Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Christine Brown, a mild mannered loan officer—some may even venture to refer to her as “timid” or “wilting” or “generally terrified”—really wants the assistant manager position at her bank. Because her boss is played by David Paymer, she’s forced into a passive aggressive competition with another less-experienced but more minoritied co-worker, Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee), whose obsequiousness and under-handed-osity knows no bounds. Her boss tells her that the ideal candidate for that coveted position is someone who can “make the tough decisions”. Apparently, she’s been far too helpful and compassionate with her loans of late and it’s implied heavily that those attributes are frowned upon.

So enter Mrs. Sylvia Ganush, a fairly revolting and elderly Hungarian woman with one blind eye and an underwater-mortgage. While begging for an extension of credit, Mrs. Ganush coughs up gobs of lung into a stained handkerchief, places her false teeth on Christine’s desk and then empties the entirety of the mint dish into her purse. Since it’s easier to be compassionate to the non-disgusting, Christine makes the “tough call” and tells Mrs. Ganush that there’s no possible way to extend her credit any further. While that is not entirely true, let’s be a little realistic here. Ganush has already received a multitude of extensions and is obviously living beyond her means. Plus, you know: ew, slimy dentures on the desk! After receiving this news, Mrs. Ganush does what comes to her mind: first she begs on her knees then, when that fails, she attempts to strangle Christine.

Shaken but certain that she’d impressed David Paymer by surviving a gypsy assault, Christine leaves for the day. In the garage, the old bat attacks her again, in Christine’s own car! This in no way helps Ganush’s case and Christine is forced to defend herself with a Swingline, managing to even staple Ganush’s dead eye shut before kicking the car into gear and ultimately crashing. After getting kicked out of the car five or six times, the old gypsy finally gets what she came for: a button from Christine’s coat sleeve! With this button, she curses the loan officer and hands the object back.

Now, for all of Christine’s timidity and naivete and humanity, she does have the majority of her life together, despite the fact that she’s dating a guy played by Justin Long who collects coins. She brings him food, a rare coin she found in circulation (a 1902 nickel with an imperfection of George Washington making out with Abe Lincoln or something) (I’m kidding; it’s a “standing liberty” quarter, far less rare than the other one I described), and endures his side of a conversation with his mother where he’s obviously defending her past as an overweight farm girl. But after her near-fatal gumming by Ganesh, practicality is thrown to the wind. She drags Justin Long (who deserves no better than the character name of “Clay Dalton”) to fortune teller and world-famous-on-that-street mystic, Rham Jas (Dileep Rao, who would later play a mystical chemist in Chris Nolan’s Inception). Rham Jas confirms Christine’s greatest fears: Justin Long is a dousche. Oh and she’s also been cursed to Hell. A demon is coming for her to drag her there. Just like the title says!

Hysteria follows. Nobly following his contract, Long continues to support her by remaining her boyfriend, doing her no favors. The side effects of the curse include a horrible worksite nose-bleed that should have summoned squadrons of paramedics to her side but instead leave her coworkers staring in shock at this obvious hemorrhage like she’s a bleedy weirdo. Then her big account gets inexplicably dealt to another bank (could Stu be the culprit? Or one of the non-speaking-role co-workers?) so there goes her promotion. And apparitions of Ganush attack her often enough to make her seek out the old woman to make amends. In the course of this attempt at apology and plea for curse-removal, Christine of course stumbles over her own feet and destroys the now-deceased old lady’s wake, winding up under the formaldehyde-leaking corpse, much to the horror of everyone the crazy bat’s ever been related to.

Christine trys everything from kitten sacrifice to exorcism complete with goat when Rham Jas finally gives her the real secret: get rid of the goddamn button! But this is kind-hearted, at-the-end-of-her-rope-but-still-cartoon-sweet Christine we’re talking about. She can’t even bring herself to pass it off to people who have treated her most like shit—not Stu, not David Paymer, not even Justin Long (though, admittedly, the only reason he’d deserve it is for being Justin Long). So what’s the most logical next step for poor little Christine? Why dig up Ganush’s grave and give the button to her, of course. In the rain. In the dark. In her best clothes! If she did get dragged to Hell, Satan would probably wince, pat her on the head and send her topside for another chance, only to find her back in Hades a week later. “I offended another gypsy,” she’d say with an adorable shrug. 

