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Web Stalker – Sam Raimi Returns to His Horror Roots With Drag Me to Hell

The Evil Dead could tackle Spider-Man , then there really is hope that the geeks will one day inherit the earth. That said, Raimi has squandered much of his indie-cred in recent years: A string of substandard releases from his Ghost House label and the god-awful Spider-Man 3 left him looking like just another Hollywood suit looking for a quick cash-in. And so I approach Raimi’s upcoming Drag Me to Hell with equal parts excitement and fear. Will this be Raimi’s triumphant return to his roots or the final nail in his coffin? So far all signs are pointing to the former.

Back in December 2007, Raimi’s long time production partner Rob Tapert — the pair have been together since pre-Evil Dead days — first mentioned the Drag Me to Hell to Variety. “Sam calls it a ‘spook-a-blast,’ a wild ride with all the chills and spills that ‘Evil Dead’ delivered, without relying on the excessive violence of that film,” said Tapert. While I wasn’t alone in wondering what exactly a “spook-a-blast” was, it was clear that Raimi wanted fans to see this a a return to form. And, heck, it certainly seems to be as true a return as possible: Raimi actually wrote the script with his brother Ivan shortly after Army of Darkness and has been sitting on it ever since.

Fans were enthusiastic about the news: “Yes! Drag me to Hell sounds awesome! It’s the type of movie I’ve been waiting to see from him,” (Tollens, Rotten Tomatoes)… with one major reservation: Tapert’s reference to the violence. “Without the excessive violence of Evil Dead? That was the best part! Cheesy gratuitous violence!” (blank blank, Rotten Tomatoes). Point taken: The original Evil Dead was X-rated for violence so it’s hard to imagine how a movie could be a throwback to that style and still qualify for a PG-13 rating.  

After that, things got quiet. Ellen Page dropped out from the lead after the success of Juno citing schedule difficulties, which most people took to mean she had either just become too expensive or felt like a low budget horror flick would be a bad choice for a budding “serious” actress. (Alison Lohman was subbed in and nobody felt the need to squawk much.) A teaser screening at 2008’s San Diego Comic-Con drummed up interest again, and was followed quickly by a series of spoiler-free interviews given to capitalize on the Halloween season and the release of the first images. It was the images that drew the most chatter, no doubt because it’s not every day that you see a crazy old woman with office supplies embedded in her face. “Haha, nice staples to the forehead! I have high hopes for this one!” (Andrea Krantz, Cinematical)

While the lack of news from the set makes for dull reading, it’s something I actually take as a positive sign: A noisy set generally means a difficult and unhappy set and the simple fact that Raimi kept everything running smoothly and on schedule had me thinking happy thoughts. My thoughts appear to have been borne out by response to last week’s “secret test screening” of a work in progress version of the movie. Why the quotes in there? Well, the number of writers invited to watch just SCREAMS viral marketing to me but indirect marketing or no, a whole lot of respected writers were in there, scribbling awaywith no fear of reprisal, and they all agree: Raimi is back in a big way.

A sampling of early takes:

“[Raimi] still has it, clearly. He’s crafted a film that is incredibly fun, tensely suspenseful and sometimes gut-laughingly funny. And that ending… absolutely perfect. It’s not exactly hard to see coming, but in this era of horror filmmaking it’s always a surprise to see a movie end on such a dark note, especially when it’s executed so well.” Quint, Aint It Cool

“If you are fans of Sam Raimi’s old horror movies then you are going to love the hell out of ‘Drag me To Hell’. This is Raimi at his best.” Geek Tyrant

“When it comes to horror, this film proves Raimi has not lost his touch. Not by a fraction.” Shock Till You Drop

“Drag Me to Hell played like a vintage classic in the vein of Raimi’s own Evil Dead series and the inimitable Bruce Campbell vs Army of Darkness. Bucket loads of blood and gore, edge-of-your-seat, clenched-cheek suspense, and laughs, laughs, laughs.” Nick Valentine, First Showing

As for the question about the rating, I turn to a regular fan who was at the screening: “R-rating, you really don’t miss it. If this *really* is going to be the PG-13 cut, then it doesn’t feel tame AT ALL. I usually hate pg-13 horror, but this was excellent.” Kraken, Aint It Cool

Cue the renewed cries for Evil Dead 4 in five, four, three, two …

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