Oh but if we had the power to cast demon curses. The disc autoplays with a lengthy and (as we've said many times) wholly unnecessary teaser about how Blu-ray is the greatest feat of human invention since the Sistine Chapel, followed by at least ten minutes of trailers for other Universal home video releases. What makes this even more ironic is the fact that the Blu-ray teaser, the one about the glories of this new format, is in 480i standard definition! While the trailers are merely in 720p! Ummmm... Does anyone else see the irony of this? How did this slip through so many cracks? It's just beyond belief. While this won't impact the score of the disc, it's annoying, absurd, and had to be pointed out.
Ah, Sam Raimi, it's good to have you back in the horror game.
After starting his career with the three influential, gore-drenched 'Evil Dead' movies and the bleakly comic, and just as violent 'Darkman,' he started to mix it up. He made a gonzo western ('The Quick and the Dead'), a subtle thriller ('A Simple Plan'), a baseball drama ('For Love of the Game'), and a Tennessee Williams-style slice of Southern Gothic ('The Gift'). His career then culminated with the three 'Spider-Man' movies, which were perfect examples of the laws of diminishing returns. By the time the third 'Spider-Man' movie rolled around in 2007, it seemed Raimi had more or less lost it, awash in a sea of computer-generated visual effects, hammy performances, unnecessary dance numbers, and rickety, tired storytelling.
It was very apparent that Raimi needed a break from the Spider-madness, or he'd burn out, a tragic case of a great filmmaker soured by the increasing demands of the take-no-prisoners studio system. (Danny Elfman has talked about how Raimi, an old friend since 'Darkman,' had become a virtually unrecognizable terror by the time 'Spider-Man 2' concluded.)
Thankfully, Raimi did take a breather, just long enough to resurrect a 10-year-old script he had co-written with his brother Ivan Raimi. The result? 'Drag Me to Hell,' easily one of the filmmaker's best films and one of 2009's biggest cinematic treats.
'Drag Me to Hell' is the story of Christine Brown (the adorable Alison Lohman, who took over duties from 'Juno's' Ellen Page weeks before shooting began), a humble farm girl who has a job as a loan manager for a local Los Angeles bank. She has a boyfriend (Justin Long, managing to make the straight man role seem interesting) and a chance at a big promotion from her unctuous boss (David Paymer). And then the elderly Sylvia Ganush (a note-perfect Lorna Raver) walks into her bank, asking for a loan extension so she can stay in her house. Ganush is a cartoonish gypsy-type Eastern European woman with a "sick" eye, who hacks up phlegm and taps her talon-like fingernails on Christine's desk.
Christine, who means well, is unable to give Sylvia the loan. Of course, as is so often the case in today's difficult lending market, Sylvia then curses Christine with a demonic force. If Christine cannot rid herself of this demon, then she will be dragged to hell in three days.
The fun of 'Drag Me to Hell' is watching the escalating supernatural terror that visits Christine, and seeing her try to head it off at the pass. It starts with rattling of windows and demon-shaped shadows and gets more and more terrifying from there. Since the movie was PG-13 (there's also an unrated cut on this disc - more on that in a minute), Raimi's back to using good old fashioned spook-you-silly techniques, and they really are brilliant. The gags are really first rate, so much so that I'm hesitant to give them away, but I will say this - there's a whole lot of goo in this movie.
It's like they filmed the movie inside Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. It shares creaky spookiness mixed with state-of-the-art technology and the sensation that anything can pop out at you and go "Boo!" It's a nonstop series of successive scares, and the rare horror comedy that's as scary as it is funny, in equal measure.
It should be noted that the cast is really superb. In addition to the aforementioned cast members, there's also a standout performance by Dileep Rao as Rham Jas, the psychic who actually believes Christine and tries to help her get this demon-shaped monkey off her back. He is equal parts new age pomposity and genuine sincerity, and he and Alison Lohman's Christine make a great duo, trying to come up with ways that she can rid herself of this evil (two words: animal sacrifice, two more words: cute kitty).
It's also fun to formulate your own theories on 'Drag Me to Hell's intentions. Immediately, some said that it was a wicked satire of the current financial crisis, with Christine standing in for the large banks, who screw over the little guy and get their just desserts. There's also the 'Repulsion' line of thought, that this isn't actually the story of a plucky young woman terrorized by dark forces, but rather the journey of a deeply disturbed and insecure woman who is spiraling, violently, towards a psychological break. The visions and supernatural hullabaloo that people witness could be a thematic representation of her inner demons and the psychic power of her unrest.
