Universal believes in Sam Raimi. While other studios this year begrudgingly brought their big, finished, blockbuster movies to SXSW and then slapped down press embargoes to prevent them from being discussed (watch for the hole in our coverage); Universal brought Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell and blasted into the Paramount Theater unfinished; confident that no matter the format we’d all show up, love it, and then turn around and tell you how awesome it is. They were right. Here I am. It’s awesome.

Drag Me To Hell may still be a work in progress, but even as is it’s one of the best horror movies this out-of-the-closet horror skeptic has seen this side of the new millennium. All the scary, fucked up shit you may have seen in the trailers or even in the now infamous Comic Con clips is just the tip of the boomstick. Raimi gets most of that out of the way in the first 20 minutes. Raimi breathes life into serial killer infested, dried up modern horror genre by showing you things you’ve never, ever seen. It’s scary, it’s gross, it’s unbelievable how far he’s willing to go. Even in the grittiest horror movies there’s always a line they can’t cross. Drag Me To Hell stabs it, sacrifices it, buries it in the back yard, and then gets away with it by giving the audience a wink and a nod. You know what’s buried in the garden. You’re in on the horrible horrible secret, there’s no reason to feel bad. Younger horror fans who’ve been raised on PG-13 Japanese horror retreads starring Jessica Alba are unprepared for what Raimi is about to unleash.

Since it’s a work in progress, I don’t think it’s fair to critique Drag Me To Hell in depth. Though the film we saw appeared, except for a few very minor missing effects touch-ups, to be entirely complete, it’s likely Raimi may make tweaks between now and the movie’s May 29th release. It’s not perfect and there’s plenty of room for further improvement in the editing room. Justin Long’s boyfriend character for instance, could use a little tweaking. Yet even if that doesn’t happen, what’s here is badass.

It’s a simple, effective story told with style, wit, and a twisted, sometimes gloriously stomach-turning imagination. Alison Lohman plays a loan officer who makes the mistake of turning down a cranky old Gypsy. The Gypsy attacks her, curses her, and soon she’s under assault from evil spirits intent on quite literally dragging her straight to hell. Lohman isn’t some helpless, idiot, slasher movie scream-fodder. She’s not ready to be taken to Satan and the lengths to which she’ll go to avoid Hades are nearly as horrifying as the things being done to her by the gypsy’s evil spirit cohorts. Seriously, you’ve never seen this.

It would be criminal to tell you more, but for anyone wondering where the horror genre went wrong here’s the short answer: Sam Raimi started making Spider-Man movies. He’s back. Hail to the king, baby.

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