Drag Me to Hell
Horror Gone Slapstick: An Open Letter to Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long
By Tom Bevis
Dear Mr. Raimi:
I have to admit that I grew up watching your Evil Dead pictures, and they have taught me a lot about the horror genre. Unfortunately, they have taught me what should never be done in the genre and how to recognize a film that loses scope and tone and, instead of being an honest offering to the genre, becomes a satire not only of said genre but of the film itself. The problem with your films has always been that they are jokes about themselves and about the genre, which isn’t a bad thing. The bad thing is that they always take themselves seriously and never recognize themselves as the parodies they are. This is what makes your films burning blemishes not only on the horror genre but on the entire history of film itself.
Let me use your latest disaster, Drag Me to Hell, as an example. You know the story because it’s stock, overplayed, and, quite honestly, stale. A young unsuspecting victim accidentally wrongs a gypsy and is therefore cursed and harassed by a demonic entity. If you can’t tell, sir, I’m yawning right now. That’s because this story has been done dozens of times. You cannot hide behind the banner of being “nostalgic” because “nostalgia” is not a synonym for “unoriginal.” Your film does not utilize an original story or concept and use the memories of films past to strengthen your own themes. Instead, you just mash up as many horror tropes and gimmicks as you can possibly find. Renegade insects? Check. Cascading bodily fluid? Check. A dusty old haunted house? Check. Tim Burton knock-offs? Check. Should I continue?
No, I won’t bother. You’ve got them all.
Your film also has all the hallmarks of lowbrow comedy. Talking animals, repulsive scenes of uncontrollable vomit, a falling anvil (which results in the eyes and teeth being ejected from the head of the victim – I’m not joking). There’s even a demon that dances in midair to a rapid ragtime tune. Wait, is this Beetlejuice? No, this is your steaming pile of unoriginality and insult masquerading as a serious film. Your problem here is balance. You want to make a horror movie, and you want to add in jokes about horror movies, but you also want to credit the film as an entirely effective and genuine horror film. Well, you can’t have both. It’s one of the other, my friend: genuine horror or horror satire.
The worst sin of all, though, is the film’s over-eager advertising campaign, claiming that you have made “a return to horror as it was always meant to be.” Has your ego been so overblown that you will publicly claim that you have come to remedy the sorry state horror has found itself in? That you have made a vision of the definitive horror film? My question is: what makes your piece of film any different from the other plagues of the genre? Instead of buckets of blood, you have gallons of saliva and embalming fluid. You fall into the typical trend of using music to cue your scares instead of actually frightening your audience. You overplay the monsters and the elements of fear so often that the audience becomes accustomed to them and by the end of the film are left shrugging and unaffected.
I know I’ve been hard on you, Mr. Raimi, but someone had to do it. Maybe for your next venture into horror “as it was always meant to be,” you’ll stop ripping off other people’s work, stop ripping off your own Evil Dead films, and at least attempt to make something marginally original. Or, you could always stick to cheesy comic book adaptations. People always expect those to be campy.
Tom Bevis & Your Pals at Cinema Spartan
PS – Did you honestly expect anyone to buy Justin Long as a college professor? Of psychology, no less? Surely, this is another of your misplaced jokes.
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