- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

Before Sam Raimi became best known as the director behind the “Spider-Man” franchise, he was the auteur of the “Evil Dead” series, a unique indie franchise that combined horror, gross-out gags and slapstick comedy to become one of the great underground horror franchises of the 1980s.

Finally having found mainstream success and critical acclaim with the “Spider-Man” movies, Mr. Raimi returns this weekend to his original love: horror films. “Drag Me to Hell” is a spirited throwback to Mr. Raimi’s first on-screen adventures and is a delight for the legion of fans who wondered just what the horrormeister could do given a serviceable budget and halfway decent actors.

“Drag Me to Hell” opens 40 years ago as a tormented child is rushed to a psychic’s house to save his soul: He has been targeted by the Lamia, a Gypsy demon summoned to punish the boy for stealing a silver necklace from a caravan of the nomads. The Lamia collects his soul, clawing the boy into the underworld, while the psychic promises that she will see the Lamia again.

Cut to the present, where Los Angeles transplant Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer with a great boyfriend (Justin Long) and her eyes on the assistant-manager gig at her bank. There’s only one problem: Her boss wants her to prove she can make the tough decisions required of management.

Enter Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old Gypsy woman hoping for an extension on her mortgage — her third extension, actually. Without it, she will be evicted and tossed into the street. After halfheartedly attempting to save the poor woman’s house, Christine makes the tough decision and tells the woman there’s nothing she can do. After a physical altercation with the old Gypsy, the curse of the Lamia is invoked.

Can the medium Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) or the Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza), the psychic who first encountered the Lamia all those years ago, save Christine? Or is she doomed to be dragged to hell?

A word to the wise: “Drag Me to Hell” isn’t for the squeamish. Mr. Raimi revels in blurring the line between horror and comedy with gleeful disregard for the emotional well-being of his audience, jerking us hither and thither until we don’t know whether to scream or laugh. He also has a fondness for drenching our heroine in viscous bodily discharges, earthworms and other indignities.

Miss Lohman brings a down-home charm to the former farmgirl looking to make it in the big city, while Mr. Long plays her psychology-professor boyfriend with the perfect combination of charm and smarm: He’s a know-it-all, but a loving one.

A bonus for D.C. residents looking to make it an all-Raimi evening: Hit up a Friday- or Saturday-night showing of “Drag Me to Hell” and then hustle over to the E Street Cinema for a midnight screening of “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.” You won’t be disappointed.

★★★

TITLE: “Drag Me to Hell”

RATING: PG-13 (sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Sam Raimi, written by Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.dragmetohell.net/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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