Whatever your reading of 'Drag Me to Hell' is, you've got to admit: it's a hell of a lot of fun. Raimi directs the hell out of this movie, using a whole bunch of practical effects alongside some subtle digital augmentation. There's a nearly electric energy to this movie that we haven't felt from the director in a long time, and his total commitment to the project can be seen and heard in every frame. It's undoubtedly one of the most keenly intelligent (and all around best) movies I've seen all year, and heralds the return of a great filmmaking talent. I have a feeling this one will be a Halloween favorite for decades to come, it's that wonderful.
NOTE: This disc also contains an "unrated director's cut" of the movie, even though I'm dubious of the "director's cut" label, because there isn't a commentary or anything else to indicate that this is director Sam Raimi's preferred version of the film. The differences are subtle but noticeable, especially if you're a super-fan of the movie like I am. The movie is actually a half-a-minute shorter in its "unrated" form. The differences are: More blood, coming from both Christine's nose and mouth, during the nosebleed scene in the bank; actual blood and stabbing in the animal sacrifice scene; and a little more flying viscera when Christine dispels an oogie boogie spirit with a 'Looney Tunes'-like anvil gag. Overall, these embellishments don't add much to the final product, and the original version is a far looser, goosier, more preferred version. Like I said before, it's not about the blood, it's all about the goo.
From the opening frames I thought to myself "This is a reference quality disc, the kind they'll play on a loop in the home theater section of Best Buy," because, well, it really is that good.
The 1080p/VC-1 transfer on this 50GB disc (2.39:1 aspect ratio) is flawless, capturing all the nuance of director of photography Peter Deming's sharp cinematography. Everything looks flawless - skin tones are spot-on, colors truly pop (the blood that shoots out of Christine's nose is beyond vibrant), blacks and shadows are deep and inky (and there are a whole lot of both in this movie, obviously). Texture is truly fine, detail is rich, and the entire image takes on an almost three-dimensional lushness.
Peter Deming talks about his naturalistic approach to lighting the movie elsewhere on this disc, and you can really tell with this transfer - the harsh overhead lights of the parking garage where Christine is attacked, the twinkly nighttime shots - it just looks fabulous and grounds the outrageousness concretely in reality.
There are no technical issues to speak of. Aliasing, crush, artifacts, none of it is apparent here. It really is one of the more perfect transfers out there. This is insanely great.
When I saw this movie (several times) in the theater this summer, I mused, "This is going to be the movie that tests the power of Blu-ray sound." (I talk to myself a lot, huh?) 'Drag Me to Hell' had such an aggressive, wildly wonderful surround mix in its theatrical run that I really doubted it could be replicated on the small screen, but you know what? The impossible has been realized. This audio mix is just as good as it was in the theater.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just amazing. Every speaker is given a workout with this muscular mix. That's not to say this is some pumped-up mix, but it effortlessly captures its original theatrical presentation. Things crash and smash, goo explodes, ghouls shriek and growl, rain pours down into an open grave, and all of this is rendered lovingly and atmospherically.
Directionality is spot on, dialogue is always crisp and clear, and Christopher Young's wonderful score sounds really amazing (the plucking guitar licks in the garage attack scene sound particularly great). Sure, things are LOUD, but they're never OVERWHELMING. Everything is spot-on. This is one of the greatest Blu-ray audio tracks I've ever heard, period.
Also included are Spanish DTS 5.1 and French DTS 5.1 tracks, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Here is the one aspect of this region-free disc that fails terribly. This movie must have required the work of a whole host of people, and the story of its development - from the ten-year-old script, to its post-'Spider-man' resurrection, to Sam Raimi's interest in doing a smaller movie after his big-budget trilogy, to the quick, on-the-fly recasting of Christine, none of this is covered, because all we get is an all-too-brief series of Production Diaries, without a single, conclusive documentary or commentary track. The film's operatic theatrical trailer (which called it "The Return… Of True Horror," clearly a jab at the 'Saw'-like torture porn craze which is about as scary as my left shoe) isn't even included. It's just a shame,as this is easily one of the most accomplished discs released this year in terms of audio and video, but it totally drops the ball when it comes to special features.
Despite some crushingly weak special features, this 'Drag Me to Hell' Blu-ray still gets a "Must Own" designation. The movie is nothing short of a new genre classic, and the audio and video are absolutely flawless. This is a movie that will grow on you, and one you can watch over and over and over again. While you've got to commend Universal for the audio and video, some special features sure would have been nice. No matter. The movie (and its presentation) are so good that they trump the disc's special feature shortcomings. Go get it!