by Corey Hall
In the opening moments, Drag Me to Hell digs a gnarled, yellowy claw deep into your throat, and doesn't let go till the credits roll, leaving you scared, amused and totally breathless. Should we continue? Certainly: Drag's a brief, blunt and utterly brilliant blast of humor, terror and wicked satire; a trifle that feels like triumph, a dashed-off flick that blows doors off big-budget competition, and is about as much fun as you can have at the multiplex.
Having spent nearly a decade helming the Spider-Man megafranchise, Royal Oak-bred Sam Raimi detours to the manic comedy gore that made him and his Evil Dead movies legendary. Raimi doesn't just return to the horror genre; he renovates it with fresh coats of blood, drool and all manner of icky viscera.
Alison Lohman is Christine Brown, a chipper, ambitious Los Angeles loan officer who makes one very bad call, and watches her near-perfect life descend into damnation. Angling for a promotion, Christine bucks her nature and declines a loan extension for an aged and pathetic Eastern European widow (Lorna Raver) who's on the verge of eviction. Apparently, Christine's no fan of horror flicks, or she'd know better than to mess with the creepy old gypsy, who bursts into a crazed, hair-pulling fury and spits out a fateful curse.
Soon the shutters rattle, the pans clank and a goat-like fiend begins tormenting Christine, jumping from dark corners and scaring the living crap out of her — and the audience.
Christine's boyfriend (Justin Long) is supportive but unconvinced about such haunted nonsense, especially when Christine shells dough to a Hindu mystic (Dileep Rao), who sets up a climactic séance to expel the vile demon forever.
Lohman stepped in for Ellen Page early in the production, and it's about the best substitution since Lou Gehrig's swap with Wally Pipp. She nails the tricky tone, knows fear and quiet strength, shows chemistry with appealingly glib Long, and stays plucky even when covered in mud and goo.
Any more plot details would be cheating, as Raimi spins his fable with such clockwork precision and efficiency, there's hardly a micron of dead space between thrills, laughs and shocks, leading to one hell of a conclusion. What other director could play a stapler attack (to an eyeball) for laughs and squeals? His mastery of the format recalls Hitchcock, Wes Craven, Mario Bava and the twisty moral authority of Rod Serling, but with contemporary visual flair and nasty wit all his own. Welcome back, Sam.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.