For me, Drag Me to Hell was one of the ultimate moviegoing experiences this summer, an opportunity to join with your fellow audience members in laughing, shrieking, and shouting at the screen, with Sam Raimi pulling all the strings behind one of the best horror movies in years. I demanded, begged all my friends to go see it in theaters, insisted that it was the most fun they'd have... and of course Drag Me to Hell made only $42 million domestically. But if DVD is the only opportunity most people will have to see this movie, will it be worth it for them at all?
I still maintain what I wrote in my original review: "It's a movie that demands to be seen with a huge audience, milking every gasp and relieved laugh and even inviting shouting at the screen." But I also started that paragraph with these two sentences, which come across even more in the film upon a second viewing: "Behind the camera and in complete control, Sam Raimi comes to Drag Me to Hell with eyes ablaze, taking his genuine love for horror and bestowing it upon the audience like a gift. The story is basic, the gimmicks familiar, the mythology laughable, but Raimi is so confident with what he's presenting, an alchemist mixing comedy and gross-out horror and genuine, expert tension."
Despite the fact that the scares don't translate as well in an empty, well-lit room (you've got to at least watch this one with the lights off), Drag Me to Hell remains a superbly made movie, and a hilarious one, using audience's fear against it as a way to get laughs out of even the grossest, most horrifying stuff. It's not nearly as important as I believed the first time around that you be worried about what happens to Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) as the demon Lamia comes to take her to hell; what matters is just that you follow what Raimi is doing, and whether you're scared or not, be sure to laugh a lot. That's what makes Drag Me to Hell different from most horror movies, giving it a rewatch value well beyond when you've figured out the placement of all the scares.
The plot, in case you don't remember: Christine is a loan officer at a bank, trying to make her way up the corporate ladder to impress her boss (David Paymer) and beat out unctuous co-worker Stu (Reggie Lee). Trying to prove she can make the "tough decisions," she denies old gypsy woman Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) an extension on her loan, prompting Mrs. Ganush to meet Christine in the parking garage after work and, after a protracted fight scene, curse Christine to Hell. Aided by her supportive boyfriend (Justin Long), Christine finds out from a psychic that she has three days to somehow banish the Lamia that's been assigned to take her to Hell, and Christine, who once considered herself a good person, realizes she'll do whatever it takes to avoid meeting her fate.
There's a morality-tale aspect to Drag Me to Hell that's kept nicely below the surface, allowing you to root for Christine's demise as she grows increasingly desperate to save her own skin. But Raimi is far from one to tell you what's right and what's wrong, given the blatant glee he finds in tormenting Christine and covering her in all manner of mucus, blood, maggots, and goo.
A horror-comedy that gets the balance perfectly right, Drag Me to Hell is a great rewatch, and especially worth sharing with friends who thought they didn't like horror enough to catch it in theaters (were I not assigned to review it, I probably would have been one of them). Please watch it with a group of friends if you can.
There are actually two versions of the film on the DVD, as is loudly touted on the cover art that promises "Special Unrated Director's Cut!" But the differences between the two cuts are absolutely minimal, the one change being a little added gore in a certain sacrifice scene halfway through the film (anyone who caught the film in unfinished form at SXSW has seen this already). It's nice to know that Raimi had a consistent vision for the film but disappointing that there isn't at least a deleted scene or two.
Adding to the disappointment, there's no commentary – hearing Alison Lohman talking about what she endured during filming, or Raimi pointing out all the Easter egg references he's included to his other films, would have been a blast. Instead, we get a series of production diaries introduced by the ever-charming Justin Long, who isn't actually in most of the diaries, given that he doesn't get any of the good stunts. We see how they rigged up a tube full of blood to come out of Lohman's nose, a fake eye stapled shut for Lorna Raver, a puppet goat for a sacrifice scene, and all kinds of cool, behind-the-scenes tidbits. Production diaries on most films can be boring shots of people sitting outside their trailers, but the practical effects on Drag Me to Hell are such that they're a real treat to watch.
Hopefully, some years down the line, Drag Me to Hell will be recognized as the classic it is and will be rewarded with a proper DVD release. For now, though, this fairly stripped-down edition at least offers the opportunity to see the film again, and that's probably enough.