In 2009, Sam Raimi released the horror film he wrote with brother Ivan before taking to work on the Spider-Man franchise…
Did you ever see a horror film that made you howl with laughter but still left you creeped out? Because that’s Drag Me To Hell!
Oh, and the Evil Dead series. In short, if you enjoy your horror with a healthy dose of comedy then Sam Raimi is your man. In this he tells the tale of loan officer cursed by an old gypsy woman with a spooky eye, to be hunted by a demon for the terrible crime of not giving her a third extension on her loan. What follows will make you laugh until you vomit and/or the other way around.
The Blame Game
Gypsy curses are a bit old-hat now, aren’t they? It’s not as over done as zombies or vampires, probably because there’s fewer insulting stereotypes with zombies or vampires.
Anyway, our protagonist suffers the wrath of the worst customer ever, someone who woefully underestimates the power someone in customer services has and decides to loose hell’s own beasts on the poor girl behind the counter whose biggest crime was trying to get out of her dead-end job and grab a promotion. The story is supposed to be a cautionary tale of where greed will get you, but our protagonist was doomed to suffer anyway:
- The boyfriend’s uptight mother who disapproves of her son dating a lowly loans officer.
- An underhanded coworker who’ll breech best-practices to usurp the promotion.
- A boss who plays the shell game with accountability so that the young girl cops the worst of the customer’s wrath.
Let’s not mince words here. The financial industry is brutal, and customer facing jobs are nightmarish, so there’s no excuse for little old ladies with haunted handkerchiefs to be assaulting young women in car parks for declining a third loan extension.
The story we end up with becomes one of everyone being terrible. Uncaring strangers, unpleasant family members, overly sceptical but well meaning boyfriends, and even the spiritual gurus who are supposed to save the day are nakedly profiteering from the suffering of a young woman, who has been pushed clear over the edge and has already killed her cat in desperation. The moral of this story is that no one is a good person.
While most directors will use off-centre camera, ultrasonic frequencies, and other subtle sensory weapons to leave the viewer on-edge and primed for a good jump scare, Raimi’s angle seems to be to go straight for the stomach. Our elderly gypsy woman is a picture of unpleasantness to begin with, all gnarled fingernails and evil eye, but it only gets worse when she goes ballistic at our innocent young protagonist, and starts to haunt her from beyond the grave (oh yeah, spoilers, the gypsy dies before the curse is even lifted).
It’s a parade of bodily fluids of the most unexpected kind, and a lot of oral trauma. Embalming fluid vomited directly into the mouth, a corpse filled up with muddy water, a fountain of blood from the mouth (forced into the nose), teeth are shattered which leads to some bizarre chin-sucking incidents that cannot be adequately described, and the flies… oh the flies. The sound of buzzing nearby is enough to make any of us twitch a little, but to witness a fly crawling into someone’s mouth is particularly cruel.
The Lamia, our conjured demon is genuinely quite terrifying. Even at its earliest manifestation it is shown to be physically powerful, and when it takes possession of a goat as part of a misguided exorcism attempt, it should be a wholly comical thing, and yet watching it hop from host to host still impresses the power of the demon… it’s kind of funny, but it’s laughing dear-head funny; you’re laughing, but dear god it’s horrifying.
I mentioned last week that horror and comedy are strange bedfellows, but his particular blend makes Raimi better than anyone else at evoking laughter from the horrific. It’s not a mixture of horror themes and comedic situations, it’s not a parody of the genre, or a humorous self-analysis, but it’s laughter evoked from the unnatural, the excessively visceral, or the exaggerated reactions. In some ways it’s almost slapstick, although there’s nothing funny about a man being slammed into a burning table as a woman dies at his feet, the almost pantomime wire-work building up to that moment is so campy you can’t help but laugh.
It’s embodied best in the decidedly unhappy ending of the film, caused by a simple comic misunderstanding, a wrong-bag scenario you’d expect from a far funnier film. It’s all a huge joke, and you’re laughing, sure, but the credits roll over the distraught face of the boyfriend who has just witnessed the woman he loves being dragged to hell.