Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell opens with the ’80s Universal Studios logo, only the first indication that Raimi, who’s been shackled to the Spider-Man franchise for the last decade, intends to go back in time. Specifically, he’s recalling his own time at Universal in the early ’90s, when he brought the splatstick hokum of his Evil Dead days to the studio playground with 1990’s Darkman and 1992’s Army Of Darkness. A sort of de facto Evil Dead 4, Drag Me To Hell picks up where he left off, trafficking in lots of supernatural mumbo-jumbo (gypsy curses, psychics, ass-whomping ghosts) as an excuse for gloriously over-the-top horror-comedy. Just as Spider-Man 3 seemed to buckle under the weight of increasingly unwieldy endeavor, Raimi’s new film feels distinctly unburdened and fun, happily frolicking in its own pulp silliness.
Playing a farm-girl wallflower with surprising moxie, Alison Lohman stars as a sweet-natured loan officer competing for an assistant-manager position. Her boss (David Paymer) warns her that the job requires making the tough decisions, but Lohman chooses to demonstrate her toughness on the wrong customer, denying a spooky old woman (Lorna Raver) an extension on her home loan. The spiteful women unleashes an ancient curse on Lohman that involves three days of torment—Evil Dead-style spirit-beatings, basically—followed by a creature that drags her… well… it’s right there in the title.
Starting with a hilariously protracted confrontation between Lohman and the old woman in the parking deck—it may be the first time anyone has been in danger of being gummed to death—Drag Me To Hell piles on the cartoon horror setpieces in rapid succession. That PG-13 rating may sound like a liability for a director who once hosed Bruce Campbell with torrents of blood shooting out of the walls, but Raimi makes a sly asset of this limitation. Just like other PG-13-rated horror movies, the film relies on shock effects instead of blood, but Raimi pushes those effects to a full-on visceral assault. He wants viewers to jump out of their chairs, to laugh and scream and cheer, and to nudge each other over the transcendent ridiculousness of what they’re witnessing. This is junk filmmaking at its finest.