Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

By Devan Scott

I've never really cared for horror pictures. I’ve always found the genre to be predictable, formulaic, and uninteresting. Yes, I appreciate the fact that Psycho is a masterpiece of suspense but holy freaking god does it drag at points. I never enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs as much as I was told I should. I never found A Nightmare on Elm Street scary. I could probably count all of the horror films I genuinely enjoy* on one hand. For whatever reason, horror doesn’t work for me as a genre.

But enough about genres I don’t like. Let’s talk about genres I like. And what’s a genre I like? Horror comedy, that’s what. And who’s the undisputed master** of the genre? Sam Raimi, that’s who; and with very good reason. What reason is that, you ask? Evil Dead II, that’s what. Why, you ask, is Evil Dead II deserving of such praise? Well, that’ll take a little more than a snappy one-sentence response can handle, I’m afraid. Way to ruin this paragraph’s rhythm, reader.

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Way back when Will told me that I needed to “Watch Evil Dead II right now”, I thought “A horror movie? By Sam Raimi? The hack who directed Spiderman?” Oh, how na├»ve I was in those pre-having-viewed-Evil-Dead-II days. So in I went, thinking that it would be some sort of cheesy horror throwback that would have about as much luck entertaining me as Dane Cook on Ritalin. And you know what? I’ve never been so wrong in my life. I spent the next seventy-seven minutes of my life sitting through an incredible, surreal, sublime piece of comedic horror so beautifully absurd that you’re a bad person for not having seen it. A very, very bad person.

It chronicles the continuing adventures of Ash, an unassuming young hero who decides to take his girlfriend on a short, pleasant vacation to the most ludicrously creepy secluded cabin imaginable. Being the paragon of intellect he is, within about five minutes he’s summoned an evil force which possesses said girlfriend; of course, he’s forced to brutally kill her with a chainsaw. He spends the remainder of the film fighting off various evil spirits, evil spirit-infested people, evil spirit-infested trees, and his own evil spirit-infested hand (which he later replaces with a chainsaw, naturally), all while growing steadily more badass.

Evil Dead II’s genius lies in how it reverses the usual horror comedy formula. Instead of playing standard horror film situations for laughs, it takes the opposite route; it takes standard horror film situations, applies absolutely demented twists to make them as absurd as possible, and plays the ensuing material straight. This results in some incredibly memorable material. Highlights include Ash engaging in a life-and-death confrontation with his own hand, being humiliated with hundreds of gallons of blood and subsequently being laughed at by a room full of furniture, and fighting off a possessed old lady with his chainsaw-hand.

All this might make you think that Ash is the only character worth mentioning here, in which case you’d be absolutely correct. He singlehandedly carries the film, in no small part due to Bruce Campbell’s astonishing performance. He makes every one-liner ring with such campy conviction that it becomes impossible not to root for him. His physical performance is also astounding; the scene where Ash’s hand rebels against him features some of the most compelling physical comedy that I’ve ever seen.

After making Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi pretty much abandoned horror comedy as a genre. Evil Dead II did get a sequel in the great Army of Darkness, which pretty much dropped the horror aspect and ended up being a straight comedy. In the ensuing two decades, he went on to direct a number of rather good blockbusters, culminating in a trilogy of films starring a fairly well-known superhero named Spiderman. Fans of Evil Dead II were left wondering if that would end up being his final foray into the horror comedy genre. “Ah well”, they thought. “At least we got Shaun of the Dead.”

A while after seeing Evil Dead II for the first time, I saw a wholly unremarkable commercial on TV advertising what looked like wholly unremarkable horror flick called Drag Me to Hell. I didn’t give it another thought. Weeks later, someone let me know that Sam Raimi had recently directed a horror comedy to be released this summer. I immediately looked it up; what was it called? Drag Me to Hell. That unimpressive-looking horror movie from the commercial? Really? So I gave it the benefit of the doubt. This was the guy who made Evil Dead II, after all. So, last weekend, I made the trip to my local bloated, advertisement-drenched multiplex to see it.

Twenty minutes of commercials later, the film started. Right from the opening frames, I knew I was in good hands. The usual CGI Universal globe logo had been replaced with the old, grainy globe that they stopped using a good twenty years ago. One really entertaining prologue and a fantastic title card later, the film started in earnest. The film’s plot is wonderfully paper-thin. Christine Brown, a loan officer at a bank, is angling for a promotion. To do so, she refuses to extend an elderly woman’s mortgage. As it turns out, this particular elderly woman knows a curse or two. In revenge, she curses Christine with a spirit that will torment her for three days, and quite literally drag her to hell on the fourth.

I’ll stop there, as summaries are boring and I’d rather not ruin any of the plot.

The movie pulls off a balancing act between horror and absurd comedy almost perfectly. For every legitimate scare (and there are quite a few), there are just as many absolutely hilarious moments. What’s most impressive is how these moments rarely, if ever, break the mood or cheapen the scares. Just like Evil Dead II, Drag Me to Hell plays most of these absurd situations absolutely straight, and it’s better for it.

One aspect of Drag Me to Hell that I’ve just got to single out is the ending. Without spoiling anything, I’ve got to say that the film absolutely ends in true Raimi fashion. The way it’s executed is just brilliant, and it sparked some very entertaining reactions among my fellow theatergoers to boot. All things considered, I’d say that Drag Me to Hell doesn’t quite match the brilliance of Evil Dead II. It does, however, come extremely close, and that’s far more than I had ever hoped for. The film easily exceeded every expectation that I had laid out for it, and it provided one of the more entertaining experiences I’ve had in a theater.

And that, dear readers, is the story of how I came to watch Drag Me to Hell last weekend.

Evil Dead II:

Drag Me To Hell:

*For the record, it’s 28 Days Later and The Shining.
**Apologies to Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and whoever else was responsible for Shaun of the Dead.


Anonymous said...

good stuff so far
very nicely written

Christina said...

I actually preferred Drag Me to Hell, but then, I got to watch it with a full audience for my first time. For a movie requiring shrieks and/or laughs, having a lot of other people around can greatly enhance the experience.

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