by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
There are two important lessons to be gleaned from Drag Me to Hell: 1) Social-climbers deserve death and 2) Gypsies are disgusting, awful people.
Drag Me to Hell tells the story of a formerly fat, formerly farm-bound girl who has made it to the big city and is hoping for a big promotion at the bank where she works in order to validate herself as girlfriend material for her rich boyfriend and his obnoxious parents. One day, a cliché Gypsy woman walks into her bank and lays a curse on the young woman after she effectively evicts the older woman from her dwelling.
The Gypsy in question looks and fights like a deadite, but despite the effusive use of bodily fluids – be it blood or phlegm – the movie stinks. Part of the reason is that the film feels stale. We’ve already seen similar plots before and there is no freshness or energy in the execution. Raimi doesn’t seem to know if he wants to play the film straight or if he is veering into comedy. As a result, the tone is jarring.
Furthermore, there’s the stereotype problem. For ages, Roma in horror movies (well, in almost all movies in general) have been made to appear as nasty, awful people (Thinner, anyone?). Drag Me to Hell swings this tired stereotype at us again and again, which caused extreme consternation in me. After all, this is a blatant post-recession horror film and we should think that the loan officer is the bad person, while the old woman cheated out of her house is the good guy. But the movie switches it around: Christine isn’t a bad person and the old woman is evil. You see, people who have their homes repossessed want to drag you to Hell. Staple their heads and run.
At the same time, even though we are supposed to sympathize with Christine, the movie criticizes her for attempting to escape her modest roots. Stay in the ghetto! the movie yells. That goes for white trash and Gypsies. We get some Mexican kid committing petty thievery being dragged to Hell in the beginning, too, just drive home the point that minorities belong in a very warm place with a nice lake of fire.
The real bad guys of the movie (the annoying parents of the boyfriend, the asshole boss and devious co-worker) never get their just desserts, probably because they are either wealthy or male. Yep. The movie can’t even spare an “accidental” demon-killing of the kind we want to watch. For example, they could have thrown a gory death at the bank or shown the prim floors of the shrill boyfriend’s mother washed in blood. But, no, no. Everyone who dies in this movies is a minority, be it economically or ethnically, or both.
What is left, then, is a frustrating film that can’t entertain with its special effects (which aren’t that great), standalone gross gags, or action sequences. There’s some fun in the first fight with the Gypsy and the cemetery sequence looks cool, but it’s not enough to make me recommend this movie.
Night of the Demon, directed by Jacques Tourneur, played the curse story more effectively. Watch that one if you want to see a good flick about someone being chased by a demon. Watch Drag Me to Hell if you experience a bout of nostalgia for Evil Dead. Or better yet, rent Army of Darkness.