In Sam Raimi’s return to B horror, Drag Me to Hell, I’m happy to find good old gross-out horror combined with some more subtle elements, conflicts of the human condition, that were absent in his earlier Evil Dead trilogy. Alison Lohman (White Oleander, Beowulf) stars as Christine Brown, a kindhearted farm girl from the Midwest who’s trying to make it in the city. She works as a loan officer at a bank and has her eye on a promotion, but Christine has to deal with old-fashioned sexism (a scene that played awkwardly for me, where she is persuaded to go out and get the fellas lunch–if she’s going out herself, that is). She’s told that she’s not aggressive enough when it comes to her work, and so when Christine gets an older woman at her desk, begging for help so she can keep her house, the decision is left to Christine whether to help or not. Viewing the old gypsy woman’s disgusting hygiene habits from afar, Christine goes into bitch mode and makes the customer her first sacrifice to ambition. This turns out not to be a good move.
Later, Christine is cornered in the parking garage, wearing her armor of heels and business suit, where she is terrorized by the old woman she denied help to. The woman lays a gypsy curse on Christine, where demons are allowed to torture her for three days before dragging her to hell. I’m sure lots of people would love to see this happen to the bankers and Madoffs who have tangled all of us in such a financial mess, but the curse is heavy compared to what Christine has actually done, which was legal.
Though Christine’s punishment seems harsh, I enjoyed how unladylike some of her torments are and their effects on the people around her. There’s the nursery rhyme “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly …,” and I remember being creeped out by this, imagining the sensation of a live fly winging around in the stomach. Well, this young lady swallows a fly, which causes some of the worst tummy gurgles ever, right when she’s meeting her boyfriend’s uptight parents. Other social taboos inflicted on Christine include a never-ending nosebleed and uncontrollable vomiting.
Drag Me to Hell touches on the catastrophic terrors of old age, poor hygiene, and embarrassment of one’s true self. These terrors are usually kept hidden, but they are brought out in sharp relief in Drag Me to Hell with the edges buffered by humor. The best part is that the heroine Christine is not passive as she faces these demons; she fights like hell.