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First Thoughts: Drag Me to Hell

An early opinion of Sam Raimi’s latest

Test screenings occur often in Los Angeles. And normally I write them off for a number of reasons, notably, because the film is usually not finished. Also, they’re a pain in the ass to attend (and often a drive asking you to get to the theater early and endure traffic). I do go sometimes, though. I shut off the “work” mode and partake in the screening as a curious horror fan. Yet when a persistent man on the street hands you an invite and that invite is to the latest Sam Raimi horror film you do not ignore it. So, last night, this writer – a rabid Evil Dead nut – slinked on over to Burbank where the director’s latest Drag Me to Hell played to an audience for the first time.

As the film is still wrapping post-production, I’m not offering a full review here, but I will set down some extremely positive thoughts. But before I do, a quick note: This was the first screening I attended where they did not enforce some non-disclosure agreement. Peculiar and tempting bait for myself and the other salivating journos I saw in the crowd eager to dish their thoughts on Raimi’s post-Spider-Man foray into the genre that kicked off his career. I’m cognizant full reviews are out there for Hell at the time of this writing; I’d like to reserve a proper critique until I’ve seen the finished product. Still, if you’re like me, you’d probably like to know what the buzz is like on the film.

For the most part, it’s unanimous: When it comes to horror, this film proves Raimi has not lost his touch.

Not by a fraction. Drag Me to Hell is an achievement in the fact that it’s PG-13 and scary (the film made me jump several times) and, better still, an original story. Not a remake. Not a sequel. Simply a balls-to-the-wall tale about a young woman whose life is shattered by a curse placed upon her by a vengeful gypsy. It pushes the boundaries of its rating with some first-rate fright gags, it features a taut, smart script and there are amiable characters to invest in. Alison Lohman’s Christine is a character you feel for. That you root for, more importantly.

This is Raimi going old school in more ways than one with scenes that hark back to some of our ’70s faves as well as his beloved Evil Dead series (the séance sequence here is out of control). Shocking, fun, evil but counterbalanced with choice Raimi humor, Drag Me to Hell is an absolutely terrific studio horror picture. And I loved the temp score which called upon, I believe, The Bird With the Crystal Plummage and even a few vintage Universal monster movie music cues (Chris Young is in line to do the actual soundtrack).

I walked away from last year’s Comic-Con presentation with mixed thoughts. A teaser emphasized humor over scares. But this isn’t a comedy. Make no qualms about it: This is a horror film first, and a damn good one at that. It doesn’t need to be rated R and there’s not feeling that the story is being forced into a PG-13 box. Drag Me to Hell is the perfect reflection of an ambitious director who departs the genre to fine-tune his craft and try on other stories. He then returns to horror with a matured eye, applying the things he has learned and demonstrating that the fresh edge that put him on the map in the first place has not been lost.

Raimi sat in the crowd with us. Amongst many fans wearing a myriad of horrors shirts (from Army of Darkness to Maniac). He was in good company and they rewarded him with screams, laughter and applause. Afterwards, I met up with him in the lobby with a few colleagues and he seemed delighted to hear we gave the film a thumbs up. His reaction, in fact, could have been construed as relief.

No worries, Sam, you done great.

As for you, dear readers, be excited. May 29th cannot get here soon enough.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor