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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


How do I accurately describe Drag Me to Hell? Let's put it this way: if The Exorcist were re-imagined by Bugs Bunny, this is what you'd get. The film is a return of sorts for director Sam Raimi. Early in his career, Raimi made the Evil Dead trilogy, which was beloved by many, myself included. In fact, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is, in my mind, one of the best horror pictures ever. After being lured more into the mainstream as director of the Spider-Man movies, Raimi now returns to the genre that initially brought him so much acclaim. What he gives us is nothing less than the most insane, ridiculous horror film I've seen in years - and I mean that in a complimentary sense.

Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a young bank loan officer. She has a nice boyfriend named Clay (Justin Long), who stands up for her when his snooty parents try to put her down. She is also competing for a much-desired promotion at the bank, but her manipulative supervisor, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), is dangling it more deliberately in front of her rival, an ass-kisser extraordinaire named Stu (Reggie Lee). One afternoon, an elderly gypsy woman comes in and sits down at Christine's desk. She is Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), and she is requesting an extension on her loan, lest the bank foreclose on her house. Christine could technically approve the extension, but in her desire to show Mr. Jacks that she can be tough, she denies it. The angry old woman then puts a curse on the young loan officer.

Christine immediately begins seeing hellish visions. Actually, her visions are the kinds of things that would give the keepers of Hell nightmares. She visits a seer named Rham Jas (nicely played by newcomer Dileep Rao) who explains it in more detail. He informs her that Mrs. Ganush has issued the curse of the Black Goat, who appears to torment its victims for three days before, as the title suggests, dragging them kicking and screaming to Hell, where their souls will be tortured forever. And you thought standing in line at the bank was badů

With this film, Sam Raimi proves himself a master of tone. As in the second and third Evil Dead pictures, he melds scenes of sheer horror with broad, almost slapstick-y comedy. Drag Me to Hell repeatedly turns on a dime, making you squirm, then laugh, then laugh because you're squirming, then squirm because you're laughing. It does so without ever tipping so far in either direction as to derail itself. A director has to have an incredibly precise touch to pull something like this off, and Raimi does it better than just about anyone ever has before. Fear and laughter have often been closely linked on screen anyway; the filmmaker exploits that connection for every penny it's worth.

If asked to state what I love most about Drag Me to Hell, I'd have to site its sheer audacity. Only a mad genius like Raimi would have the guts to include the things he does here. To give any of it away would be to rob the viewer of the movie's natural pleasures, but let me speak in generalities. There's a scene where Christine and Mrs. Ganush tussle in a car. It's not your typical fight. A stapler is involved, put to a use it was certainly never intended for. The old woman's false teeth also figure into the action in a prominently icky kind of way. It's a gruesome moment that made me laugh with a weird macabre kind of glee, and there are plenty more to come. I haven't even mentioned the cat, or the goat, or the fly (in a scene bound to live in infamy). Often times, I couldn't believe that I was actually seeing what was on screen.

Much credit goes to Alison Lohman, who is apparently game for anything and who is put through the ringer here. Unless it was faked (and it doesn't appear to have been), Lohman does something on screen that I would never, ever, ever do. Not even for a million bucks. But she does. The character she plays is kind of intentionally nondescript; it's not who Christine is, but rather what happens to her. Lohman dives right in, finding an infinite number of ways to play frightened/disgusted/horrified as some truly messed-up stuff happens to her.

The third act of Drag Me to Hell has a plot twist that observant viewers will no doubt see coming in advance. Even if you guess the final turn of the screw, it doesn't matter. Why not? Because the movie is ballsy enough to follow through with the idea. As I waited for Christine to discover what I already knew, I hoped the movie would not wimp out. It doesn't. This is an unapologetically over-the-top work that will appeal to comedy fans and the horror crowd equally. Raimi goes as far as he wants to, which is pretty far. Violent and gory? Not particularly. Freaky as hell? Definitely. Drag Me to Hell is a head trip for the ages.

( 1/2 out of four)

Drag Me to Hell is rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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