Friday, May 29, 2009
One thing I can tell you about Sam Raimi without hesitation is that he thinks old ladies are gross. And Scary. They have warts and stinky breath, and bad teeth or no teeth, ugly fingernails and toes, stringy and dirty hair, and they make lots of squishy sounds when they talk and eat and they are generally just about the grossest things on earth. Old, white crones. Anyone who knows Raimi's earlier work in the "Evil Dead" series (including "Army of Darkness") knows what I am talking about. Gnarly, demented and possessed old ladies often face the bad end of a boomstick and are told to come and get some. Same thing here, except this is a more mature Sam Raimi than the Evil Dead 2 days. This is more Spiderman II and The Quick and the Dead Raimi than Spiderman 3 and For Love of the Game Raimi. Thank God.
The point is Raimi has always handled horror with a tongue-in-cheekiness where characters glib neo-colloquialisms in horrific situations for a consistent levity with performances that are of another genre, but not horror. Perhaps spaghetti western. But Drag Me To Hell - which thankfully doesn't abandon his penchant for gross-out humor and inventive special effects - does ground this movie so it is both funny, gory, entertaining, and even (surprise, surprise), a little bit scary! Some of this is due to the skills he has honed on big Hollywood blockbusters like the Spidey franchise, and some of this is due to the advances in technology (unlike the claymation feel of the the demons doing crazy stuff in his early films, this movie looks absolutely amazing). But another is the revelation of Allison Lohman (Justin Long I can do without. As far as I am concerned you become a commercial icon for a computer you don't get to make movies anymore). But Lohman, she is a different duck. I am not too familiar with her work, but I was very impressed with her understated approach to the character, and I didn't get that it was because she is generally an understated person in which good performances are often mistaken. She actually had a real astute comic timing. Watch for how she delivers the line about why her cat may or may not still be alive. It is actually quite brilliant and one of the funnier moments in the movie. And she is the Bruce Campbell role. Where he is all camp all the time (and we love him for it, i guess) she walks through life incredulous and guileless. So when she makes a career driven decision at the expense of someone else it comes off as reasonable and empathetic.
That decision, however, is what gives us our crazed, disgusting old lady her bile (and when her spleen explodes that's literal). We get to see her take her teeth out to the sound of what it might sound like if you miked up slugs having sex, we see her eye puss then pop, vomit maggots, gum someone's cheek, and lots more fun stuff. Her battles with Christine Brown (the character played by Lohman) are action-packed, inventive, hilarious and thoroughly disgusting. Much like Peter Jackson before him in Braindead he tries to one up himself and all directors before him in grossing us out with innovative and ultimately silly gross-out gimmicks. But what is beautiful about what he does here is that it is all in the flow of things. Unlike Spiderman 3 where it was all about the special effects, here sometimes you don't even realize it was. but it was. One scene many are probably already aware of is the scene where a fly lands on Christine's face and then goes up her nose. But what you don't get in a trailer is that this scene goes on for two minutes and never once do yo not think it is a real fly doing this, and they get close up. You know it isn't because flies aren't the most responsive creatures to animal wranglers, but you wouldn't know it. Nor are you expecting what ultimately happens to the fly.
Wit, performance and special effects success aside, about halfway through the movie I started thinking about the randomness of the film itself. Is this based on some source material I don't know about? It truly isn't like one of those eureka ideas a filmmaker might have who passionately try and get it up on the big screen. It is fairly straightforward in its concept. A young woman denies an old lady a third extension on a loan, that old lady hunts her down and fist fights with her, loses fight and then puts a curse on the girl. The curse causes a demon to rain down on her and eventually tries to drag her to hell. As big ideas go, this one doesn't necessarily jump off the page. But I believe it is in the banality of it lies the success. I think the pitch to the money people was, "what if you pissed someone off in the everyday flow of things, just doing your job nothing nefarious, but unwittingly that causes someone with the power to summon demons to rain that power down on you and suck your soul into Hell." Now that's intriguing. And that's what happens. She doesn't open any secret book, or do anything wrong at all really, but the wrong person thought she did and she was cooked from there.
Could happen to any of us.