Monday, June 15, 2009

Drag Me To Hell, Please (for about an hour and a half)

I've often thought that films should be able to get away with parenthetical afterthoughts much like our popular songs do. For example, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. How about "(We're Going) Up?" Or "Land of the Lost (Plot)?" At any rate, if "Drag Me To Hell" were to follow this pattern it wouldn't need much more than a simple "(Don't)" before the title. Certainly the phrase doesn't appear anywhere in the movie, the event described not being particularly desirable.

So I'm forced to conclude that the title must refer to a desire by the film's audience for a little hellraising. And in this respect "Drag Me To Hell" does not disappoint. It's more or less pure horror in a schlocky, outrageous sort of way - the type you might see in an old "Tales From the Crypt" comic or a Stephen King short story. The film isn't a comedy in the sense that some other reviews may lead you to believe - the humor comes mainly from how audacious the film is, how thrillingly tasteless and outrageous it manages to be without treading into sadistic terroritory.

The film is appropriately tense, essentially one scare moment after another, each topping the last in grotesque, often groan-inducing fun. There isn't a moment in this movie that's meant to be taken seriously, which is probably a good thing - the film's peripheral characters are about as goofy and one-dimensional as the ones we've seen in Spider-Man. Unlike the Spider-Man flicks, however, this is actually an asset to the film, because the simple archetypes (the assertive jerk co-worker, harsh old-worlder Gypsy woman, or knowledgeable Indian fortuneteller) fit the B-movie "Drag Me To Hell" labors to be. Sure, elements of characterization are there: the main character's slide into madness and desperation, a spiritual medium's desire to prove herself against the demons that defeated her years before, and a proud old woman who becomes demonic, spiteful and vicious when shamed. But these character-driven moments are usually (successfully) played for comedy and camp, chills, or all three.

I say "chills," but this doesn't seem appropriate. Because most of the running gags (an old woman and later a corpse tearing out chunks of our heroine's hair, or various questionable substances of every variety going out of their way to drench her) are more likely to elicit squirm-inducing laughs than the type of unsettling psychological moments that linger after a movie's credits. Even the abrupt "twist" ending is meant to be seen from a mile away, making it funny rather than unsettling, much like the end of a "Seinfeld" episode. The audience I was with kept laughing to and through the credits.

My advice: If you're any fan of old-fashioned horror without any dismemberment but chock-full of stuff that's arguably worse, go see "(Don't) Drag Me To Hell" with some like-minded friends. This is one for the theater. Oh, and "Sam Raimi's Return To Horror" might be a good name for a rock band or album (there go the last vestiges of my Dave Barry fixation).

Clumpy gives this movie: Three turkeys and half a douchebag

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