Drag Me To Hell (2009) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 4

by Jovial Jay

You want to get dragged to hell? ‘Cuz this is how you get dragged to hell!

Welcome to the second Sam Raimi film for this year, Drag Me to Hell, which is a supernatural thriller that is a refreshing and scary horror film. It’s straightforward movie about a gypsy curse, but with deeper roots in social issues, and even a little bit of Raimi humor thrown in for good luck.

Before Viewing

A young woman working in a bank is trying to get promoted, but needs to make “hard decisions” in order to do so. She denies an elderly gypsy an extension on her loan, as such cursed by the creepy old woman. Now she is slowly being terrorized by a demon that will shortly drag her to hell. The trailer also makes sure that the audience knows this is Sam Raimi’s return to horror after directing the Spider-Man films. It appears to have lots of jump scares (even some in the trailer) as well as horrific scenes.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell title card.

After Viewing

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a young woman working as a loan officer in a bank. She is trying to get promoted to the Assistant Manager position over co-worker Stu (Reggie Lee). Her manager Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) is undecided on the best person for the job, but knows he needs someone that can make the “hard decisions.” So one day when an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), comes asking for an extension on her loan, Christine denies her. Ganush attacks Christine in the parking garage later, cursing her, and spitting in her face.

When Christine tells her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) about the attack, he is supportive, but doesn’t believe in the curse. She wants to visit a psychic, Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), to find out if it’s for real. He seems shocked by what he sees and asks her to leave. The next day a mysterious, unseen force attacks Christine in her house. Seeking to make this right, Christine seeks out Mrs. Ganush at her granddaughter’s house. Unfortunately the elderly gypsy is dead and a wake is in process.

Drag Me To Hell

An excerpt from the title sequence showing the curse of the Lamia.

Realizing she only has one day left to lift the curse, she again seeks out Jas who sets up a seance with renowned medium Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza). San Dena was seen in a prologue set 30 years prior when a local mexican family brings their son to her, cursed by the demon Lamia. He was dragged to hell and she was powerless to stop it. Seeking another chance, San Dena prepares everything they need to capture and kill the demon. Things don’t go well and San Dena is possessed. She manages to cause Lamia to vacate the earthly plane, leading Christine to hope that she is freed from the curse. Jas tells her she is not, unless she can give the cursed object, a button, to someone else, before tomorrow.

That night, Christine agonizes in a diner about who to give the object to; knowing they will be cursed to hell. She almost decides on a sickly old man, before realizing he’s happily married. She then thinks to give it to Stu as payback for stealing a project from her desk. But at the last moment she cannot bring herself to do so. She realizes that she can gift the button to a deceased person, and visits the cemetery where Ganush is buried. She digs up the grave and forces the button into the corpses mouth. A storm floods the hole, but she manages to make her way out of it, even with the vengeful body of Ganush hounding her.

The next morning all seems right with the world. She and Clay are taking a trip to Santa Barbara where he plans to propose to her. He even has good news: he found her button that she had dropped in the car, probably mixing up the envelope his coin was in. Shocked, she falls backwards on the train track, just as the train pulls into the station. The ground opens and demonic arms reach up, pulling her down into hell as Clay watches aghast.

You’d be surprised what you’ll be willing to do, when the Lamia comes for you.” – Rham Jas

For the most part, Sam Raimi has a positive track record on his films, regardless of genre. He’s a competent filmmaker that enjoys the use of pastiche – taking older concepts and moments, and using them anew or in different genres – to change up the styles of his films. Whether it’s the horror of Evil Dead 2, the superheroic antics of Spider-Man or Darkman, or the comedic action of Crimewave, his films have a certain substance and style to them. Drag Me To Hell is no different. It’s ability to perform as a horror film is strong, but still manages to make fresh a previously utilized plot.

Drag Me To Hell

Christine and Clay celebrate her presumed promotion at the bank.

While not overly used, the plot element of a gypsy curse has been around since the dawn of cinema.The earliest and maybe the best use of the trope comes from the 1941 film The Wolf Man starring Claude Raines and Lon Chaney Jr. The gypsy fortune teller tells Chaney that her cursed son was the one that bit him, condemning him to turn into a wolf when the moon is full. Gypsies like Mrs. Ganush are represented more appropriately in the 1996 Stephen King adaptation Thinner, about an overweight man that mistreats some traveling gypsies. He is cursed to get thinner and thinner, regardless of his diet. To save himself, the curse is transferred into a pie, which if he can get someone to eat it, will free him forever. Unlike Chistine, the protagonist of Thinner has little compunction about feeding the pie to any number of unscrupulous individuals around him.

Another thing that makes the film interesting is the thematic elements added to the film. Not simply a horror film in the classic sense, there are other elements of social-horror seen here, such as classism, and to a degree sexism. Christine has reinvented herself, living in the city. Now a smart, thin, pretty and intelligent business woman, at one point she was an overweight girl growing up on a farm. She hides this fact, and hates discussing it – going so far as to destroy a picture of herself at the fair. Clay’s parents, two very well-off intellectuals, seem more interested in him finding a suitable girl that “looks right” rather than some “farm girl.” Her boss also uses the “carrot” of a promotion to get her to do extra work. The only reason that seems apparent as to her lack of a promotion is that she’s a woman. Her rival for the promotion is a new employee that she is helping to train. She is chided into getting Mr. Jacks and Stu lunch “on her way back” from her own break, and then passive-aggressively scolded by Stu for not adhering to his order (when he never said anything specifically about his request to “hold the mayo,” at least that the audience saw). These pressures added to Christine’s own drive for promotion, help her make a bad decision by going against her initial instincts to actually help Mrs. Ganush.

Drag Me To Hell

Mrs Ganush startles Christine in one of her dreams.

Perhaps the biggest shock is the final scene, which seems unexpected. Christine is not really an evil person, she just made one bad mistake. Her continuous atonement makes it appear that her salvation is imminent. It’s just a question of how much will she compromise her character to get that atonement. But since she eventually finds a non-harmful way to remove the curse, and then literally climbs out of a flooded grave, the audience is lulled into a false sense of confidence that she can survive. But the film is not called Drag Me Part Way To Hell. Raimi takes no pity on the character and in a twisted sense of nobility (Clay finding her missing button), condemns her to eternal damnation.

For a film rated PG-13, Drag Me To Hell is a evilly frightful film, full of jump-scares, fake-outs and soundtrack startles! It still has its share of bodily viscera (smaller fountains of blood spray from Christine’s mouth and nose in the bank, and some fluid oozes out of the corpse all over Christine’s mouth) and “gross” scenes (the gypsy vomits maggots and worms into Christine’s open mouth in a dream, and later she puts her entire arm –up to the elbow–  into Christine’s mouth) but uses suspense and shock more effectively to scare the audience.

Drag Me To Hell

A cameo by Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer.

Assorted Musings

  • Octavia Spencer (Ma, The Shape of Water) has a brief background cameo as a bank co-worker.
  • Mrs. Ganush’s car is the same car that appears in many of Sam Raimi’s films – the Oldsmobile Delta 88, which this time has the licence plate “999 51,” which when inverted reads “IS 666.”
  • Raimi tones down the humor and self-reflexivity from his Evil Dead trilogy for this film, but there’s still a moment of meta-self-awareness when a fly lands on the “camera lens” and the entirety of the picture racks focus to keep the fly visible.
  • Some humor that continues, however dark include Mrs. Ganush’s repeated pulling out of Christine’s hair. Once in the fight in the parking garage, and then twice after her death; once at the wake, and the last time in the grave.

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