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Spidey be Damned! Raimi returns to his evil deadly root 

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Director Sam Raimi revisits his old haunted stomping grounds and proves he can still deliver the goods in Drag Me to Hell. A master of schlock humor and drive-in horror who made the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi went on to some cleverly made flops (A Simple Plan, Quick and the Dead), then ostracized himself from his main audience (including me) by taking the helm of the mega-hit Spiderman franchise. Now he humbly returns to his evil deadly roots with a bag of familiar tricks. Drag Me to Hell is an old school curse movie complete with jolts, scares and gross-out laughs galore. Beginning with the old style universal logo, Raimi shows immediately that his heart is in the right place. And all the over-budget sets, high tech lighting and CGI antics that defined his recent work take a back seat.

The plot is painstakingly simple. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer vying for the assistant manger position. She's up against smarmy kiss-ass Stu (Reggie Lee) and her pansy indecisive boss (David Paymer). Enter one haggard old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) with a shattered blue eye and crumbling dentures. Christine refuses to extend her a third and final loan, thus evicting her from her home. The gypsy places an evil curse on her and all hell breaks loose. Desperate, Christine and boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) turn to a fortune teller (Dileep Rao) to try to save her soul, while evil forces work against her.

We get a multitude of hell bent antics designed to make us jump, go "eeeww!" and crack up. The scenes, though sporadic in their timing, are memorable. Eyeballs play prominently-popping out of skulls, embedded in harvest cakes, receiving end of a stapler. Then there's the bodily function department. A sufficient amount of drooling accompanies a smorgasbord of vomiting sequences not limited to bugs, embalming fluid and entrails.

The acting is functional, which is all that's required. Lohman is great at being frightened, but does her best when struggling with her character's insecurities (she used to be a fat girl). Long's character is just way too nice and Paymer's laid-back performance is both creepy and weird.

Invisible entity acrobatics (an Evil Dead trade-mark) are a centerpiece of the action. The unseen bad forces chuck people in the air, floats them around, flings them across rooms, rattles pots and pans. But this sinister unseen force can only do so much. Personally, I like it when I can see the evil. It's always better if it's inbred hillbilly psychopaths at the core of the monstrosities rather than myth and legend - in this case Greek mythology.

Raimi pulls out all the stops, including the extremely cool use of shadows, but pauses too long in the obnoxiously sappy dialogue in between. We get small doses of what this director can do. There's no 20-minute crescendo of gore, humor and evil flying around (as in his other films), instead, the evil arrives intermittently. Prepare for the twist ending as Raimi evokes all things sacred about black comedy horror films and even '50s style B-movies. Although it's mostly formulaic, teasing toward a big finish-fear not- this flick contains all the essential stuff that grosses out and scares us senseless.

Drag Me to Hell ★★★✩
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Lorna Raver, Reggie Lee. Director: Sam Raimi


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