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Drag Me to Hell: Wicked fun

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The face of horror in modern cinema is, sad to say, torture porn, where sadism is exhibited with alarming regularity (most notably by the filmmakers) and imagination is only employed when the scripter conjures up gruesome new ways for characters to die. Because of this lamentable trend, it's an effortless task to sing the praises of Drag Me to Hell, a funhouse freak show that's more interested in delivering old-fashioned chills (it's even rated PG-13 rather than the expected R) than in wallowing in misogyny, masochism and mutilation. The story is so thin that the entire screenplay could have been written on a bubble gum wrapper, yet the end result is so delirious in its desire to delight that moviegoers willing to be jerked around won't mind.

Sam Raimi is best known these days for helming the Spider-Man franchise, but his most notable achievement remains 1983's The Evil Dead, merely one of the best gore flicks ever made (the sequels aren't bad, either). Raimi regains the playful prankster attitude he exhibited back then, crafting (with brother Ivan) this yarn about sweet-natured loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who, in an ill-advised attempt to show her boss (David Paymer) that she's able to make the "tough decisions" that might land her that promotion at the bank, denies the elderly, half-blind Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) a third extension on a home loan, thus leaving her homeless. Angered, the gypsy woman places a curse on Christine, a jinx that will expose her to three days of supernatural hauntings before she's ultimately ... well, check out that title.

Drag Me to Hell isn't really scary -- the gotcha! moments and incessant use of loud noises don't exactly build suspense -- and the climactic twist, straight out of a vintage EC Comics horror publication, is telegraphed far too early in the narrative. But Lohman is ideally cast as a basically decent person who nevertheless must occasionally make some hard calls if she wants to survive (animal lovers, be warned), and the brothers Raimi get a lot of mileage out of Mrs. Ganush as a formidable adversary. Forget Jason and Freddy and Jigsaw -- it's the thought of this old woman gumming me to death that might make it difficult to turn out the lights.

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