SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

Drag Me to the Theater

by Mark Edward, Jun 13 2009

drag_me_to_hell_51This time out you not only get ONE bizarre medium, but TWO, count’em TWO mediums for the price of drag_me_to_hell_61admission in one thrill ride filled to overflowing with woo. I won’t even bother to question the complete lack of any rational thought whatsoever or whether or not this romp has logic holes big enough to drive a hearse through. Forget it. It doesn’t matter. There’s no scientific premise to fret over here, trust me. Sam Raimi has raised the bar for those of us who enjoy a non-stop no-holds barred scare fest. His Ghost House Films company has upped the ante for mediumistic hype with this one. After seeing the seance scenes, I wanted to drag my own dusty props back into service and re-visit those halcyon days when I could raise the hair on the backs of my sitter’s necks with the sort of animated histrionics skillfully used by the two mediums played with relish by Dileep Rao and Adriana Barraza. Both were excellent in their roles and totally un-believable. By “un-believable” I don’t mean fantastically gifted beyond belief. I mean unbelievable as in the card-board cut-outs they represented.  Which begs the question: Will this film drive those gullible people out there in our mixed-up society even closer to the edge of believing in the possiblity of mediumship? Will the unwary buy even more into the Medium’s Grip?

I doubt it. For once the production team made the overall tone of this film so hysterically over the top, if anything,wide market viewing of this film might even result in psychic backlash. Director Raimi, who brought us the “Spiderman” and “The Evil Dead” franchises and his brother Ivan’s script certainly held the attention of the audience and my son Miles in particular as we sat uneasily on the edge of our seats. They loved it. Miles was afterward heard to comment, “….Finally, a  real horror movie that was scary!”  This means a lot to the teen audience. They demand as much bang for their buck as they can get and there’s no use crying about science or reason in a packed theater of horror movie freaks. The writers made no attempt to romanticise the situations or characters as in previous excursions into the supernatural like  “Ghost” or “The Sixth Sense.”  In “Drag Me to Hell” you get plenty of flat out hair-raising wallop from the beautiful visuals in the opening credits to the last ghastly shriek.  The nervous laughter in the audience was uproarious and the shock scenes so unbelievably grossed-out and perfectly timed that everyone was left breathless on several peak occasions. But enough of the surface shocks. Where does this storyline come from? Surely Hollywood couldn’t have developed an original plot all on their own could they?


Nope. Sorry, been there and seen that before. The provenance of “Drag” is historically well grounded enough to delight those of us who can trace back the whole “curse concept” in cinematic history. Without spoiling “Drag” in all its ghoulish glory, let me just say that if you have ever seen the classic British film, “Night of the Demon” (1957) (or “Curse of the Demon” in its American release) starring Dana Andrews as the eventually converted skeptical professor Dr. John Holden, you would recognize the main theme immediately. mv5bmja5mdaxmdk2of5bml5banbnxkftztywndi0nza5__v1__cr00254254_ss90_The film is generally considered one of the high points of the British horror film, if not, indeed, of British Cinema generally. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I much prefer this black and white masterpiece directed by suspense master Jacques Tourneur for it’s old school charm and more closely held adherence to the original source material. And what is the original source material? Besides the witchdoctors of antiquity, who started all this interest in modern day cursing and sinister soul grabbing?  For my money I’m betting on the story “Casting the Runes” written in 1904 by the dean of the modern ghost tale and one widely regarded as writing among the finest supernatural tales in English literature; M.R. James (see my previous post “Unicorn Wings.”)  I doubt too many people will quibble with me if I stated that this seminal tale of supernatural magick most certainly influenced an entire generation of film and television makers. M.R. James set the benchmark for all that followed as far as contemporary “curse” tales and it’s nice to see his terrors being unearthed for a whole new generation, even if he didn’t get screen credit, nod or in-joke from Mr. Raimi. Shame on you Sam. 

drag-me-to-hell-lorna-raver-curse-coin1The idea of a curse put on an object that is carried by the unaware victim must be as old as dirt, but pumping new life into this chestnut by having the spell cast by an angry old gypsy woman (looking like Marilyn Manson’s Grandma and played to perfection and by Lorna Raver) begging in a modern day bank because her decaying house is going into foreclosure is a topical up-date of a very old theme.  The plot twists and turns itself like a rollar coaster and eventually brings us back to the ol’ switcheroo: with a final twist which I only half saw coming but still enjoyed seeing unfold. Funny as Hell…

In “Curse of the Demon,” the shady medium played by Reginald Beckwith as Mr Meek was an important catalyst providing the key to unlock the mystery. If “Drag Me to Hell” had to have two mediums to pick up the slack for any lack of originality in Raimi’s story line, it only made the mediums seem weaker and more crooked than they might have needed to appear. One medium should have been sufficiant. In spite of their convincing occult dialogue and hoodoo, they don’t end up particularly heroic or effective. This is s good change from the usual. The heroine’s boyfriend gets in a few choice skeptical lines, but nonetheless the mediums manage to get him to part with $10.0000 to try to block the curse. His money is not well spent and the mediums come off as dreadfully inept. Things get quite messy and Well, …that would be telling.

Media bias in favor of mediumship? I’m happy to report that in the case of “Drag Me to Hell” the answer is a big black NO. Mediums don’t get a pass this time. But who finally wins this unholy struggle? I won’t spoil this one. See it for the sheer farce of it all. If you dare… 


10 Responses to “Drag Me to the Theater”

  1. fluffy says:

    Wouldn’t the plural of “medium” be “media?”

  2. Oh goD no! I’m missing a button! How long do I have until I start seeing the horned demon? Three days?

    Sweet baby Jesus…I saw a cow on the side of the road this morning.

    It has begun.

  3. Shawn S. says:

    Loved it! The mediums were pretty good characters, too. The big seance scene was truly one of the creepiest I’ve ever seen. Actually, it was THE creepiest seance scene I’ve ever seen! Nice review. :)

  4. Sam says:

    From a skeptical standpoint, I liked how the psychics were so concerned with money, even if the writers did turn the boyfriend’s skepticism into a relationship message (he pays the ten grand, not because he believes in ghosts, but because he loves his girlfriend).

    From a filmgoer’s perspective, I thought the seance scene was a nice homage to the Evil Dead possession scenes. The talking goat reminded me of the reindeer head from Evil Dead 2.

  5. Ranson says:

    I saw a good article the other day providing a second view of the movie — what if the protagonist is simply becoming delusional? Is any of it real? Looking at it from the perspective of hallucination, a lot of the plot points make just as much sense


      Wouldn’t that make her boyfriend delusional also? He saw her being dragged to hell at the end of the movie.

      • Galadin says:

        Actually, what he saw was his girlfriend, whom he was about to propose to, panic and fall onto the tracks then be mangled by a rushing train. The audience saw and experienced everything from the girls point of view, and hence saw her/our death as the culmination of the curse. The boyfriends look of anguish would be apropos for what he was witnessing without the actual supernatural aspect. Never once did anyone other than the girl and the mediums, experience anything supernatural.

      • Sam says:

        While watching the movie, I thought of a twist… rather than “assaulting” her, the Gypsy woman just drugged her. The next three days were spent having delusions as a result of the drugs. This caused her to pay ten grand to the psychics (who were in on the scheme) so that the woman who cursed her (who faked her own death) could pay her mortgage.

        Sadly, that’s not how the writers chose to end the movie. But it would have been great.

  6. I went to see the Hangover recently and was suprised how funny a movie it was, seemed like a swingers for 2009.