Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi’s delirious psych-out of a horror film, is a candy-colored ghouls-gone-wild nightmare that treats every shock as a joke — or, at least, as an invitation to crack up at your own gullibility. Raimi, like Roman Polanski in his classic Repulsion (1965), surrounds a comely blond lass (Alison Lohman) with demons that seem to be erupting right out of her head. He gets into our heads, too; he scares the unholy living bejesus out of you. Raimi’s operating model is the fun house, with its jack-in-the-box terrors, but he doesn’t just toy with the audience. He plays it, like a maestro. He orchestrates a tongue-in-cheek symphony of fear.
Lohman, with her slightly dazed, rabbit-toothed sensuality, plays a bank worker who refuses to renew the mortgage of a one-eyed, rotten-toothed old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver). Lohman then spends the rest of the film fighting off the curse the gypsy has placed on her. She’s assaulted by flash-cut visions of baroquely grotesque and evil things, starting with the gypsy herself, a hideous crone ?who has a way of taking out her false teeth and, well, doing stuff without them. Their first encounter in a parking garage is like ?a slasher showdown crossed with a wrestling blowout; it unites the audience in a collective moan-laugh-shriek. The bedroom nightmare that follows is so gross it redefines the phrase in your face, and from then on we’re clamped into a state of tingly anticipatory anxiety.
Raimi directed all three Spider-Man films, but in the ’80s, before he went Hollywood, he made The Evil Dead and its sequel — splendid exercises in slapstick mutilation and whooshing-camera dread. Drag Me to Hell marks a return to their spirit — even if it’s only PG-13! — but it’s also a deftly unified freak show that keeps intensifying as its wormy-devil images keep spewing. Going back to his roots, Raimi has made the most crazy, fun, and terrifying horror movie in years. A