The best horror movies, like the best amusement park rides, should elicit equal parts screams and laughter. Drag Me to Hell fits that squirmy bill and then some.
Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man movies) has fashioned a slick, old-school scarefest that combines the best of schlocky fright flicks with classic supernatural thrillers. Raimi returns triumphant to the genre where he cut his teeth, so to speak, with 1981's The Evil Dead. (Speaking of things dental, there are some outrageous moments involving a toothless old lady and her menacing dentures.)
The movie centers on a contest between this geriatric meanie (Lorna Raver) and Christine (Alison Lohman), a damsel in distress who fights back. A bank officer angling for a promotion, Christine rejects an extension on the old lady's defaulted home loan. How timely that the mayhem is kicked off by someone facing foreclosure.
The elderly woman, whose vaguely Slavic accent conjures up images of gypsies, does more than give Christine the evil eye, though eyeballs do figure prominently.
Evoking the black comedy of his early horror films, Raimi has fashioned a cathartic thrill ride that seems almost innocent by current horror standards. He relies on shadows and ominous sounds to make the audience jump and recoil, rather than grisly violence, blood splattering or bone-crunching special effects.
Drag Me to Hell is horror light. Jokey and playful, it's far from the torture porn of such fright flicks as the Saw and Hostel series. Instead of gruesome weaponry or mass slaughter, there are insects and a ghostly séance.
For witty one-liners, there's Justin Long as Clay, Christine's devoted boyfriend. Most of the roles are caricatures, but intentionally so.
Drag Me to Hell is unlike any scary thriller in a while: frightening, frenzied and fun.