Color, 2009, 98 mins. 50 secs. / 99 mins.
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (R0 HD/NTSC/PAL) / WS (2.40:1) (16:9)

Horror Drag Me to Hellfans were more Drag Me to Hellthan a little relieved in 2009 when Sam Raimi offered a palate cleanser after the disastrous Spider-Man 3 with a much-needed return to his horror roots. Openly inspired by the Jacques Tourneur classic Curse of the Demon, Drag Me to Hell is, as of this writing, Raimi's next-to-last big screen feature to date and still an energetic, go-for-broke slice of demonic pandemonium that proves PG-13 horror can still deliver full-strength shocks.

Frustrated with the difficulty of getting a promotion at work at a local bank, loan officer Christine (Matchstick Men's Lohman) proves to her boss that she can make hard decisions when she refuses to extend a loan that would save the home of elderly Hungarian gypsy Mrs. Ganush (Raver). When Christine refuses the woman's public begging, the humiliation leads to a supernatural gypsy curse (via a button on Christine's coat) that will subject her to three days of escalating physical and psychological torment before she's plunged into hell. Christine tries to conceal the horror from her professor boyfriend, Clay (Long), and ends up seeking help from psychic Rham Jas (Rao), a process that leads to a particularly wild seance as she tries to discover a way of turning back the curse before it's too late.

A fine return to form for Raimi, Drag Me to Hell manages a tricky balancing act between deep-seated dread and outrageous horror comedy. Lohman proves to be a good sport and manages to play the material completely straight (no mean feat considering the extensive abuse her character endures), which makes the moments of Evil Dead-style insanity all the more effective. The wild disparity Drag Me to Hellbetween Christine's "crime" and the nature of her punishment can make the film an uncomfortable sit for some viewers (no spoilers, but this film plays really rough), with a nasty and rather bleak world view underlying the whole story when you really get down to it. However, the tone of the film is too much like a rollercoaster to leave a severe aftertaste, and anyone who loves Raimi will be in heaven as the director unleashes his whole arsenal of cinematic tricks from start to finish (apart from a smattering of badly dated CGI). Incidentally, this was also the first and, at the moment, sole film Raimi made for his Ghost House Pictures company (co-founded with Robert Tapert), which had already set a track record in the genre with The Grudge series, Boogeyman, and 30 Days of Night.

Drag Me to HellReleased on Blu-ray and DVD in late 2009 by Universal, Drag Me to Hell sported two cuts, the PG-13 theatrical one and an alternate unrated version with some bloodier shots here and there. The running times are almost exactly the same but the effect is rather different in spots, and not always for the better; a pet sacrifice scene that was already pushing it in the theatrical goes way overboard with blood splashes in the unrated, most notably, but the hilarious nosebleed scene is arguably better. Try 'em both and see which one you prefer, though the essential viewing experience won't be dramatically altered. The one extra is a batch of production diaries (35m8s) hosted by Long and featuring actor profiles, supernatural tutorials, and visual effects breakdowns, also viewable as separate bite-sized chunks. The transfer was great for its time and still holds up quite well, with audio options including English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as DTS-HD MA 5.1 French and Spanish tracks, with optional subtitles in all three languages as well. Needless to say, there was a lot of room for improvement in the extras department. Drag Me to Hell

In 2018, Scream Factory gave the film a welcome revisit with a two-disc Blu-ray edition that segregates the two cuts onto separate discs. Both versions come from new 2K scans of the digital intermediate and look feature similarly robust bit rates. The most significant difference compared to the older disc is the increase in detail, with textures of skin and fabric looking quite a bit more tactile here. Black levels and color timing vary slightly throughout but not dramatically so, while framing is identical to the prior transfer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English audio options both sound great, with those wild and aggressive surround effects still packaging a punch. Optional English Drag Me to Hellsubtitles are also provided. Disc one with the theatrical cut ports over the production diaries from the prior Blu-ray, followed by a batch of raw EPK interviews (33m37s) with Raimi, Lohman, and Long, complete with set flubs left in and a few digressions involving topics like Legend of the Seeker. The first disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer and a pair of TV spots.

The second disc with the unrated cut also features "To Hell and Back" (12m36s), a cheerfully candid new interview with Lohman about the frequently grueling shoot and the intense physical demands of a script that would often evolve into surprising new grotesqueries each 16-hour work day. (Don't miss the bit about the nosebleed, too.) Raver appears next for "Curses!" (15m58s), looking much more friendly than her screen persona in this film as she recalls having "a blast" embodying one of Raimi's most grotesque characters. (Keep your eyes peeled on the script excerpts, too, for the original name of the Christine character.) Finally, composer Christopher Young (who also scored Raimi's The Gift and Spider-Man 3) gets his say in "Hitting All the Right Notes" (17m10s), explaining how he got to explore some additional new shades of "sonic madness" in his notable horror music career. A still gallery (2m11s) is also included, featuring behind-the-scenes shots and international poster art. In short, it's a substantial upgrade and another worthy entry in the label's line of Raimi editions following Army of Darkness and Darkman. Note that there are actually two versions of this release in circulation; the one with "V2" on the label is the correct one, with an earlier pressing featuring two fleeing instnaces of PG-13 footage instead of unrated.

Reviewed on January 22, 2018.


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