It’s no secret (read my books!) that I’m a bit of a horror fan. I like the dark yarns. Regulars will also know that I’m a bit of a Sam Raimi fan. I recently re-watched The Evil Dead and reviewed it briefly here.
So, when I heard about a new Sam Raimi horror film, I was there like a fly on a rotting corpse. I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It’s great to see Raimi return to his roots after outings in big Hollywood blockbusters like the recent Spider-Man flicks.
The basic premise behind Drag Me To Hell is nothing especially original. There’s an old Hungarian gypsy woman that is facing foreclosure on her house and goes to the bank for help. For reasons that I won’t spoil, a go-getting young loans officer refuses her an extension and the old gypsy curses her. The curse is a mighty powerful one which subjects the victim to three days of torment at the hands of the evil Lamia spirit. After the three days of torment the Lamia spirit arrives and, quite literally, drags the victim to Hell for all eternity. Seriously, don’t piss of old Hungarian ladies with dodgy eyes and nasty teeth.
Yeah, think twice before refusing her a loan extension.
So I won’t give away any more of the movie except to say that the opening shows an encounter with the Lamia back in 1969 and now this new curse gives the medium that failed then a chance at redemption. The film is packed with all the exciting action you’d expect as Christine Brown, the cursee in this case, desperately tries to understand what’s happening, convince her boyfriend that she’s not mad, seek the help of a fortune teller, seek further help from the medium I mentioned above and frantically try to rid herself of the curse.
This is a good horror flick. I’m one of those people that doesn’t jump on the outside. When a big shock happens I get a jolt inside, but never physically move. All part of my incredible physical training regimen and mad kung fu skills, no doubt. However, this film is packed full of shock moments like a month old severed head is packed full of maggots. Most of them you see coming and brace for the delicious shock – that’s half the fun – but a couple of these ones caught me out. I even physically jumped once, which is really unusual.
There’s the expected gross out aspects of a Raimi flick – eyeballs bursting from heads, eyeballs being stabbed with a fork, old ladies gumming your chin… you’ll have to watch it to see what I mean. These things benefit from far better special effects than Raimi had at his disposal in 1981 when he made The Evil Dead, but they’re still not really the best effects ever. They’re a little bit cartoony, which is a real shame.
Even so, Drag me To Hell is a great addition to the horror classics, with gore and mayhem, a truly brilliant seance scene and a good, scary story with plenty of shocks and screams. My only real complaint is that I saw the end coming a mile off. I think anyone would be hard pressed not to guess the denouement. Perhaps Raimi planned that and gave us something to expect, but I’m guessing that it was supposed to be a surprise that really wasn’t. If you want to know more about that, scroll down. If you don’t want spoilers, this article ends with this paragraph. The obvious ending, like the less than brilliant effects, is unfortunate but not enough to write this movie off. It’s classic Raimi horror fare and well worth a look if you like that kind of thing.
Now, scroll down for my analysis of the ending, with spoilers.
SPOILERS – You have been warned.
Now, if you’re reading this I’m guessing that you’ve seen it or don’t plan to see it. Either way, a quick explanation of the key plot twist is this: The old gypsy curses Christine Brown by taking a button from her coat, fixing the curse to the button and giving it back to her. The Lamia will seek out, torment and then take whoever has this cursed item. Fair enough. You can’t destroy it or throw it away, but you can make an official gift of it to someone else and it will be that person’s soul that is ripped away to eternal torment, not yours.
So, Christine eventually realises that this is her only hope and struggles morally with who to give the cursed button to. She has the button in an envelope. Earlier in the film she gave her boyfriend a gift of a rare coin for his coin collection. He put that coin into an envelope for safe-keeping. As soon as Rham Jas, the fortune teller, tells her that she can give the button away and save herself, and puts that button into an envelope, we know exactly what’s going to happen.
Sure enough, she drops the button in the envelope in her boyfriend’s car, frantically searches, pulls out an envelope with a round thing obviously inside. She goes on to find that she can give the cursed item to a dead person, so digs up the old gypsy and makes a gift to her of the envelope. Not only did we see the end coming, she doesn’t even open the envelope when she gives it to the gypsy corpse. It’s not until the boyfriend reveals the button on the train platform the next day that she knows she hasn’t shifted the curse after all. Cue Lamia and pretty Christine is dragged to Hell.
Now, here’s how I’d have done it.
When Christine gives her boyfriend the coin early in the film, don’t show him putting it into an envelope. Just have him say something like, “Hmm, I’ll have to put this somewhere safe…” and move on with the film. When they have the near miss in the car and Christine drops her envelope with the button in it, don’t make a big deal about it. Just have her look down, move around the papers on the floor and pick up an envelope. We have no reason to think that anything is amiss. Of course, we’ll suspect something, but it won’t be as obvious as Tom Cruise’s love of alien lifeforms.
Then there are two ways to end it. Have her open the envelope when she’s trying to give the curse back to the gypsy, only to discover a coin. Cue panic, rushing to her boyfriend, he holds up her button and says, “I put that coin you gave me into an envelope for safe-keeping. You must have picked that up by mistake.” She’s frantic, enter Lamia and pretty Christine is dragged to Hell.
Or, and this is perhaps better, have her stuff the envelope into the gypsy’s mouth, under the assumption that the button is in there. We don’t know any different. The grave stone nearly knocks her out, she escapes, happy happy joy joy. At the station the next day, have the same button reveal by the boyfriend. She’s stares dumbfounded at the button. He says, “I put that coin you gave me into an envelope for safe-keeping. You must have picked that up by mistake.” And pretty Christine is dragged to Hell.
The second version is very close to the actual film, yet it’s far less likely to be seen coming so obviously. So, Sam Raimi, if you’re reading this, something to think about. (As if Sam Raimi reads my blog… But if you do, I’ve got a couple of novels out that would make great movies. Call me!)