Sam Raimi may be forever glorified as the mad genius behind the Evil Dead Trilogy, but after completing those films, he would leave horror behind in order to broaden his cinematic palette. However, it was with much pleasure that Raimi would return to his roots in 2009’s Drag Me To Hell, bringing with him his unique penchant for broad slapstick.
The movie opens with an older version of the Universal logo (and closes with one as well). This is a message from Sam Raimi to the audience that this isn’t a modern horror film, it’s more in keeping with the style of the classic Universal monster films.
The movie opens in 1969, with a little boy who has stolen a necklace from a gypsy wagon. As we’ll eventually learn, it’s clear that Juan, the little boy, had a curse placed on him. Lamia, the monster of the movie, is after him. He haunts the victim of the curse for 3 days before he finally takes them, dragging them to hell on the fourth.
A medium, Shaun San Dena, is asked to help, but unfortunately isn’t able to save Juan. She watches Juan get dragged down as Raimi exaggerates some of the shadows to make Juan’s hand appear on San Dena’s face. You realize how she wasn’t able to save him, and how this will constantly stay with her.
The movie jumps to the present day in which we meet Christine (Alison Lohman) and her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long). Christine is a bank loan officer and is up for a promotion as assistant manager at the bank. Her manager tells her that she needs to ready herself to make tough decisions. All of which brings us to Sylvia Ganush. Sylvia asks for a third extension on her mortgage. As she wasn’t able to pay after the last two extensions, the likeliness of her ability to pay the next is low. With a promotion on the line, Christine can’t allow it. Sylvia then takes a button from Christine, after attacking her in a parking lot, and places a curse on her. This leads to the worst days of her life.
After, she goes to a fortune teller, Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), and finds out about the curse and the Lamia. We follow Christine, trying to break her curse as she goes through hell (sorry) in the most absurd, bizarre way possible.
Despite being marketed as a straight horror film, Raimi totally plays with the reality of the world. At one point, Christine gets a nosebleed, losing an extreme amount of blood. If you’ve seen The Evil Dead trilogy (and I hope you have), you’d be familiar with the crazy amount of blood loss that Raimi loves. It’s never the right amount, it’s always about three times as would be possible. The film takes you from being scared and tense, to laughing out loud. There is a scene in which a goat swears at Christine. If the movie doesn’t have you laughing (with the movie, not at the movie), then the film may not be working for you.
Throughout the middle of the film we experience great tonal changes – from being serious to a bit more comedic. It’s after the séance (with that talking goat) where things become more serious.
Shaun San Dena (the same medium which said she would meet the Lamia again), with the help of a few others, tries a séance to call and trap the spirit. In both comedic and horrific ways, the séance doesn’t work out, and San Dena dies in the process.
Once Christine finds out that the attempt has failed – and this being the eve of the Lamia finally getting her instead of just scaring the shit out of the audience – she thinks she’s doomed. Rham Jas tells her there is one other way, to gift the button to someone else before dawn, but to be aware that that person is doomed to hell for all of eternity.
With a ticking clock, and help from Rham Jas, she finds out that she can gift the button back to Mrs. Ganush if she digs up her grave. And that’s exactly what she does. In probably the best grave-digging scene I can think of (to be fair, I don’t know many), with heavy pouring rain and moments that are built around Raimi’s incredible montage-like editing style, she shoves an envelope into Ganush’s mouth, but not without one final battle. Yes, even as she’s dead, and unable to do anything, she still causes problems for Christine. The gift is given to her, narrowly beating the clock.
The next day begins with Christine off to meet Clay at a train station, as after this ordeal, Clay thought they should go away for the weekend (where he’d eventually propose). All seems to be happy until Clay tells her about a mix-up with the envelopes, as he has the one with the button.
The fear in Christine’s eyes as she backs away after realizing she’s screwed, coupled with Clay’s reaction as she backs up onto the tracks, is absolutely genuine. She falls down on the tracks, and just like Clay, we urge Christine to get off since the train can be seen. Immediately after, the tracks begins to crack, like in the opening, as the Lamia is finally here to get her. As the train approaches closer, Clay becomes entirely helpless as he watches the Lamia drag her to hell.
A very literal title in a very literal film (that plays big on theatrics just for the sake of pure entertainment) with an ending that doesn’t necessarily need discussion, but warrants it anyways just for it being so damn good and memorable. It would have been very easy for Raimi to give the film a happy ending, letting her get the promotion and have her boyfriend propose, but instead he plays with your mind. Once she is taken, we get a moment to look at Clay’s face through the train’s wheel, slowly realizing she is gone. Then the title card once again pops up on the screen. It’s like a coda from Raimi punctuating “the end.”