 Look at him...Justin Long-ing all over the place.

For Evil Dead fans Drag Me to Hell was meant to be Sam Raimi’s long-awaited return to horror. After years of suffering beneath the yoke of Laura Ziskin and Spider-Man, Raimi wanted to tackle some more familiar ground, preferably free of Bruce “I’m on Burn Notice, mother-fucker!” Campbell. And while Drag Me isn’t quite the unrelenting gore-fest of the first Evil Dead, it shares the off-beat humor of Army of Darkness (and owes no small amount of debt to Night of the Demon). The gags are more gross-out than bloody, mostly involving Ganush spewing some liquid or semi-solid into Christine’s open mouth. Sam does manage to make a snotty handkerchief one of the scariest things to ever exist, though, and that’s among the reasons we all love him.

But at no time do you feel like Christine had this coming. In interviews, Raimi and his brother Ivan talked about wanting to do a story about an everyday, good-hearted person who does one act of cruelty out of selfish ambition and pays for it. Okay, if Christine had actually driven the bulldozer into Ganush’s house screaming “Assistant Manager, bitches!”, maybe the Brothers Raimi would have had something. But all the girl did was: her job. It’s practically analogous to Snow White slapping the poisoned apple out of the witch’s hand and getting squished by a dwarf-pushed boulder immediately after. Throughout the movie she’s presented as an eager-to-please little doormat who gets more than her share of flaming shit bags dropped on her, and for that she’s doomed to Hell?

You can’t help but wonder if all that Marvel Comics money went to Sam’s head, because what he basically made was a Mitt Romney morality tale with Christine representing small business and Ganush standing in for the filthy 47%. I mean, here’s this poor, sweet, innocent woman in charge of the economy being bullied by a gross, grotesque, filthy and possibly undocumented elderly woman who’s demanding more credit, even though she hasn’t earned it. In point of fact, Ganush feels entitled to her house because she’s lived there for thirty years. “Never missed a payment until the sickness took her eye,”—yeah, right. And what were you doing that got you so sick, Mrs. Ganush? Probably some unhealthy lifestyle, and now she’s no doubt on welfare, lying around and sucking off the welfare teat! Little Miss Golden Haired bank person has her hands tied by the system, and even if they weren’t, she was looking to advance her position through hard work and personal responsibility. Is that so wrong? Why should she be punished for ambition and Ganush rewarded for being a drain on the American taxpayer? Besides, Christine said that she wanted to help her, isn’t that enough? Apparently not for this godless, toothless semi-foreigner who inflicts nothing but hardship on poor, poor Christine (innocent of all wrongdoing except for the misguided love she feels for a filthy liberal academic who collects—sorry, hoards—rare coins).

 Direct, Sam! Direct like the wind!

While Drag Me to Hell is a worthwhile roller coaster ride, complete with all the wild Raimi angles and the chaos that gleefully Evil Deads all over the place, from a thematic point of view, the crime really doesn’t fit the punishment. Even the most judgmental horror movies—if you have premarital sex you die; if your parents do something evil you die—would find fault in Drag Me’s premise. Maybe if Christine had more bite to her—instead of doe-eyed Allison Lohmann they’d cast Eliza Dushku, who could have at least hinted at a dark side, or even better, if they’d cast Lil’ Miss Blankface, Kristen Stewart—we could root for Christine’s inevitable Hell-dragging-to.

1 comment :

  1. Read two of your articles tonight with two Romney references. Don't date your writings. Like with religion, movies and politics don't mix.
    On the other side, I am ecstatic that you are writing again here. And again, you always are a great read. Unlike you, I don't have any problems with Justin Long but, like you, I liked this flick. A lot. Seeing it in the theatre with the sound cranked was a complete hoot. People were scared, at first, then the jump scares came fast and furious. A jump, a gasp and laughter. Loved this movie in this setting.
    Welcome back, Mike. We missed you!