Drag Me to Hell

(Sam Raimi, USA, 2009)

BY MICHAEL KORESKY | June 14, 2022

In 2009, Sam Raimi, the beloved cult-horror auteur of the Evil Dead films turned idiosyncratic mainstream genre director, unexpectedly released his best post-trilogy horror film. Drag Me to Hell is one of the fleetest, most unreasonably entertaining studio horror movies of the 21st century, combining two traditions of horror morality tales: the punchy, disreputable EC Comics incarnation and the classic scary-story lineage of British writer M.R. James. Inspired by James’s great 1911 story “Casting the Runes” (which also inspired 1957’s Night of the Demon, by Jacques Tourneur), in which a meek historical researcher is hexed by a mischievous occultist and haunted by a terrifying spirit, Drag Me to Hell centers on Los Angeles bank-loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman), whose life and eternal soul are put into severe jeopardy after she makes one bad, self-interested decision: to refuse a mortgage extension to Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman delinquent on her loan payments, in the hopes of proving her professional toughness and securing a promotion. In retaliation, the vengeful older woman, a member of the old-world European Roma community, curses Christine, who is subsequently terrorized by an ancient demon called a Lamia.

Fueled by Lohman’s authentically panic-stricken performance and Raimi’s expertly administered shocks and gross-outs, Drag Me to Hell is perched on the knife-edge between satire and earnestness. The film is at once delirious and unsettling, a negotiation of tones that never tips over too far into one or the other. In the great Val Lewton B-movie tradition, Raimi is particularly skilled at building tension through inference and off-screen sounds. As the days pass and Christine’s anxiety increases, the Lamia gets closer and closer, but we never actually see the demon on-screen. Instead, Raimi amps up the fear by centering Lohman’s full-bore intensity and the promise of a Biblical fate worse than death if she doesn’t find a way of reversing the curse. Rarely one to pull his punches, Raimi delivers the goods all the way to the notorious final moments, which giddily reject the happy conclusion one might expect from a mainstream horror show yet grants viewers a different kind of satisfaction.

It’s this ending that fans—and maybe detractors—of Drag Me to Hell will likely first recall when thinking of the film. Not only does it provide a lasting gut-punch, but it also reveals Raimi’s movie as the morality tale it is. In its own pulpy way, Drag Me to Hell is a serious-minded inquiry into what it means to be a good person, whether the film thinks Christine “deserves” her fate or not. (For the record, Raimi thinks she does not.) Was her act of self-interest a reflection of evil greed, or was it just a momentary slipup? And is either sin truly unforgivable? If the extreme events depicted in Raimi’s film aren’t to be taken literally, then one can see the movie as a rather sobering take on the small and large decisions that humans make on a daily basis, specifically in a capitalist society that’s by design disinterested in humanity. That Raimi smuggles such provocations into a movie in which a woman’s head is squished by an anvil until her eyeballs pop out is testament to his singular style and substance. 🩸


is Editorial Director at Museum of the Moving Image; cofounder and editor of the online film magazine Reverse Shot, a publication of MoMI; a longtime contributor to The Criterion Collection, where he programs the Criterion Channel series “Queersighted”; and the author of Films of Endearment (Hanover Square Press, 2021).

TWITTER: @reverse_shot

How to see Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell is also available on Blu-ray from Universal, featuring both the unrated and theatrical cut, and Shout! Factory, in a collector’s edition.
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