Review: Sam Raimi returns to old-school horror in Drag Me to Hell

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Evil Dead II was the first movie that made me notice the craft of filmmaking. I knew I liked movies, but when I was 12 I just thought you put the camera in front of the actors and put the scenes in the right order. At 12, I probably didn't understand the complexities of Sam Raimi's shots and editing, but I knew something different was going on.

While Raimi maintained his aesthetic in big-budget action movies, it sure is fun to see him do one of his old-school horror movies again. Drag Me to Hell uses all of Raimi's old tricks, invents a few new ones and just has fun all along the way. His fans should get a real kick out of references to gory gags from 20 years ago.

Christine (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer at a bank that is foreclosing on Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) after two warnings for nonpayment. Just because she won't grant a third extension, Ganush puts a gypsy curse on Christine. What ensues is slapstick-style horror, only within the trappings of a studio movie, because Christine still has a daily life with a boyfriend (Justin Long) and work.

Either the story is padded out to look like a mainstream film, or Raimi only had about 30 minutes of extreme ideas versus the full 90 of Evil Dead II. It's probably the former. Today's horror audiences expect stories and motivation. They don't appreciate just plain in-your-face chaos, so he tricks them.

When it's the story of Christine trying to get a promotion and win over her boyfriend's parents, it's legitimate, but it's also all set up for crazy stuff to happen in settings where crazy stuff doesn't usually happen. I mean, you almost expect it in a cabin in the woods, but we don't usually see blood spray in a bank or bugs grossing out rich people in their mansion.

When the curse is on, it's totally Evil Dead all over again, down to a few specific callbacks to classic visual gags. The effects are more CGI but just as gooey and slimy. Really, it's a joy to see Raimi play around with his old toolbox. Nobody else did it like him, so this is a gift.