Why Drag Me to Hell is more than a horror film for Sam Raimi

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21: Director Sam Raimi attends the Drag Me To Hell Photocall at the Palais Des Festivals during the 62nd International Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2009 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21: Director Sam Raimi attends the Drag Me To Hell Photocall at the Palais Des Festivals during the 62nd International Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2009 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) /

In the aftermath of working on large-scale films such as Spider-Man, Sam Raimi returned to his roots in horror in 2009 with Drag Me to Hell. This would be Raimi coming full circle in his career as he first reached notoriety with The Evil Dead franchise in the 1980s. Drag Me to Hell is a reminder to fans of where Raimi’s filmmaking foundation was first laid using a unique stylized blend of horror and, at times, absurd comedy.

Since 1992’s Army of Darkness, the third entry in the Evil Dead series, Raimi has worked on a western in The Quick and the Dead, a crime thriller in A Simple Plan, a supernatural psychological horror with The Gift, and even a sports drama with For the Love of the Game. All these films played a role as an amalgamation into some of the elements Raimi would use in Drag Me to Hell. Raimi was able to perfect some of the techniques used in films like Evil Dead in Drag Me to Hell while also further developing his storytelling ability beyond the camera lens.

“I don’t want to be doing the same old tricks,” Raimi told Rolling Stone in an interview in 2022. “I want to be trying to do new things. I tried to branch out, doing different things that I hadn’t done before — like a Western, a crime thriller, or other things that just hadn’t occurred to me to do. That’s really why I made those films in the Nineties, from all those different genres. I was trying to stretch and learn and grow as a storyteller.

“I’m not going to rely on the camera to be flashy or splashy. I’m going to make the audience invest in these characters. I’ve got to learn more about how to tell a story not just through the lens, but through people.”

Drag Me To Hell
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Actress Alison Lohman, actor Dileep Rao, director Sam Raimi, actor Justin Long, and actress Lorna Raver attend the Drag Me To Hell Photocall at the Palais Des Festivals during the 62nd International Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2009 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) /

Drag Me to Hell was a return to the horror genre for Sam Raimi

Drag Me to Hell‘s story follows loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who constantly needs validation in shedding any image of her old self as someone who grew up on a farm. Christine searches for approval regularly from her co-workers and desperately wants her boyfriend and his parents to view her as worthy of dating their son. To appease her supervisor and show that she is capable of making tough decisions, Christine turns down an extension of a loan for an elderly customer, Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver). In an act of revenge, Ganush places a curse on Christine, giving her just a few days to try to escape the fate of damnation.

One of the more significant factors Raimi brought from his work in Spider-Man and A Simple Plan is the ability to build dread and suspense with the audience. With Christine only having three days to figure out how to lift the curse, there are numerous sequences of desperation where she commits actions that leave the audience wondering if she was capable of these acts only due to the curse or if they were always there.

Unafraid to push the limits of viewers, Raimi has Christine kill her pet kitten as a sacrifice to please the demon after her. However, in standard Raimi fashion, Drag Me to Hell also factors in a vast amount of absurd gross-out humor that leaves you laughing and covering your eyes simultaneously.

The story behind Drag Me to Hell was conceived even before Raimi began working on Spider-Man. Written with his brother, Ivan Raimi, Drag Me to Hell granted him a redemption shot for those disappointed with Spider-Man 3. The lower budget and more intimate setting brought out the best in the director. He wasn’t weighed down by expectations or lack of creative control.

In Drag Me To Hell, he put Christine through an assortment of what can be described as comedic torture. During an encounter in a parking lot, Christine is attacked by Ganush, whom she fends off from biting her. But instead, she endures a massive amount of drool on her face. In a scene at the bank, Christine has a bloody nose that bleeds profusely all over her boss that she can’t stop from spewing out.

The torture continues when Christine heads to the house of Mrs. Ganush to ask for forgiveness, only to hilariously trip into the open casket in front of the deceased’s family.

It’s unlikely Raimi would have been able to make these types of scenes in a higher-budget blockbuster. Due to the lack of restraint on Drag Me to Hell, horror fans were provided a more complete experience that fully displayed Raimi’s vision rather than an abridged one.

Raimi’s influence has primarily been felt in the independent film scene, where young filmmakers gained motivation from the director’s fearless ability to get the most out of his actors under, at times, less than favorable conditions and small budgets, all while giving the impression of a larger world at hand.

“For me, it’s more inspiration on making independent cinema,” said the director of The Wretched Brett Pierce, to No Film School on the influence Raimi and Evil Dead has on him. “It felt like they were a group of friends that just decided to make these films, and they would figure out how to make them no matter what.”

Drag Me to Hell allowed Sam Raimi to make amends to his core fanbase

The over-the-top elements here, such as the amount of blood reminiscent of the Evil Dead and the interaction with Ganush’s family, turn into a Three Stooges-style gag; however, Christine’s tribulations are similar to Peter Parker’s story arc in Spider-Man 2. Parker can’t balance being Spider-Man and a college student, with Raimi showing a series of developments where things don’t go in the web-slinger’s favor, leading to him losing his powers. In that same vein, Christine is put through a much more horrific chain of events but loses a sense of who she is through being required to participate in heinous acts.

“We just wanted to tell the story of a person who wants to be a good person but who makes a sinful choice for their own benefit and pays the price for it,” Raimi said to The Guardian in 2009.

When Christine decides to deny the loan to Mrs. Ganush not because it is the morally correct choice but because she believes it is what her boss wants. Raimi inserts himself into the character here. The famed director conceded to a studio’s demands and what fans wanted, pulling him in several directions in the past when the focus should have been to create the best story that he could deliver, not one that tries to please everyone.

The first two installments of Raimi’s Spider-Man were met with high critical praise and box office success. It would be the third entry, Spider-Man 3, where he would find himself in trouble. Raimi had to deal with studio interference from producers that forced him to interject characters such as Venom, which led to an unfocused movie overfilled with subplots and villains, resulting in massive criticism toward him and the film.

Drag Me to Hell is a pseudo-apology from the director. Raimi gained notoriety in horror and has a fanbase that goes beyond the wall-crawling adventures of Peter Parker. Drag Me to Hell would prove to be a home run for Raimi, as it received overwhelmingly positive reviews with a decent box office return.

Raimi isn’t often put in the same category as directors like Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg. However, his unique approach to filmmaking, ranging from the camera angles, the close-ups, and the camera’s movement, has rarely been duplicated. Drag Me to Hell is a film that could have only been helmed by Raimi.

Afterward, he transitioned into the role of a producer. He produced movies such as 2013’s Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe, 2023’s Evil Dead Rise, and the short-lived television series Ash vs. Evil Dead.

Raimi, thus far, has only gotten back behind the camera two more times with 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful and a surprising return to the comic book genre with 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Drag Me to Hell is one director’s homecoming back into the genre that put him on the map. It plays its fair share of self-introspection and redemption. It holds as an apology for Raimi’s core fanbase. Drag Me To Hell remains an essential chapter for one of the industry’s most unique directors.

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