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      Drag Me to Hell Review

      Drag Me to Hell poster

      Drag Me to Hell

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Director Sam Raimi gets back to his disreputable roots with "Drag Me to Hell," a title never to be confused with "Spider-Man 4" (which Raimi is preparing; let's hope it's closer in quality to "Spider-Man 2" than "Spider-Man 3"). This hellaciously effective B-movie comes with a handy moral tucked inside its scares, laughs and Raimi's specialty, the scare/laugh hybrid. Moral: Be nice to people. More specifically: Do not foreclose on the old Gypsy woman, or it'll be draggin' time.

      Raimi's resume is more interesting than people tend to remember. Have you seen, for example, "Evil Dead 2" or its follow-up, "Army of Darkness"? If you haven't, you should; they're quite mad, and quite fantastic. Raimi knows how to modulate his technique, as with the coolly controlled morality tale "A Simple Plan," but he's a firm believer in the power of an active, expressive camera, as well as the value of insinuation. In "Drag Me to Hell," a lace hankie, of all things, turns into a wraithlike portent of doom.

      Horror fans shouldn't worry about an excess of subtlety; the ook flows freely here, and there's a knock-down, drag-out melee in a parking garage that'll be hard to top at the movies this year, certainly as far as knock-down, drag-out parking garage melees go.

      Alison Lohman plays Christine, an L.A. loan officer who makes a bad judgment call at the bank one day in an attempt to curry favor with her boss (David Paymer). For not granting an extension on the home-loan payments owed by Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver, who really is a raver), Christine becomes the target of a serious, serious Hungarian cuss-out ("You shame me!"). Before long, the demons of Hades are manifesting themselves and making Christine's life difficult.

      Maggots, old-Gypsy-lady drool, embalming fluid gushing out of a corpse's mouth - Christine's always getting hit with something in this picture. Lohman can be good, and she can be bad (terrible, in fact, in "Where the Truth Lies"), but in "Drag Me to Hell" she's just right. The actress has a winning way of slightly under-responding to each new manifestation that jumps up out of nowhere. (We get a few too many of these bits; even the Jumping Out of Nowhere League may be growing weary of this gimmick by now.)

      Justin Long plays Christine's skeptical but supportive boyfriend. The plot explicators - a psychic and a medium played by Dileep Rao and Adriana Barraza, respectively - do their thing with honest conviction, while Raimi's special-effects folks do theirs.

      "Drag Me to Hell" throws a lot at the screen, sticky or not. But unlike so much at the multiplex these days ("Wolverine," for example), this low-down number doesn't give you a computer-generated-imagery headache. Richly scored by composer Christopher Young, who comes up with some ripping solo Gypsy-violin lines, Raimi's film favors simple pleasures: a silhouette of a demon sliding under a door or across a wall, or an ill wind that almost (but doesn't quite) take the shape of something concretely terrifying.

      Will the target audience go for it? I hope so. I hope the nation's 17-year-olds aren't so benumbed by "Saw," "Hostel" and humorless remakes of humorless, better-made Japanese horror films that they've become indifferent to exuberant, well-paced trash. A little wit to go with the dread goes a long way with me. Hope I'm not alone.

      MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language).

      Running time: 1:39.

      Starring: Alison Lohman (Christine); Justin Long (Clay); Lorna Raver (Mrs. Ganush); Dileep Rao (Rham); David Paymer (Mr. Jacks); Adriana Barraza (Shaun San Dena).

      Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; produced by Rob Tapert and Grant Curtis. A Universal Pictures release.

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