October 17th, 2009

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009) *** ½

The Evil Dead movies were director Sam Raimi’s masterpieces.  Lately he’s gone all Hollywood on us with the Spider-Man series.  Drag Me to Hell is his attempt to get back to his horror roots.  It’s fun (and downright crazy in some parts) but one can only imagine how awesome the flick could’ve been if Raimi has his old set of balls and not went for the audience-friendly PG-13 rating. 


Christine (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer who denies an extension on a gypsy woman’s home, which sends the old bag into a tizzy.  The crone attacks Christine and places a curse on her so that in three days a bunch of demons will literally drag her to Hell.  Despite the protests of her incredulous boyfriend (Justin Long) Christine gets a psychic to help defend herself from the meddlesome Hellbeasts.


Drag Me to Hell is similar in spirit to the Evil Dead flicks.  It’s got tons of dizzying camerawork, floating possessed people, and scenes of old women going apeshit to occasionally bring up memories of those films.  There’s even an impressive geyser of blood in there too.  In addition, we also get a stapler to the eyeball, a ruler down the throat, maggot puking, embalming fluid puking, an extreme nosebleed, cat slaughtering, an arm down the throat, anvil to the head, an eyeball to the face, and cat puking.  Out of all the outrageous scenes, I have to say that the talking goat took the taco in terms of WTF-ness. 


Alas, the carnage is somewhat muted thanks to the PG-13 rating.  Raimi has made a safe horror movie for the masses instead of a blood-soaked epic for us gorehounds.  It’s still a heck of a lot of fun though, and I will give Raimi a lot of credit for delivering one heck of a killer ending.


As many good things I can say about this movie, I have to knock some points off for it’s gratuitous prejudiced portrayals of gypsies.  Being of gypsy blood (third-generation) I take particular offense to the gypsy woman being depicted as an evil old witch.  I can’t believe Raimi would do this because traditionally in horror films, it’s the gypsy who warns the hero of the supernatural curse (like in The Wolf Man) and not inflicts it.  My ancestors read fortunes and danced in caravans but they never once placed a death curse on someone.  As a charter member of GLAAD (The Gypsy Lady Alliance Against Defamation) and the NAAGP (The National Association for the Advancement of Gypsy People), as well as giving yearly donations to the United Gypsy College Fund, I must protest Raimi’s insensitive portrayal of my people.  Other than that; Drag Me to Hell pretty much rocks.

CHILD’S PLAY (1988) ****

Killer Doll Movies were kinda passé by the time the 80’s rolled around.  It took a sleeper horror hit like Child’s Play to revitalize the genre.  Not only was it a clever updating of an old hat, it also introduced audiences to one of the coolest screen slashers of all time:  Chucky.


Good Guy Dolls are the hot ticket toy item and Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) wants one for his birthday.  Unfortunately, his mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) is strapped for cash and has to resort to buying a doll from a creepy homeless man.  What she doesn’t realize is that a deranged killer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) has transferred his soul into the doll.  When Andy isn’t looking, “Chucky” goes around killing his former criminal associates until he comes to the guy who taught him Soul Transference 101.  He tells Chucky that the only way to get his soul out of the doll’s body is to put it into Andy’s.  Karen and Andy believe that Chucky is alive but detective Norris (Chris Sarandon) thinks they’re nuts.  Only after he gets attacked by Chucky does he finally agree to help them stop the terrifying toy.


Director Tom (Fright Night) Holland kinda takes his time with the first half of the movie.  It’s fairly obvious to everyone in the audience that Chucky is a walking, stalking killer doll, but Holland spends too much precious screen time on superfluous scenes of Andy trying to convince everyone that he’s real.  Once Chucky starts running around and fucking people up though, the movie really cooks. 


The scene where Hicks finds that there are no batteries in the Chucky doll is one of the greatest “Oh Shit” moments in horror history.  I first saw this flick in the theater when I was ten years old, and this scene fucking scared the shit out of me.  The finale when Chucky’s charred corpse comes back to life gave me the willies too.  There’s also a cool hammer to the face, a gnarly death by voodoo doll, and a toasty electrocution scene.  Holland delivers scares aplenty, but he even manages to give us some quality suspense as well.  I particularly liked the scene where Chucky tries to kill Sarandon while he’s driving a car. 


Brad Dourif’s creepy voice is what gives the movie its punch.  I can’t think of any other voice that would be as effective as Chucky.  He doesn’t really rely on wisecracks in this one but he still has enough of a potty mouth to make it hilarious whenever he drops the F-Bomb.


Another thing that makes Child’s Play memorable is the social commentary.  This flick really says something about fanatical consumer mentality of the 80’s.  Child’s Play was made at a time when parents would do just about anything to get their kid a Cabbage Patch Doll.  I bet if what happens in the movie really happened to your average Soccer Mom, she’d be gossiping to her friends:  “So what if my little Billy has a Good Guy Doll that’s possessed by a dead killer… at least HAS one.  I don’t see YOUR kid with a Good Guy Doll!”  I think the fact that every Christmas there is at least one toy that kids (and parents) go apeshit for (Nintendo Wii, Tickle Me Elmo, etc.) is partially what makes the film endure throughout the years.


Child’s Play is top notch in every department.  The acting is great, the direction is classy, and there are plenty of genuine scares.  I think Bride of Chucky is probably my favorite of the series, but Child’s Play remains one of the greatest Killer Doll flicks ever made.


Child’s Play is Number 10 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of the Year for 1988, just below Not of This Earth.


<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Bride of Chucky>