Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Just one of those days - Drag Me to Hell

It happens all the time. You're having a bad day, when to top it off, you get on the wrong side of an old gypsy woman. She curses you and what do you know, next thing you're seeing demons. Worse, in three days time one of them's going to drag you down to Hell. Hell, I've been there three times this month!

Firstly let's just put things in context. Sam Raimi has long been regarded as a horror maestro principally on the basis of his 'Evil Dead' trilogy. Common wisdom goes that the first 'Evil Dead' was an out-and-out horror, a video nasty of the time, while 'Evil Dead II' was a remake played for laughs. I tend to disagree. I laughed throughout the first film (excepting one obvious scene involving a tree, a scene I still regard as in very, very questionable taste), though not so much as during the sequel. Much has been made of his love of the Three Stooges and it's true that you cannot watch pretty much any of his movies without some reference to their particularly violent brand of slapstick cropping up (even 'A Simple Plan' probably has something somewhere). The 'Evil Dead' films are riddled with it. For me then Raimi is NOT a great horror director, but someone who has a talent for a peculiar form of black comedy.

After the debacle of 'Spiderman III', Raimi's new film, 'Drag Me To Hell', has been hailed as a mean, lean return to form. The script is credited to Sam and brother Ivan, but that for me does not necessarily bode well. Whatever about his direction, screenwriting is not Sam's forte, and judging by 'Spiderman III', it's not Ivan's greatest strength either. What's more, that double credit hides that fact that it's pretty much a steal of Jacques Tourneur's classic, 'Night of the Demon', itself an adaptation of M.R. James's 'Casting the Runes'. It even 'borrows' Tourneur's final train station scene.

Reference, reference, reference! For the critics, it's really all about references, all to Raimi's back catalogue and, via that, to much of Hollywood's B-movie history. I mean the plot hinges around an old gypsy woman for crying out loud! How many Universal horror flicks does that cover? ('The Wolf Man', 'House of Dracula', to name but two.) In essence Raimi goes back to all the old tricks that made the 'Evil dead' series so exhuberant, with Alison Lohman standing in for Bruce Campbell as the terrorised Laurel to the demons' Hardy. We get white-eyed cackling hag demons, popping eyeballs, floating (not to mention dancing) possessed monsters, projectile vomit (and maggots) and all the other demonic tricks. However, lest we forget the slapstick origins of all this (silly) gore, we also get falling anvils, sacrificed kittens and the deliriously entertaining spectacle of a woman attempting to gum someone to death. I laughed out loud more than once. Raimi uses familiar camera tricks too, like Demon-cam or the background fade so common in 'Spiderman' and 'Darkman'. As to scares though, it's really all about loud noises and boo-type shocks. Raimi's is an "I'll huff and I'll puff" approach, a blustering technique signalled from the outset with EC Comics style graphics and a wildly over-the-top score by Christopher Young.

What I'm building up to here is that 'Drag Me to Hell' is in no way original and about as scary as 'Abbott and Costello meet the Wolfman'. It's also very enjoyable in an adolescent way. Certainly the audience I was with were primed for jumping and jumped a lot. Who cares that Raimi is doing absolutely nothing new or that his gothic trappings and foul-mouthed creatures belong more in Eddie Murphy's Disney vehicle, 'The Haunted Mansion', than a grown-up movie (like 'Let the Right One In', for instance). If it weren't for the popping eyeballs and spewed maggots, Raimi might be making a family movie like, eh, 'Spiderman'.

On the way out of the cinema a girl behind me made an astute observation: "There were no surprises, but then sometimes a movie doesn't have to have any surprises." Nicely put.

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