For much of his career, Sam Raimi was a cult director best known for his madcap horror trilogy of Evil Dead films. Then, amazingly, the filmmaker whose highest grossing movie of his career didn’t even top $40 million at the domestic box office was given the reins to the iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. There was a demand for comic book movies at the time but Raimi’s Spider-Man was such a smash hit that it brought superhero cinema into a full-fledged pop culture phenomenon. After a successful trilogy that pulled in well over a billion dollars in the North America alone, Raimi moved on from the web-slinger. His first movie after the greatest successes of his career would be Drag Me to Hell, a movie Raimi co-wrote with his brother Ivan and would see the director returning to his horror roots. Nine years after its release, Drag Me to Hell lands on Blu-ray with a new special edition from the dedicated horror nuts at Scream Factory, an edition that honors this often overlooked example of purely distilled Sam Raimi cinema.
The plot for Drag Me to Hell is straightforward and to the point. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is piecing her life together living in Los Angeles. She works as a loan officer at a bank with her eyes set on a promotion to assistant manager. Christine is dating a young doctor Clay (Justin Long). Things are on the upswing for the somewhat shy young woman. That is until Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) enters the bank one day seeking an extension on her home loan. At that moment Christine is presented with a choice to make. Eager for that promotion, Christine decides to try and impress her boss and reject Mrs. Ganush’s extension. That evening, as Christine walks out to her car, she’s attacked by a belligerent Ganush and the scuffle ends with the old gypsy placing a curse on Christine. The evil spirit of the Lamia will haunt her for three days until it finally burst through this earthly plane and will drag Christine to Hell where she’ll be tortured through eternity.
Sam Raimi brings such an efficiency to the horror of Drag Me to Hell, knowing exactly where he’s taking his characters and easily guiding the story along to horrific moment after horrific moment. Since the film is dealing with a deadly supernatural entity, Sam and Ivan Raimi allow the character of the spiritualist Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to serve as the main channel of expository dialogue. There’s this perfect balance between not over-explaining the events of the film while still pulling the audience into this twisted world of demons from Hell.
More importantly, Sam Raimi knows what you want out of a movie entitled Drag Me to Hell and, dammit, he’s going to give it to you. The horror filmmaking of Sam Raimi is very much like a rollercoaster ride. First there’s a jolt to get your attention. Then the terror twists and turns with escalating dread and ease to make you squirm in your seat. Just when you think the terror has passed, it zooms on poor Christine and explodes in a visceral mixture of terror, disgust, and gallows humor. Raimi’s two-pronged wit assaults Christine in these scenes and creates a tonal balance between horror and humor that nobody else is able to recreate with the same gusto and effectiveness. Drag Me to Hell can have you tense and on the edge of your seat before repulsing you with a gross out moment and then use that revulsion to lead into a gag inspired by the Three Stooges.
The Scream Factory edition of Drag Me to Hell features two cuts of the film (one theatrical and one unrated), though there’s only a very minor difference between the two. The special features on the two-disc edition contain all the interviews and featurettes that were available on the film’s initial release. There are also brand new features, including an interview with Alison Lohman, who runs through the torturous shoot and compares her trials at being Sam Raimi’s victim to the pains the director put Bruce Campbell through on the Evil Dead films. Other interviews include Lorna Raver looking back at her turn as Sylvia Ganush and composer Christopher Young who discusses his unsettling score.
While certainly established and beloved by many, I still feel that we undervalue just how great Sam Raimi really is. Drag Me to Hell is him working in his wheelhouse, making something that is definitely terrifying while sneaking in his twisted sense of humor. Once again, Scream Factory has issued a cult film with the reverence that its dedicated fans crave. The new 2K transfer of the film is vibrant to look at and the sound booms through 5.1 surround sound. It’s been five years since Sam Raimi last gave us a new movie, but his imprint on pop culture is all around us in the continuing cinematic adventures of Spider-Man, the crazed horror-comedy of Ash vs. Evil Dead, and fantastic reissues of his unheralded classics from Scream Factory.