“We will meet again”
And with these four words begins the unravelling of one of the best modern horror films of the last decade. In 2009 Sam Raimi returned to his wonderful, exciting and scintillating Evil Dead-tinted horror project, and brought a new wave of modern terror to the cinema paving the way for a throng of other filmmakers who just didn’t quite match up. This is a love letter to fear, adrenaline and Drag Me To Hell.
Having penned the film with his brother Ivan as a simple morality tale of the pitfalls of acting with self interest and greed, Raimi’s success with the Spider Man films took up his time preventing the original version of Drag Me To Hell coming to fruition. However, after it had been in hiding for ten long years it finally got put into production, with Raimi himself in the director’s seat after offering it to Edgar Wright, who refused to direct it saying that it would “feel like karaoke” having idolised Raimi for years.
The story is simple: an ordinary girl who works an ordinary job at a bank refuses to help out an old woman in order to secure a promotion for herself. So the old woman puts a curse on her. An important lesson can be learnt here by so many filmmakers: the simpler the premise, the more scope you have for scaring the viewer. A simple premise goes a long way towards granting the circumstances normality. This then brings all the events into the realms of plausibility, which is the way that creeping terror can really play on an audience. The constant encroaching darkness throughout the film sets the viewer on edge for the duration, with a constant claustrophobic nervousness about the impending doom of our protagonist.
Raimi’s real directorial genius lies within his ability to make pretty much everything scary. Shadows and open spaces; the pitch black of night and broad daylight; being awake and dreaming. Raimi creates a world in which no place is safe for the viewer to relax, never knowing which corner the next fright is going to leap out of. This plays on the imagination constantly and creates an excited fractious energy that tightens constantly, even to the final and incredible twist at the end of the film.
And frights-a-plenty there are. While the tension is piano-wire tight, Drag Me To Hell is also packed with shock moments which pump the adrenaline levels up to eleven. Timing is crucial in attempting such a craft and this film has got it dead on the mark; just when you think you can take a breath, you are hit with the screams of a terrifying demon or the sinister attack of the dead.
Aside from the masterstroke horror touches Raimi employs, perhaps the best thing about the film, and why it is so deserving of it’s very own love letter, is that it is so damn fun. There are plenty of horror films that scare, but Drag Me To Hell has got the balance just right between being genuinely scary and genuinely enjoyable to watch. A huge factor in this is the moments of dark comedy peppered throughout the film, which provide some comic relief and give the viewer the very important message of “it’s okay, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously”. From the protagonist getting disgustingly “gummed” by an wrinkled old gypsy to a incredible trademark Raimi blood splatter nose-bleed in a bank branch, the use of pitch-black humour constantly keeps the viewer on their toes as well as entertained.
In a cinematic landscape where many filmmakers were turning to outright gory realism in order to nauseate their audiences into feeling fear, Drag Me To Hell signalled a return to an old style of horror film with the benefit of modern humour and sentiments. With this film, Raimi opened the floodgates for the likes of Insidious, Dark Skies and Sinister, but none did it quite as deftly, knowingly or brilliantly as him with this feast of demonic delight. Yes it’s trashy, yes it’s silly and yes it may be considered a guilty pleasure by some, but cannot imagine I will ever grow tired of Drag Me To Hell.