In his return to horror, Spider-Man director Sam Raimi tells us to respect our elders. Why? Because they might sic cloven-hoofed demons on us, that's why.
In retrospect, loan officer Christine Brown certainly wishes she had shown poor, wizened Mrs. Ganush a bit more respect and given her the loan extension she asked for. Frankly, when Mrs. Ganush got on her knees and begged Christine for monetary mercy, Christine should've just handed the house deed over with a smile and nervous laugh—and perhaps invited the gnarled octogenarian for tea, just to make sure there were no hard feelings.
But Christine, with one eye on a lucrative promotion and the other on impressing her boyfriend's mom, denies Mrs. Ganush her extension and, when the woman starts kissing the hem of Christine's skirt in supplication, Christine calls security to haul the hag away.
"You shame me," Mrs. Ganush says. "I beg of you. And you shame me."
Shameful behavior is a big deal to Mrs. Ganush, it turns out—so big, in fact, that she waits for Christine in the bank parking garage, attacks her and ... rips a button off Christine's coat.
A little needle and thread and the coat'll be good as new, right? Maybe. But Christine won't. And that's because the Ganushinator chants a curse over the button before handing it back—a curse that invokes a dread Lamia demon, calling it up from its fiery hacienda way down under. The Lamia, once hired, follows a strict protocol for all its accursed victims: Torment them for three days before dragging them to—well, you know where.
"Soon it will be you who comes begging to me," Mrs. Ganush tells Christine.
We've already covered the absurdly illustrated "treat your elders with respect" message, and it would be tempting to leave things at that, but there are a few other positive lessons to be found in Drag Me to Hell:
Christine is actually a nice woman who, if she hadn't been hankering for a promotion, would've likely given that loan extension to Mrs. Ganush. Though Christine periodically denies she was at fault for rejecting the loan, she later 'fesses up, saying the decision was hers, and that it was the wrong one. Thus, when Christine learns she can pass the Ganush curse on to someone else, she decides she won't do it—not even to her worst living enemy.
Christine's boyfriend, Clay, shows remarkable fortitude in sticking with his main squeeze, even after she starts rambling about curses and demons and begins throwing glassware at unseen assailants.
Another good thing we can say about this movie (the list is rapidly dwindling) is that it treats nasty spiritual forces as serious threats to well-being. How we're to fight back, on the other hand, leaves a great deal to be desired:
When Christine and Clay visit a psychic for help, the psychic detects Christine's curse and asks her if she's been dabbling in the occult—attending séances, using Ouija boards, that sort of thing. He encourages her to sacrifice an animal to appease the demon (more on that later) and, when that doesn't work, serves as a go-between to a much more powerful medium who has the moxie to tangle with the Lamia. During a séance, Christine chants, "I welcome the dead into my soul," and the medium banishes a handful of lingering ghosts before the Lamia arrives.
The Lamia manifests itself in a variety of ways, but typically it shows up as a steady breeze, then condenses into a creepy, cloven-hoofed and goat-headed shadow. It can possess both people and animals, and it flings folks (especially Christine) into walls and cupboards and such. When it's banished, it billows away as red vapor. At a couple of junctures, we see the Lamia's claws reach out of a fiery pit to drag its victims to—well, you know where.
Christine also is haunted by the spirit of Mrs. Ganush, who dies of natural causes. Actually, it's impossible to tell whether her appearances are just visitations of the Lamia or whether Mrs. Ganush is chipping in. Regardless, she was apparently given a Christian burial, for her grave is marked with a huge cross—a monument that, at one point, tumbles into the reopened grave and conks Christine on the noggin.
Christine wears dresses that showcase her cleavage. She's also seen in a wet T-shirt. She and Clay share a bed. (Both are dressed.) Clay invites her to a weekend at his parents' summer getaway so they can "just talk ... and stuff." Book illustrations show naked females.
Drag Me to Hell is an all-out queasefest from beginning to end. The Lamia throws its existential weight around, treating Christine like an 8-year-old boy would treat his sister's rag doll. It pushes other folks around, too, tossing them into walls and off balconies. One poor little boy is pulled into a fiery crevasse, screaming all the while. The Lamia apparently also causes Christine's nose to bleed violently—spraying blood all around her bank.
But Mrs. Ganush and her ghost are perhaps even more aggressive—serving up a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of gross-out violence. She throws a rock at Christine's car, tries to bite her face, successfully gums her chin (Ganush wears false teeth), sticks her entire forearm down her throat, rips out chunks of her hair, hits her, chokes her, vomits maggots on her face, attacks her in the guise of a possessed handkerchief, regurgitates what may be formaldehyde (again, on her face) and causes her to have a plethora of fender benders.
During one confrontation, Christine retaliates by stapling Mrs. Ganush's eye shut and causing the old woman to smack her head against a car dashboard. In another, she smashes her attacker with an anvil (which, for some reason, was left suspended from a garage ceiling), causing Ganush's eyes (and a bunch of mud-like goop) to fly from her sockets. She knocks over Ganush's corpse and, later, hits her face with a shovel.
To rid herself of the Lamia, Christine sacrifices her pet kitten: We hear the kitty wail and see Christine bury it in her garden. Then, a possessed henchman spews the kitten's corpse out of its mouth.
Christine must also deal with a piece of harvest cake that sprouts an eye, oozes blood and apparently eats her fork. When she takes a bite of the cake, she starts choking.
When Christine is dragged to—well, you know where—she tries to claw her way to safety as evil-looking talons pull her into a devilishly hot pit. Her face contorts and seems to melt as she's pulled under.
Crude or Profane Language
Two s-words and a smattering of milder profanities (including, predictably, "d--n" and "h---"). God's name is misused nearly 15 times (once with "d--n"). Jesus' name is abused twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Christine and Clay drink wine with Clay's parents at a family get-together. Christine and Clay's mother both confess that they have alcoholic parents.
Other Negative Elements
Are the Romani the only ethnic minority filmmakers are still allowed to marginalize with impunity? Mrs. Ganush is apparently a Romani—known colloquially as Gypsies—and the film suggests that her people sometimes call on the Lamia if an interloper ticks them off.
While Christine's sleeping, a fly crawls in one nostril and out the other before burrowing into her mouth.
This flick returns Sam Raimi—who earned notoriety for his Evil Dead series long before he ever laid a hand on the Spider-Man franchise—to his schlocky horror roots. In a sentence, it's filled with jump scenes and gross-out gags.
It pulls us into the bowels of Hades while using spirituality as more of an excuse than a theme—a reason to fill the screen with, well, quease. That doesn't excuse it. In fact, it may actually make matters worse.