Drag Me To Hell review

Here's a spoiler-free Drag Me To Hell review by a horror fan with high hopes. Was Duncan let down or overjoyed by Sam Raimi's new film?

Horror is not only a genre I love, it’s also a genre that will be forever laced with nostalgia.

At an early age my dad told me the stories of Frankenstein, Dracula and co. which started my curiosity, then, during the 80s I continued to further my education, especially with the advent of teen hormones leading to an increased bloodlust combined with a need to see as many scantily clad women as possible. During my later teenage years though, I rediscovered the first two Evil Dead films when the third of the trilogy was released and my love for Sam Raimi started in earnest.

I loved Army Of Darkness on its release, having already become moderately obsessed with Darkman (I have an affinity for mutilated, then re-born heroes – Robocop, The Vindicator, Swamp Thing etc.), while Evil Dead 2 became a firm after party joy around the same time, as its splatstick style was perfectly suited to our alcohol-fuelled energy.

However, unlike a lot of nostalgic movie memories, Sam Raimi’s films remain untainted by time and are still among my favourites, though where he differs from so many of the 80s directors I idolised, is that his skills and output as a filmmaker have continued to grow in strength.

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Despite the dip in quality with Spider-Man 3, the rest of Raimi’s output has been continually interesting and varied, especially taking into account the superb and underrated A Simple Plan, so with his long overdue return to full blown horror, on duties as both director and co-writer (with brother Ivan) I was as excited as I was nervous before watching Drag Me To Hell – could this be the film to finally make me question my faith in the house of Raimi?

No is the answer. Hell, no (no pun intended). Drag Me To Hell is absolutely fantastic.

I wrote the preamble for this review before the screening and it’s strange that I talked about nostalgia as I can safely say, having just stepped out of Drag Me To Hell, that I haven’t been as shaken by a movie in just over fifteen years and can easily claim that it made me the most terrified I’ve ever been at 10.30 in the morning.

Sam Raimi has well and truly returned to his Evil Dead days and in doing so has delivered one of the most impactful and funny horror films I’ve ever seen.

It’s worth mentioning that the film that shook me fifteen years ago was Candyman. I was eighteen at the time and already considered myself desensitised to horror, so four of us brazenly strolled into the cinema and when we left, were all shaken to the core.

Back to the present day and I am even more jaded and unshakeable, to the point where I actually crave some form of thrill from horror movies, as I so rarely find it. Drag Me to Hell though has completely thrown me off balance.

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The expectation of seeing a new Sam Raimi horror film had already got my adrenalin pumping (and unlike Crank 2 – without the aid of caffeine), but from the very beginning of the film and throughout, the onslaught of adrenalin never stopped. The shocks and scares begin within minutes of the film and it’s a testament to Raimi’s skill that the excitement and fear were sustained continually, without ever suffering from the usual down side of a bombardment of image and sound, which is normally a kind of numbness from instant desensitisation.

I refuse to disclose any plot or even any direct example of how Raimi orchestrates the film into such an amazing ride, as I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it and it paid off in a way I could never have expected.

Existing reviews have all been incredibly positive and rightfully so, but I urge you not to read them and in return I can promise you that the film will deliver the following:

If you take friends or partners to see it, especially anyone who is horror shy, it will most likely scare the life out of them – I really don’t think it was the free orange juice I drank before the screening that was responsible for the overwhelming desire to go to the toilet during the film.

Fellow Geeks and Sam Raimi fans, this is the film you’ve been waiting for. I know that a lot of us have been hoping over the years for an Evil Dead 4, but swap Bruce Campbell for Alison Lohman, ramp up the jump factor and this is more than you could possibly ask for as a follow up. Watching Raimi torment Lohman’s character, Christine Brown, is as funny as it is scary, it’s like watching him playing with a new toy and he’s not known for playing nicely.

There are enough of Raimi’s visual stylistics, slapstick, dark humour and moments of sheer, vile ick (I can’t think of a better word), that he has made a film with plenty of nods to his previous work while still presenting something that is fresh and exciting.

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It is a perfect example of a film that must be seen at the cinema to be fully appreciated. Trust me. Drag Me To Hell is a masterpiece of sound design and the loud shrieks and other terrifying sound effects are used in the most powerful way I think I’ve ever heard; they don’t just add to the frights but in one scene in particular, reach such oppressive levels that the noise feels as if it could physically blow you away; it’s simply incredible.

If you can’t make it to the cinema then I really hope that the disc release includes a DTS soundtrack and that you either own, or know someone who owns, a very loud surround sound system.

Don’t let the certificate fool you. I was amazed to discover that it was only a 15 (and in the States a PG-13). I know I’m guilty of judging films, especially horror films, based on their certificate, but Drag Me To Hell is an amazing example of what can be achieved without resorting to the torture porn trapping of relying on vicious gore to get a reaction.

There is very little blood on screen, yet the way in which events are portrayed have the same effect as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where your mind is convinced it’s seen more than it actually has.

I feel like Sam Raimi has returned to the fold and raised the bar yet again for anyone making contemporary horror movies, creating what could be described as a refresher course in how to craft a fantastically scary film, without resorting to nasty tactics.

The performances are uniformly excellent and the casting, as with most of Raimi’s films, is perfect. I’m a fan of Justin Long and his role in Drag Me To Hell is the first straight role I’ve seen him perform in a while, so while I found it a shame that he was short on his usual witty and sarcastic retorts, it was also a pleasant change to see him in a solid supporting role while letting Alison Lohman steal the show, and that she certainly does.

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Lohman first came to my attention after her superb turn in Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men, but I was curious to see how she would hold her own in a film which, as mentioned above, involves her dealing with the Raimi’s combined imagination running at full pelt and she holds her own magnificently.

Again, I won’t give examples, but the role involves a lot of physicality, yet somehow her slight frame seems believably determined in struggles against the dark forces and makes for a strangely beguiling sight when combined with her youthful and innocent looks.

It will make you afraid of buttons.

And that’s all I can really say without giving anything away. The film actually left me unnerved for several hours afterwards (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet), while still making me laugh at all the over the top antics that you’d associate with an Evil Dead film.

It’s an easy four star movie, but as I normally prefer to see a film multiple times before handing out a fifth, it will be interesting to see if Drag Me To Hell will stay at the top with the Evil Dead trilogy, only time will tell, but I certainly have a lot of faith.

Do try and see it on the big screen, I certainly intend to again – and if you’re a teenager aged fifteen or above, then you have to go and see it or you could end up waiting another fifteen years, like I did, for a film as thrilling as Drag Me To Hell to come along.

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4 out of 5