Drag Me to Hell: The Wait Is Almost Over

Sam Raimi shows a work-in-progress print of his new horror film Drag Me to Hell at a SXSW midnight screening

Drag Me to Hell: The Wait Is Almost Over

There's not much that'll get my tired carcass out to midnight screenings anymore, however last night's SXSW screening of Sam Raimi's work-in-progress print of his new horror film Drag Me to Hell is definitely one of those things. Fans of Darkman and his Evil Dead films have been seriously geeking out over the great director's return (after a near-20 year absence) to the horror genre that kicked his career into gear. Not that movies such as the Spider-Man trilogy and A Simple Plan are chopped liver, nor are most of his other producing and writing credits – but horror fans have longed for the kind of Raimi film that might slice body parts into literal chopped livers, and then maybe dice ’em into mincemeat.

The wait is almost over. Raimi definitely delivers the goods with Drag Me to Hell, which is currently scheduled to be released in late May. The story is

simple enough: A supernatural curse is inflicted on bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) when she denies a mortgage extension to a toothless old crone. Her life becomes a living hell; her death only promises eternal hell. A great deal of the horror is graphically visceral as eyes and mouths become portals of evil, both as entryways and exit paths. Such moments had the packed house at Austin' Paramount Theatre squealing and recoiling in unified astonishment. Other times, it was the film's intentional humor that struck the collective chord of laughter. Raimi is in complete control of the ride, ratcheting up the tension and courting laughs with knowing precision.

The writer-director took the stage after a rousing introduction by Austin fanboy No. 1, Harry Knowles. Wearing a suit and tie amid the dressed-down festival crowd, Raimi pratfalled onto the stage and then did a bit about not being able to see his notes through his necktie that was caught behind his eyeglasses. The presentation showed Raimi to be in total command of audience expectations, whether in a remote venue or sitting right in front of his feet. Also on hand were his brother, co-writer Ivan Raimi and producer Grant Curis. Though billed as a work in progress, Drag Me to Hell seems pretty darn complete, lacking not much more than final credits and some minor tweakings of sound and, perhaps, image. It's great to have Raimi back in the saddle with a film that reminds us that horror films do not have to bludgeon viewers in order to gain a response, but rather treat us as eager and knowing participants in the conjuring of a dark universe. Drag Me to Hell is likely to be more like a stampede.

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