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On DVD: Drag Me to Hell

Raimi Splatstick Horror Film Now on DVD

Above: Alison Lohman will do just about anything to rid herself of a curse in Drag Me to Hell

With Halloween just around the corner, the DVD release (on October 9) of an unrated director’s cut of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” seems the perfect choice.

I have conducted a thoroughly unscientific survey in regards to “Drag Me to Hell.” I loved the film and saw it as Raimi long delayed return to horror. But it’s a return to Raimi horror, which isn’t torture porn or atmospheric chillers or even self-reflexive “Scream” fests. No. Raimi horror is like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones doing B-horror – it’s gross out gore and goo combined with slapstick comedy. So my informal survey was to ask who liked the film with the result being that if you became a fan of Raimi’s because of “The Evil Dead” films you were likely to embrace “Drag Me To Hell.” But if you only knew Raimi’s work from “Spider-man” on, then you tended to be baffled by his latest effort. So a lot of the kids I spoke with just dismissed “Drag Me to Hell” as stupid and not scary whereas people more my contemporary were relieved to see Raimi try something less Hollywood and mainstream.

I happen to like Raimi’s goofball horror style. To me the film is summed up in one scene where the protagonist is attacked by a witch in her garage. She looks up and see an anvil tied to a rope and hoisted high in the garage so she cuts the rope and has the anvil crash down on the witch, sending her away. Come on? An anvil? That is so Loony Toons and so Sam Raimi. Raimi’s friend and “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell describes the style as “splatstick” – splatter gore and slapstick comedy. So if you go into “Drag Me to Hell” with that attitude, then I think you’ll have a fun time, like going to a haunted house fun ride.

The story involves a young woman named Christine (Alison Lohman) denies a loan extension to an old lady who turns out to be a witch and subsequently finds herself cursed. If she can’t figure out how to undo the curse she will literally be dragged to hell. Simple, right?

The uncut version of the film touted on DVD isn’t really that different from the theatrical version of the film – a little more gore and goo (and believe me this film excelled at gross bodily fluids). So don’t expect a radically different film loaded with tons more scares. In fact, if you don’t watch the two versions back-to-back-you’re unlikely to even notice the changes. But the DVD does boast a video diary with lots of cool behind the scenes video and information. So if you’re a fan of horror, you’ll enjoy info and tips about splatter effects.

In an odd way this makes a good companion piece to the new Coens’ film, “A Serious Man.” Okay bare with me on this. The Coens and Raimi are actually friends and did collaborate on a film called “Crimewave.” The similarity between the two films is that they both have protagonists who keep claiming they haven’t done anything wrong yet seem cursed with bad luck; both films seem to offer their protagonist a reprieve from fate but then serve up a twist; and both Raimi and the Coens treat their characters with a kind of cruel sense of comedy about their fates. So take that however you’d like but I suggest watching the two and seeing if you find any similarities in their styles.

“Drag Me to Hell” is a fun, over-the-top horror ride and a welcome relief from Raimi after his rather dull and passionless “Spider-Man 3.” I for one would like to see more horror from Raimi in the future, and preferably horror with Bruce Campbell in it. Please?!

Companion viewing: “A Serious Man,” “The Evil Dead,” “Loony Toons,” “Crimewave”

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