Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

(2009) ****

The movie opens in Pasadena, 1969. An immigrant couple beg for help from a woman who is clearly a medium of some sort; their son had a run-in with some Gypsies, and is now hearing voices. "They're getting louder," he says, "they're coming for me." Carried into the medium's lavish house, the boy looks up at the skylight and sees clawed hands scrabbling at the glass.

A seance is held. It does not go well. The boy is thrown bodily out of the room and over a banister to the floor below. While his parents rush to save him, the medium woman is the only witness to what happens next. The floor beneath the boy cracks, revealing a fiery red glow beneath. With an animal noise and lightning speed, something shoots up a hand, and the boy is dragged screaming into the floor, which seals itself up without a mark. In huge letters, white on black, the movie's title pops onto the screen. Boom.

And when it's this screen, and you're sitting in the sixth row, and you're surrounded by people who made the movie, because it's the first time the movie has screened in a theater, it's a damn good boom. The audience went nuts.

You can't tell how big the screen is because I took this picture with my phone. But it's huge. I'd never been to Grauman's Chinese Theater before, but it is freakin' beautiful. They do not skimp on the decor. The ceiling in the main room is dominated by what I took to be a massive sculpted chrysanthemum that must've been fifty feet in diameter, ringed by a series of gorgeous concentric friezes.

I was almost hypnotized by the beauty of the theater when we were choosing seats. We got there very early, way before the famous people, and found out which seats were open to us hoi-polloi. Of the four big sections, only the outer two weren't reserved, unless you wanted to sit in the first six rows. I tried a seat on the right, and nearly went for it because it meant I could spend the long wait gawking at the impossible room we were sitting in, but it failed my test. My test is to sit in the seat and look straight in front of me, and it wasn't screen, it was wall. Pass. Besides, gawking at the ceiling from way up front was an excuse to look for famous people.

And speaking of famous people, here's 50PageMcGee's friend Dileep Rao, as he appears in the movie. (Salient details: I only know him clean-shaven and with shorter hair, and he's got a big role in James Cameron's Avatar too.) He was our in to this frabulous experience. Thanks Dileep!

Anyway, there I was, scouting faces, when I notice a woman a few rows behind me has brought a young girl with her. They're talking to the usher, who is cheerily directing them to better seats than ours, and I can't see the little girl's face behind the woman but I can see her long hair and she's clearly not tall enough to be an adult... oops, no, it's the mom from Little People, Big World. I can stow my outrage, and there was my first celebrity!

The hype for Drag Me to Hell leans heavily on "Sam Raimi's return to horror," and for once the hype is right. If nothing else, it's a wonderful day for movies when the director of Spider-Man 3 (or as I like to call it, Spehlbleh-Bleh Bleh) turns out something good again.

And it is good. Set now in the present, Alison Lohman plays a young woman who makes one uncharacteristic, completely legitimate act of self-interest and winds up on the brink of Hell. Just don't piss off Gypsies, that's the motto of this one.

Settling into this, I thought "I really like curse movies." Then I realized what I was really thinking was "I really like The Ring." I didn't see Thinner, but I didn't like the book so much. So curse movies can kind of suck, I guess, but this curse is great. Like The Ring, it's the threat of something coming, but in the meantime things just get worse and worse.

It starts out bad enough, with a knockdown physical fight with all the Sam Raimi trimmings. Later, when she's leaving the scene, Christine decides immediately to visit a storefront psychic, a plot move of admirable rapidity. As you may know, I've seen a number of horror movies, and as a result I balk at beleagured conversations about the threat really existing. DMTH keeps this to a minimum, mostly delivered by likeable "I'm a Mac" boyfriend Justin Long.

Enter Dileep, who will later inform Christine that she's been targeted by the Lamia, the Black Goat, who is the most powerful demon in a Gypsy arsenal. "For three days he torments the cursed," he says, showing a Medieval woodcut of a woman beset by a large shadow.

The image really stuck with me. The contrast between the drained emotions of the centuries-old image and Christine's actual torment are rich and horrible. Also, the curse is so unfair! I thought Hell was where you went if you were bad, and now I find out pissed off old women can send you there? Bogus!

Solid stuff. Not as all-around good as The Gift, and not the "Exorcist with ninjas" frenzy that is Evil Dead 2, but ample proof that Raimi is back on his game. I have few critiques. There is some humor, but I can only think of one gag that didn't work for me. Also, I predicted the ending from a little way's off, but it didn't dull the moment in the slightest. The ending is great.

In fact, if there were one reason I'd say to see it big screen instead of waiting for Horrorthon, it's that. So you don't have the ending blurted out to you.

So, the final roll call:

Wes Craven was seated about five rows behind me.

We saw Alison Lohman talking cheerily to some folks after the credits rolled. She is tiny.

We saw Charlize Theron right in front of us in the aisle full of exiting people. I heard her say "Oh, sorry, we can't. We're going to something something..." and I had to admire the guy who even has the opportunity to get turned down by her. She is tall.

We saw David Paymer, who plays the boss in Drag Me to Hell and has also played in a hundred things you've seen. The best I got right now is Leo in Get Shorty, who everybody thinks died in an airplane crash.

Reggie Lee, (who I had to look up just now), who plays Christine's slimy coworker and also the guy in the new Star Trek movie who first walks into the Kobayashi Maru test room saying "Hey, what's going on in here?"

Fifty spotted Bud Cort, Harold from Harold and Maude. It helps that he was also The Bond Company Stooge in Life Aquatic, because he looks a lot more like that guy than Harold. He was with Don Harvey, who Fifty also spotted and who I didn't recognize at all (one of the dudes in Casualties of War who wasn't Sean Penn or Michael J. Fox).

We saw Derek Mears, the guy who played Jason in the Friday the 13th remake, who was pointed out to us by...

Anna Mercedes Morris, the stunt double for the old Gypsie woman in Drag Me to Hell, who was sitting next to us. She and her friend asked about the two seats we'd been saving just seconds after we found out we didn't need them any more. That's right, she worked on the movie and got stuck in the cheap seats. She was totally a good sport about it, and mentioned that nobody had known who she was at the cast party because, except for one eye, she was totally covered in fake old lady. It's not a curse if there's a paycheck.


50PageMcGee said...

my claim to fame, at least among all of the other me's on the other days of my life, is that i had a mini exchange with alison lohman. i made eye contact with her and mouthed, "that was awesome!" - she said "thanks!" in a way that seemed to me to say, "i wish we had more time to talk. you could tell me what you thought of the movie and then later, marry me."

Catfreeek said...

Again, I am so envious. Sounds like you two had a great experience all around. Tony & I are going to see the film this weekend, can't wait!

JPX said...

I'm seriously most impressed that you saw the mom from Little People, Big World, I love that damn show! Excellent review and you have me excited to see the film. I'll probably wait for Horrorthon because I like to have a few guaranteed "good ones" in my stack.

Landshark said...

I'm so stoked that this experience was as cool as one would think a premiere at Graumans would be.

Dana's Brain said...

How totally awesome! You guys are so cool.

Julie said...

I was home with the baby. There were no famous people.

AC said...

jealous, jealous, jealous!

(oh yeah, i still need to write up my review of "troll 2," the movie that even catfreeek won't watch again.)

Catfreeek said...

Did you watch The Wiz AC?

AC said...

catfreeek, mr. ac dared me to watch it last weekend. i began to, with him in the room. from moment one our mouths were open in horrified astonishment at the painful awfulness. mr. ac begged me to turn it off, then actually ran out of the room. so i made through perhaps 40 minutes but somehow have not felt compelled to finish it....