Sam Raimi has the ability to be and was on his way to becoming the most visually agile and interesting director of his generation, sadly, for me, he has become one of the most frustrating film-makers on the planet.
Despite starting off with films in the horror/fantasy genre, like The Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman, and showing a flare for original, exciting storytelling through the use of genuinely unique visuals, somewhere along the way, for reasons known only to himself, he's tried to be both dark and edgy like the Coen brothers and populist and sappy like Steven Spielberg.
Then, inexplicably and for most of the audience, seemingly coming out of nowhere, he directed 3 of the most expensive and popular films the world has seen, the Spiderman trilogy.
His original style, camera work, sound mixing and editing from his earlier and, in my opinion, much better and more interesting work seemed to be a perfect fit for a comic book movie, especially one about a man who swings about in exciting ways, high above one of the most filmed cities in the world.
Spiderman 1 and 2 would, mainly, be studio movies through and through with surprisingly weak scripts and bland acting. If it wasn't for the odd montage sequence, an inventive set piece here and there, a bit of silly humour and the reassuring Bruce Campbell cameos, you wouldn't know they were Sam Raimi films at all. Spiderman 3 is barely recognisable as a movie, let alone a Sam Raimi movie.
Which brings us to Drag Me To Hell.
When Drag Me To Hell was first announced, as the film that was originally going to bridge the gap between Spidey 3 and 4 & 5, people seemed to be excited by Sam Raimi's return to horror and I was just happy this was going to be a horror movie that wasn't a sequel, a remake or a rip off of previous, better movies. I was, also, interested to see if Raimi still had it in him to do this kind of work.
Before I go on, I want to explain something. More than almost any other film-maker, apart from maybe Terry Gilliam, I really really care what Sam Raimi makes. The Evil Dead trilogy are amongst my very favourite films and the directing style he continued to exhibit in films like Darkman and the Quick and the Dead I found to be incredible in their ingenuity and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
I am hard on Sam Raimi for several reasons: A - I know what he's really capable of, B - he seemed to, at one point in his career, actively turn away from what was so interesting and unique about his work and turn towards just wanting to be a success at any cost and C - despite having no actual intention of ever doing it (not that I want him to) he won't shut up about Evil Dead 4.
Now I can't begrudge someone for wanting to be successful and I don't care about good people doing things just for the money if they then can use that power to do something more true to themselves and I think a lot of fans thought that Drag Me To Hell was going to be just that.
What I want, as a big selfish fan, is for Sam to direct, Sam and Ivan Raimi to write, Rob Tapert to produce, Jo LoDuca to do the score and Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi to star in a whole bunch of exciting, interesting and original films year after year, a bit like a Scorcese/DeNiro thing from the late 70s, but as a reasonable fan if there was one of those films a decade, it would be ok. I am really attracted to the idea of friends all working together, I love directors who keep a returning stable of actors in their films and the hope is still, especially as with every passing year the Evil Dead and Bruce seem to get more and more fans, that this will happen again with this group. This is because, as a rabid fan, it does feel like all these other things they are doing are all fine and good but ultimately treading water until the chance will come again when it'll be more than just a cameo as a snooty usher or the mention of Evil Dead 4 at Comic-Con.
All that said, hopefully you can see my dilemma with Drag Me To Hell as it came so close to being that film, what with the directing, writing and producing credits but, for me at least, failed ultimately because the cast, except the excellent Dileep Rao, was pretty rubbish and the direction lacked the full Raimi spark, coming across as a bit lazy and predictable.
What wasn't predictable, however, was the plot. Like the Evil Dead there is a short and simple set-up: a young lady works in a bank, refuses mad old gypsy a loan, gets cursed and then all hell breaks loose and like the Evil Dead, it's the simplicity that allows Raimi the chance to step in and fill the rest of the film with what he does best, wild, unpredictable and highly enjoyable set pieces. These can get a little repetitive, though and there are certainly things here that we've seen before but there are also fantastically funny and original bits, like the scene in the garden shed that involves a roadrunner cartoon inspired anvil, that for no reason is strung up to a pulley system and hanging from the ceiling, that, if they hadn't used some unfortunate CGI, would've been near to perfection.
Watching it this time round (maybe my 4th time with this film) Allison Lohman isn't quite as annoying as I had originally found her, although she still looks 12 and I don't buy her as being experienced enough in the job to be up for a big promotion. Dileep Rao is endlessly watchable as the fortune teller come soul saviour, Lorna Raver is deliciously disgusting and loopy as the old gypsy woman and the rest of the cast, such as it is, do an ok job but it is staggering just how truly awful and awkward Justin Long is in this. Now, ok, he doesn't have much of a part at all but every time he is on screen it takes me completely out of the movie.
If I was to step out of my fan shoes for a moment and view this film purely as a one off horror movie then, at least, it has more originality, visual flare and a better sense of humour than 90% of other horror related films that have come out in the last decade. In the style of cinematography, score, costuming and the theme of gypsy curses, it seems to hark back to a time, even before the 70s and 80s rash of horror films, like the 40s and 50s maybe, it has that vibe, or even earlier where it could have easily been a silent picture, especially if you removed all the gross out effects.
As a fan, though, it fell short of what it could've been and what I hoped it was going to be. If Sam had used his money and power, post those web-slinger movies, to get the people involved that I listed above it could have, with very little tweaking, been a masterpiece. Instead of the bland, what looks like, teenage couple of Lohman and Long, you cast Bruce Campbell as a middle aged, grumpy, feeble, push-over bank teller who, because he keeps getting passed over for promotion by young upstarts, one day refuses a loan to an old gypsy woman. The rest of the film could then play out more or less the same but with the added bonus of Bruce Campbell in the lead role of a Sam Raimi movie and more than that even I think you'd be adding a much more interesting character, someone who really deserves their redemption, which would make the ending actually surprising and tragic. Before you denounce this as just being a dopey fan suggestion, I honestly, even if they cast a different middle aged actor and you take BC out of the equation, think it would be a more interesting, dynamic film that would work on so many different levels.
As it is, Drag Me To Hell missed a trick in my opinion but despite that still turned out to be an exciting, scary, unexpected, haunted roller coaster of a picture.
As for the announced future projects of Sam Raimi, I am a little depressed that nothing really enticing has materialised yet and with Bruce Campbell tied up for at least the next 3 years with Burn Notice, The Sam Axe Movie and Bruce Vs Frankenstein, we fans have to go back to waiting and waiting for any film that features the pairs talents again in the future.
7.5 out of 10 green salads with worms in them
Points from The Misses 9 out of 10 green salads without worms in them