Drag Me to Hell

Christine's monstrosity is hardly so daunting as that of the evil spirit stalking her, but it's of a piece with Drag Me to Hell's mostly vague cultural critique.

Drag Me to Hell

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2009
US Date: 2009-05-29 (General release)
UK Date: 2009-05-27 (General release)

I kind of feel embarrassed.

-- Christine (Alison Lohman)

En route to the inevitable cacophonous bad-spirits-versus-humans showdown in Drag Me to Hell, the humans have to set the scene. Their efforts to conjure up the evil business -- here called Lamia, from the Greek myth about a child-murdering demon -- are traditional in the most odious sense. They gather around a big table in a cavernous room. A chandelier hangs ominously over their heads, the windows are covered in drapes and furniture made of heavy wood. The medium, Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza), settles into her chair and signals to her assistant (Kevin Foster). He nods and proceeds to dim the lights -- with a dimmer.

The image is brief: if you blink, you'll miss it, and afterwards, the action immediately turns nutty. Shaun San Dena begins to moan, the chairs start banging, and the about-to-be-sacrificed goat begins to worry. But that dimmer is a precious image, too, goofy and astute, the sort of detail that makes Sam Raimi's horror movies so engagingly creepy and crazy. You know, the movies he made before Spidey sucked up his soul.

His return to form is suitably weird and not a little erratic. It's also good gory unpretentious fun. Following a rudimentary L.A.-set backstory (Shaun San Dena has her first grisly run-in with the Lamia, which ends in a loud and fiery death), the scene turns to 40 years later, same city. Christine (the perennially limited Alison Lohman) first appears in traffic, her class background-and-aspirations neatly noted in her work with an instructional tape: "There is no friction with the proper diction," she repeats, "Good sounds abound when the mouth is round," with only the slightest twang audible. A bank loans officer, Christine worries that her psychology professor boyfriend Clay (wan Justin Long) might be swayed by his snooty mother's taste (she warns him that Christine's not "the kind of woman who could help you socially," on the speaker phone so Christine overhears) and hopes to secure his/her respect by being promoted to assistant manager.

To this end, Christine practices her round vowels and does her best to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer). Across the room sits her rival, Stu (Reggie Lee), whose own plan for promotion includes groveling, cheating, and Lakers tickets for Jacks. With her dwindling options in mind, Christine faces her next applicant, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver). An old gypsy woman with gooey false jaggedy teeth and one eye, Mrs. Ganush pleads for an extension, going so far as to fall to her knees and beg, but Christine holds fast, having been told she has to show she can "make the tough decisions." Security guards drag the woman away, but not before she's done a good bit of wailing and flailing, leaving Christine rattled and pretending she's fine, as Jacks shakes his head, for the moment looking almost sympathetic.

Another raucous run-in with the old lady in the after-hours parking garage leads to Christine's growing fear that she's been cursed. Startled by Mrs. Ganush's sudden ferocity and total brutality -- she bites, kicks, throttles -- Christine finds it in herself to fight back (with a stapler, no less), an experience that leaves her both horrified and exhilarated: "Ah beat you, you old bitch!" Christine cackles, her triumphant face as ugly and contorted as her wormy-gooshy-phlegmy opponent's.

The fight and the not-so-settled outcome indicate Christine's nasty, survivalist side (a point made cute and acute when, in a later scene, a TV shows the catfight scene from Destry Rides Again: nice touch). As demure and lovely as she may appear to her frequently distracted beau, the girl's got sand, essentially admirable though frequently twisted into a strangely chipper will to self-preservation.

That no one in her world sees this will is to the point: Christine plays the part she's expected to play, to win the husband, the job, and the social status she so covets. But you see enough to distrust her, and wonder whether the comedy she performs is also a sort of exposure. Instructed to perform an animal sacrifice to rid herself of the curse, Christine rejects the notion absolutely ("I'm a vegetarian! I volunteer at the puppy center for Christ's sake"), then duly changes her mind following a wall-banging encounter with the shadowy Lamia ("You will be surprised what you'd be willing to do when the Lamia comes for you, her advisor observes). The sight gag that marks her change of heart reveals Christine as the sort of monster who stalks victims in slasher movies, armed with a shiny kitchen knife, skulking through long hallways.

Christine's monstrosity is hardly so daunting as that of the spirit stalking her, but it's of a piece with Drag Me to Hell's mostly vague, seemingly incidental cultural critique, aimed at her social climbing, willful blindness, and muddled self-absorption. All this is made clear in comparison to the man who might save her, a storefront spiritual adviser named Rham Jas (Dileep Rao). Though Clay scoffs, Christine has a feeling -- helped along by wind and dry leaves and circling camerawork -- that she needs her fortune told. That Rham sees only bad coming (so bad, he offers to give back Clay's money) confirms Christine's worst fears, but his serially ineffective efforts to help suggest that he has as much insight into all this mumbo jumbo as she does.

Still, Rham is sincere (or looks sincere, which may count as the same thing). And in Drag Me to Hell and other such zonked-out horror movies, this goes along way toward salvation. He believes, he wants to help, he sees how very dark both winning and losing must inexorably be. Christine can't do any of that. And that means her future can only get dimmer by the moment.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.