It's hard to believe that in 2019, it will have been 10 years since Sam Raimi made Drag Me to Hell, his long-awaited return to the horror genre (and, save for the pilot of "Ash vs. Evil Dead," his last contribution since). At the time, the film was greeted by near-unanimous critical praise (including my own), but was regarded as a flop, even if it earned a respectable amount at the global box office. Now, Shout! Factory has picked up the reins and delivered a brand-new 2-disc Collector's Edition as part of their Scream Factory line, offering fans a chance to revisit a film that may have been underseen the first time around.
So what's changed in the past nine years? Mostly social consciousness. Some readers will roll their eyes, but the horror genre has always lent itself to analysis of its messaging, especially the conservative moral standards that "final girls" are frequently expected to adhere to in order to survive. Movies such as It Follows, The Babadook, and this year's Best Picture nominee Get Out use horror as commentary on misogyny and racism. Of course, it's very unlikely Raimi and his co-writer brother Ivan intended for the film to be a referendum on subtle sexism, but watching Drag Me to Hell with 2018 eyes is interesting because the story holds up whether the viewer takes a sympathetic or critical view of its protagonist's choices.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer at a bank who desperately wants a promotion to an open assistant manager position. Her boss, Jim Jacks (David Paymer), tells her she's in the running, but her closest competition is the weaselly new employee, Stu (Reggie Lee), who does everything he can to undermine her, and frequently in front of Jim. With Stu intentionally looking to separate himself and Jim from Christine, her normally sympathetic nature falters when the elderly Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes in asking for a third extension on a home loan. Mrs. Ganush begs, but Christine refuses to budge, prompting a parking lot brawl between the two of them that is as over-the-top as it is entertaining, ending with Mrs. Ganush cursing Christine.
On one hand, Christine's willingness to shut Mrs. Ganush down if it's good for her career is easy to view as a criticism, especially as Christine's actions become comically unsympathetic. Just like Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi takes a certain delight in picking on the selfishness of his protagonists, with Christine trying to shuffle responsibility back onto Mrs. Ganush, and selling out at least one or two of her own principles in an attempt to save her own skin. On the other hand, Christine finds herself in a situation created by Stu, who utilizes "boys club" tactics to get Jim on his side, and reveals himself as thoroughly spineless when he stoops to literally stealing some of Christine's hard work. Elsewhere, Christine's boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) puts on a good face trying to be supportive of her as she struggles with supernatural evil, but it's clear he doesn't believe.
Another mildly questionable issue is the use of a gypsy curse, which carries racial overtones that would probably not fly if the movie were being made in 2018. While the movie would work just fine if she were a generic witch as opposed to a gypsy, I suppose it's Raimi's right as a man with Hungarian ancestors to create a Hungarian gypsy woman. Plus, more pertinently, Drag Me to Hell has an impressively forward-thinking multi-racial cast, including Lee as Stu, Dileep Rao as Rham Jas, a fortune teller who assists Christine in trying to develop ways to rid her of the curse, and Adriana Barraza as Shaun San Dena, who hosts the seance to try and capture the evil spirit behind the curse, the lamia. (One may also find themselves circling back to the notion that Christine is an unsympathetic character -- if she earns her punishment by denying Mrs. Ganush an extension for selfish reasons, maybe Mrs. Ganush isn't really a villain after all.)
Of course, all of this examination and introspection is less about Drag Me to Hell's inherent positive or negative qualities, and more to do with checking in on the film as it approaches its tenth birthday. In the end, my previous appreciation for the film hasn't waned at all. This is a wickedly funny, relentlessly entertaining, and even legitimately haunting little movie (the CGI imagery at the very end of the movie gets under the skin!). Raimi is in prime slapstick form (the pan up a rope in Christine's garage to reveal an anvil is pitch-perfect Looney Tunes direction), and Lohman's performance is exactly right for the film, a blend of slightly heightened innocence and hilariously inappropriate determination (the conviction that Christine has during the movie's climax is spot-on in its arrogance). Even if the lens one views Drag Me to Hell through has changed since 2009, the movie hasn't -- it's still a crackerjack horror carnival ride.
The Video and Audio
On Disc 2, we get the new stuff, which is a mixed bag. First, there's "To Hell and Back: A Conversation with Alison Lohman" (12:36), in which the actress looks back at the making of the movie. Lohman comes off as a bit awkward, as if she doesn't want to step on anyone's toes, noting that the experience working with Raimi was perhaps more intense than she was comfortable with, but constantly bringing her anecdotes around to a complimentary note or pleasant observation. She also talks a bit about being friends with Justin Long, and her lack of familiarity with the horror genre. This particular interview feels bolstered by an excess of clips from the movie. "Curses! Lorna Raver Talks Drag Me to Hell" (15:58) is more fun, with the actress cheerfully elaborating on her experience working with Raimi (including a bit of direction she found especially striking when seen on the big screen), her thoughts on the character of Mrs. Ganush, seeing the finished product, and its reception among horror fans. A touch rambling at times, but quite cheery. Finally, Hitting All the Right Notes: Christopher Young and the Music of Drag Me to Hell" (17:10) checks in with the composer, who talks at length about his overall relationship and then working relationship with Raimi. Young rambles even more than Raver, but is also the freest with his observations and memories. The bonus features wrap up with a brief stills gallery.
An original theatrical trailer and two TV spots are also included on Disc 1.