Friday, October 30, 2009

Even Good Directors Can Go To Hell

I really, really wanted to like this movie—honest! My wife can attest to the extraordinary measures I undertook in order to secure a copy of this movie, on Blu-Ray no less, by selling (yet another) chunk of my DVD collection to the local CD/DVD venue for the store credits that was used to purchase this disc. I don't want to think about that, because if I inadvertently gave up my fullscreen copy of Night Of The Bloody Apes, or my even duplicate of Queen Of Black Magic for Sam Raimi's triumphant return to horror…I think I might just lay down and cry.

I've been a fan of Raimi's since '87, after subjecting my entire family to Evil Dead II on VHS (my brother and sisters loved it; my mom tolerated it, though not without complaint; my dad found better things to do in another room). Since, I have avidly followed Raimi from film to film, celebrating his triumphs (The Evil Dead, Crimewave, Darkman, The Quick And The Dead, Army Of Darkness), forgiving him his failures (The Gift, For Love Of The Game, A Simple Plan, Spider-Man 3), and searching for sparks of that old, Evil Dead magic even in his most generic efforts (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2).

Which brings me to Drag Me To Hell. (Love the title, by the way.)

Drag Me To Hell is, in fact, sporadically inspired: the energy with which Raimi imbues the setpieces, beginning with a knock-down-drag-out between gypsy witch and timid bank loan officer, is on par with what the director brought to Evil Dead II. Allison Lohman, though no Bruce Campbell (but then, who can ever hope to measure up to the Chin?), and mostly bland and blonde throughout, does display some spark of character as she progresses towards the climax, especially in her final battle with the witch's corpse and demon helper.

The movie's failure and subsequent loss of any and all good will garnered by what preceeded the climax is wasted, flushed, blown and otherwise shat out in a moment, and it's an easy one to spot. Movies such as this tend to focus on big, BIG movements, because there are no small things going on here—this is LIFE AND DEATH WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE, DAMMIT!

So, when Justin Long slams on the brakes and the #10 envelope containing the crucial button is lost amidst a blizzard of similarly unmarked #10 evenlopes, you know—YOU JUST KNOW!—that as sure the sun will set this evening and rise in the morning, that Lindsay, poor, poor girl that she plays, is going to grab the WRONG ONE.

Why Raimi didn't simply super-impose the title "PLOT POINT!" on top of this shot could not have possibly made it more obvious. (Well, okay, maybe it could. But only the under 10 year old crowd will find themselves agape at the denouement without that supered graphic.)

Picture this: your life—nay, your immortal soul!—depends on stuffing a button torn from your coat sleeve into the gaping maw of a dead gypsy witch's mouth. You grab the envelope containing said button from a confusing pile of identical envelopes. And it does not occur to you to, say, give the envelope a little rub between thumb and forefinger to, I dunno, check and make sure that little button is still inside the envelope?

Nope. You trust it's still there, grab your shovel and head off to the graveyard to do battle with the demonic undead

Had Sam and his co-writing brother Ivan given us the wink-nudge ahead of time, we all would have warmly welcomed the climax and denouement as a goof and homage to Jacques Tourneur's Curse Of The Demon. In that film, Dana Andrews must overcome his obstinate disbelief in the supernatural in time to somehow sucker warlock Niall MacGinnis into taking back the scrap of paper that acts like a GPS signal to a demon made of fire. (Not the easy task it may sound like, either.)

As things are, Drag Me To Hell's final resolution smacks of gratutious cruelty, to Allison Lohman's character and myself, who felt that she had fought the good fight well enough to be spared.

There was so much more that Drag Me To Hell's creators could have stolen from Curse Of The Demon—a lovely, very human villian; a stalwart, square-jawed hero; a sense of mounting dread; a monster whose image has ground itself into the public subconscious in the half century since its initial appearance—that it makes me sad they stopped at copping merely the last fifteen minutes.

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