Drag Me To Hell: A Diet Coke Version of the Evil Dead Films

Maybe I bought into the hype a little too much. Maybe I expected too much of the man who brought me the Evil Dead trilogy, the funniest and scariest B-movie gorefest horror films there are. Maybe I expected Sam Raimi to shed all the trappings of a high-budget horror film and give us more of the B-movie effects, scares, and laughs. In judging the film purely based on its own merit, it’s a fine entertaining time, certainly full of many jump scares, a terrific soundtrack, a few laughs, and some scenes of good icky makeup and effects. However, it gives us glimpses at the fun B-movie spirit and effects we could have had throughout, and instead seems to be content to only go so far, giving us small tastes of what we want and plenty of toned-down filler in between. Mix it in with an obvious ending that kills the suspense of the final fifteen minutes of the film, and you have a movie that doesn’t drag you to hell– it gives you a look into hell from the outside, only satisfying your thirst so much.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, channeling Jenna Fischer) is a nice loan officer at a bank. However, the assistant manager job is open, and she has to start showing her manager (David Paymer) she’s thinking about what is best for the bank. In comes an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver, who’s an incredibly good sport), begging for an extension on the payments to her house, for she has been sick and is a bit behind. The boss tells Christine it’s her call, and Christine, eyeballing that fabulous promotion, tells her no. When the woman begins to beg her and kiss the hem of her dress, Christine calls security. Bad move, Christine. Haven’t movies taught you not to mess with decrepit old gypsy women? When Christine goes out to her car, she’s attacked by the woman, who shows her two favorite attacks that she’ll continue throughout the film– pulling out Christine’s hair and filling Christine’s mouth with something nasty in the midst of a skirmish. The gypsy rips a button off of Christine’s jacket, says something that sounds rather like an evil curse, and hands the button back to her. That’s when the fun begins.

Or so you’d think. Aside from a few funny and skillful scares, there are some long stretches that get pretty dull and uninventive. The medium who she visits (and gives north of 5 digits of money to by the end of the film, by the way) merely serves to move the plot forward, so all of her visits to him are pretty boring. Some of the scares, most shamefully of all in a B-movie like this, involve unconvincing CGI. The entire FUN of the Evil Dead series was there was no CGI, it was all created effects with makeup and trick photography. Indeed, by far the best scenes in this film employ Raimi’s wicked sense of humor– an eyeball in a piece of cake, a talking goat, an anvil hanging for some reason by a rope from the ceiling in a garage coincidentally above an assailant– and they seem to be the type of gooey disturbing/funny gore that Raimi does best. The attack on Christine at the beginning is another skillful set piece, where merely the sight of the gypsy’s car provides the bulk of the tension. The score is terrific and unnerving, and Raimi’s use of sound effects is of course unparalleled…

… but unlike in the Evil Dead flicks, I didn’t feel the tension was constant. I wasn’t wondering what would happen next, since I felt I already knew. It was pretty obvious when and where the scares would come– some would say that’s part of the joy of the film, I would say it would have been far more entertaining if Raimi slapped us in the face with some unexpected jolts. After all, the spirit is supposed to torment Christine for three days before dragging her to hell… do all of the scares absolutely have to be foreshadowed by wind, whispering voices, shadows, and the usual? Why couldn’t something have jumped out at her in mid-romantic conversation with her boyfriend (Justin Long, who’s earnest but fairly useless here)? While Lohman is very earnest in her delivery and fright, and she is certainly fair game to have her mouth forcefully invaded by all manner of things, her performance contains no great range and certainly none of the flair or the shock that someone like Bruce Campbell brought to the table. It’s a far more realistic performance– as the camera and effects desire B-grade status, Lohman seems to be reaching for an A. While that lends more credibility to the scenes where she’s bonding with her boyfriend, it makes scenes like the final confrontation (in what seemed to me to be an obvious homage to Poltergeist) seem underwhelming. Would Bruce Campbell fighting the pit witch in Army of Darkness been close to as entertaining/visceral if he were giving a more natural performance? I think not.

So despite Raimi’s skillful execution of most of the film, I found his resourcefulness somewhat lacking at the end. My philosophy on the matter is that you shouldn’t give us a tour of the GREAT club if you’re going ask us to be members of the GOOD club. Despite how good it may be, you’re just going to want the club to be great. Final note: are we that starved for good old-fashioned horror films that this merits a 95% rating on Rottentomatoes.com? Is it just our nostalgia talking once again? In one of the first articles I wrote for this blog, I thought that the critical reaction to the Indiana Jones sequel (which was quite positive) was based more on being happy you got to see something you loved back in the day, despite seeing an inferior, hollower version. After all, we wanted it to be good so badly… any Indiana Jones is better than none, right? I feel the same goes for this film– we haven’t had a good funny/scary film in such a long time, that when the creator of Evil Dead gives us little glimpses at the brilliance we once witnessed way back when, we forgive the less inventive stretches and the painfully obvious final act (anyone who’s seen a commercial for the film knows how it’s going to end by the time the final act arrives). After all, a watered-down Diet Coke version of Evil Dead is better than no Evil Dead, right? Sure… but I’m not going to give it Evil Dead praise. It doesn’t earn it.

~ by russellhainline on June 3, 2009.

One Response to “Drag Me To Hell: A Diet Coke Version of the Evil Dead Films”

  1. Hi,

    Glad didn’t watch it from the big screen. I’ll probably get a copy in dvd. Thanks.


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