By Roger Moore
Sam Raimi leaves Spider-Man-liness behind and digs up his horror roots in “Drag Me to Hell,” a terror tale almost as fun as its tease of a title. Raimi, who got his start with the “Evil Dead” movies, sure-handedly blends thrills with giggles in this old-fashioned, newfangled, over-the-top hair-raiser.
Pretty, young bank-loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) is the woman everybody walks over. She’s being out-maneuvered for the big promotion. Her beau’s mom insults her as “the farm girl.” An unpleasant old woman customer (Lorna Raver) thinks nothing of popping out her slimy false teeth to empty Christine’s desktop candy jar and figures she can sob-story another extension on her mortgage.
Christine’s compassion, even for the grotesque Mrs. Ganush, doesn’t impress her sexist boss (David Paymer). Can she make “the hard decision”? Yes, and that is her undoing.
Ganush is a Gypsy, or a movie caricature of a Gypsy — violent and vengeful. In a relentless assault on the banker (How timely is that?), the old crone puts a curse on the pretty young thing. Christine’s terror only grows at the explanations of her plight by a fortune teller (Dileep Rao). Her disbelieving psychology professor boyfriend (Justin Long) is little help. Something is coming for Christine, something awful.
Raimi makes “Drag Me to Hell” an exercise in old-school horror. He finds his frights in the four F’s — flies, fingers (bony shadows claw at stained-glass windows), fiddles (Gypsy music precedes each scare) and forks.
Forks? When you’ve made a cake for the boyfriend’s parents, see the evil eye in the slice you’ve cut for yourself, stab it and watch the fork wriggle, that’s scary-funny stuff.
Lohman makes the trip from wallflower to victim to victim-who-fights-back work, and Raver, as the witch who brings the wrath of Hades upon her, is horrific. Long is pretty bland, and onetime Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza has too little presence as the medium who might be Christine’s salvation.
Raimi is pulling one over on us for much of the movie. But he hurls moral dilemmas at Christine, lets us rationalize what she’ll do and happily pulls the rug out from under us.
And we’re happy to have him do it. As we learned way back in his “Evil Dead” youth, Raimi’s brand of hellishly silly horror is anything but a drag.