Friday, June 19, 2009

Bad things happen to good people

Sam Raimi goes back to his horror roots with "Drag Me To Hell". These days, the Raimi name may be better associated with the "Spider-Man" movie franchise, but with DMTH he reminds us that his original claim to fame was through the "Evil Dead" trilogy. Yes, even if "Army of Darkness" was more slapstick comedy than horror, it just shows his versatility in directing many different movie genres.

Anyway, DMTH brings us back to straightforward campy, shocky horror. Young, ambitious loan officer competing for a promotion turns down a loan extension for an old crone (there's always an old crone!) who curses her with a rather disproportional punishment: to be tormented by an evil spirit for three days, then be taken to hell to burn forever on the fourth day.

Cue two kinds of horror devices Raimi loves to play with. The first is rising tension followed by shock, the second is the horror of contact with vile fluid substances (blood, bile, slime and others of that nature) on the skin, face and otherwise inavertently ingested in large mouthfuls. We get both in generous portions throughout the movie.

But looking past the fun of shock after shock, revolting situation after revolting situation, there is an understated psychological parable at work here as well. Christine Brown is essentially a good person. She has a good nature, a kind heart, she is a woman in love; the sort of person that does not deserve any evil to befall her. But she makes one small mistake against her conscience, and no matter how good she has been up till then, no matter how she tries to make amends thereafter, it is still that one mistake that ends up defining her perception of the world. It is her own guilt that turns her otherwise idyllic life into hell.

Y'know, according to Christian doctrine, the scary thing is that all of us bear this exact same curse. Regardless of how good we are, or think we are, or try to be, because of our inherent imperfections, we are still destined towards, you know, the place downstairs. I believe DMTH makes up only one half of a good old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone sermon. The other half -- the redemption part -- has been left out.

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