Some Ash-style advice for Sam Raimi virgins bound for “Drag Me to Hell”: “Buckle up, boneheads, ’cause you’re going for a ride.” And what a comical, violent, gloriously silly trip it is. Yes, “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi’s return to the horror comedy that made his “Evil Dead” series such a cult sensation, is a dementedly chipper shockfest soaked in bodily secretions. (Take your pick; they’re all there, and they all coat Alison Lohman’s saucer-eyed, perpetually quizzical face at some point.) There’s cartoonish violence aplenty, too, and it’s all so outrageous that the only missing is a split-second technicolor “KABLAM-O!” screen. Yet that’s the beauty of Raimi off-kilter genius: He knows when to do subtle and when to do camp. And “Drag Me” is pure, light-hearted camp.
Take, for example, the setup for “Drag Me to Hell,” which sounds for all the world like any episode of Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”: To secure a promotion in her bank, loan officer Christine (Lohman, not yet mainstream enough to lose her indie cred) forcloses the home of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman too sick to make mortgage payments. Wrong. Possessed of some gnarly dentures and a gnarlier attitude, Mrs. Ganush unloads a whopper of a hex on Christine. Tormented by a demon, the once-meek Christine morphs into madwoman who’ll try anything — psychic readings, some light ritual animal slaughter — to kill the curse. All fiancee Clay (Justin Long, the go-to ironically bemused movie boyfriend) can do is foot the bill.
Still, don’t let the quirky story fool you; there’s much to shriek and squirm and squeam about in “Drag Me to Hell.” Raimi rides all the worst horror movie cliches like Seattle Slew, and he makes them work just as hard. Laughable one-liners, blockhead run-up-the-stairs moves, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night scenes, a skittish heroine willing to navigate a veritable sea of sputum and survive colossal ghostly ass-whoopings — it’s all there in spades. Kudos, too, to Lohman, Raver and Long, who manage to play straight while looking, ever so secretly, like they’re in on the joke. Because just like “Evil Dead,” that’s all Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” is: one big joke, and one that never stops being hilarious.
Hail to the king, Sam. It’s good to have you back.