil Dead franchise had been dormant for sixteen years by the time Raimi made Drag Me to Hell. So to see him working with material like this again in 2009 was a delight.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t make quite as much of an impact at the box office as it was expected to. It had a fifteen million dollar opening weekend and quickly gained the reputation of being a financial disappointment. When trying to figure out why Drag Me to Hell wasn’t more successful, some pointed at the rating. They assumed horror fans skipped it because it was rated PG-13. That they felt betrayed by Raimi, since the first two Evil Deads had been released unrated. And Army of Darkness only earned an R after being cut down from an NC-17. But the fact that Army of Darkness had ratings trouble is ridiculous. That movie feels like a PG-13 as it is. And while Drag Me to Hell feels like it takes place in the Evil Dead world, it’s a different kind of story. It didn’t need to be any darker or bloodier than it is. And really, it didn’t do that poorly at the box office. The worldwide numbers ended up passing ninety million by the end of its theatrical run. It wasn’t a massive hit, but it wasn’t a failure. Anyway, it was always designed to be a standalone story. So it’s not like we missed out on a sequel, regardless of how well it did or didn’t do.

The most important thing here is that Raimi had returned to horror. And he did so with a movie that is a whole lot of fun to watch. More than a decade after it reached theatres, it still holds up as a highly entertaining blend of horror and comedy. And is a great showcase for Alison Lohman. It’s a shame that this turned out to be one of her last roles… for now, at least. Lohman basically retired from acting when she got married later in 2009. Since Drag Me to Hell, she has only appeared in a few movies that were either directed or produced by her husband, Mark Neveldine. She has, understandably, been focused on her family… but here’s hoping we’ll see a Lohman comeback sometime down the line.

Someone else we need to see more work from is Sam Raimi. Months after Drag Me to Hell was released, Spider-Man 4 fell apart. And since the collapse of that project, we’ve only seen two more Raimi films: Oz the Great and Powerful and the Doctor Strange sequel. He has been busy as a producer. He revived the Evil Dead franchise. He gave us three seasons of Bruce Campbell fighting Deadites on the small screen. But the world needs more films that are as stylish and gleefully amusing as Raimi movies tend to be. Drag Me to Hell is all of those things. It’s a uniquely Sam Raimi bit of fun. Or as he himself described it, it’s a “spook-a-blast”!

Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/drag-me-to-hell-revisited/

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