Monday, August 27, 2012

In Defense of Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi’s May 29th, 2009 release, Drag Me to Hell (DMTH) made $90 million worldwide against a $30 million dollar budget.  Although it had a budget considerable higher for a horror movie, DMTH made back three times the amount. The movie is a box office success.

Critically speaking, reception for the film has been split. ranked the film at 93% approval for critics and 61% for general audiences., however, ranks the film at an average 6.8 out of 10.

Having consistently shown the film to my high school classes in the past years, I found DMTH not only works as an extension of the Gothic Tradition but also as a well-rounded horror film.  Raimi’s work on the film deserves more than just an average reception from major audiences, and I would like to share some reasons why.

Spoilers will be discussed.  If you haven’t seen the film, I urge you to give it a viewing and come back.  If you haven’t formed a judgment on the film, may these points help you in the process.

 Unapologetic Horror
I find great disappointment in movies that suggest the horrific events happening could be explained with natural causes or are simply the result of the imagination.  The Blair Witch Project and Session 9 stand out as two examples of good films that don’t go full on supernatural. DMTH, from the chilling prologue, makes it clear that the supernatural will drive the plot of the film.  As a horror fan, I cheered the film’s decision to be blatant with its paranormal activity.

Consistent horrific events in a movie have a numbing effect on the audience.  Such could be said of any genre; hence the reason why Shakespeare had comic relief in his tragedies.  Raimi’s signature as a director is his ability to have a great moment of horror and then inject a moment of levity.  His Evil Dead series countered its intense horror with moments of slapstick levity.  DMTH blended the spooky and the comedic brilliantly.  One particular scene where this happens is when Christine Brown goes to the tool shed to gather items to pawn.  Audiences’ guards are down when she gets nostalgic over a found pair of childhood ice skates; Mrs. Ganush’s revenant jumps out from behind a cabinet door leaving seats saturated from the fright.  Christine then uses the ice skates to cut a rope and drop an anvil better than Wile E. Coyote ever could on the attacking spirit.

 Underlying Themes
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King identifies how great horror strikes a chord with audiences because it connects on a subconscious level.  The Exorcist is an allegory about God vs. The Devil but also a story of a parent’s grief over childhood loss of innocence.  The Amityville Horror’s true scare derives from the new homeowners running into money issues on top of a house where nasty things go on.  Internet conspiracies have stated that DMTH deals with Christine Brown’s eating disorder.  So much of the gross-out shocks come from regurgitation—symbolic of the purging from bulimia.  While no concrete proof from the director or writers clearly admit the fact, I, for one, believe it.  Watch the film on a second viewing and you will see just how much of the macabre more than coincidentally centers on the mouth (purging, expelling, and such) and just how hung-up Christine Brown is on her weight and being the former ‘fat girl’.

 Twists and Turns To The Very End
Every time Christine has felt as though she countered Mrs. Ganush’s curse, something happens to give the evil the upper hand.  Be it sacrificing the kitten, the séance, or the grave visit, each scene feels as though Christine has triumphed.  But then the clincher ending hits like a speeding train.  There are no apologies, no ‘it was just a dream’ cop-outs, and no excuses.  The evil wins.  That’s the most devoted way to finish a horror film.  Christine Brown, as the title blatantly states, gets dragged down to Hell.  No saves.  This was a ballsy move for a society that needs the happy ending every time; thus it’s a twist that feels odd even though evil should triumph in horror.

I understand that not every one has the same affinity for the film that I do.  I have no problem if you didn’t like the movie.  All that I ask is an understanding as to why I champion it.

Have any more reasons why you like DMTH?  Dislikes?  Share them. 

Keep rising from the graves of ignorance, my Zombies…

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