Drag Me to Hell opens with a crafty little tip-off of what's to come: the Universal logo, circa 1980. It's a nod to the fanboys who have waited patiently for Sam Raimi to return to the "splatstick" horror genre he more or less invented with 1981's The Evil Dead and its two sequels - the giddy, gooey classic Evil Dead II and the outright goofy (but terrific) Army of Darkness.
Drag Me To Hell never quite hits the heights of Evil Dead II - Raimi's working with a PG-13 rating this time out - but, in the interim, the director has honed his skills to a razor's edge in creating nerve-wracking suspense and jarring shocks. This film is one hell of a ride. It moves with the herky-jerky gait of a spook-house trolley car, rocketing along for whole sequences and then punctuating them with shock cuts and tinnitus-inducing Foley cues that'll have audiences wishing they had borrowed a pair of grandma's Depends before entering the theater.
Raimi co-wrote the script with his brother Ivan in the downtime between Spider-Man films, and the story is as basic a terror tale as they come. Alison Lohman's good-girl loan officer Christine goes against her better judgment and denies a Gypsy crone (Lorna Raver, filling in nicely for the late Maria Ouspenskaya) an extension on her mortgage. This unintended faux pas leads to a curse and three days of cloven-hoofed horror as the Gypsy-summoned demon stalks Christine in preparation for her final takedown into the titular abyss.
To summarize more would spoil the fun, and Drag Me to Hell is nada if not a big, crimson bucketful of fun. Raimi pairs his love of Three Stooges-style physical comedy with moments of pure gross-out shtick (Dig that anvil scene!) and ends up with the one of the most satisfying horror films in decades. There's something wonderfully retro about Raimi's atmospheric creep show, and the film is studded with unobtrusive homages to shockmeisters past (Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man and John Hough's The Legend of Hell House are duly noted).
But the real reason to celebrate Drag Me to Hell is the simple fact that an obviously enthusiastic Sam Raimi is back behind the camera, Greg Nicotero and the KNB EFX Group are manning the latex-and-Caro syrup gore effects, and summer Saturday afternoons were made for matinees exactly like this one. Drag Me to Hell is nothing short of horror-hound heaven.