Drag Me to Hell (2009) Review

Sam Raimi is considered a master of horror, but he’s done relatively little to contribute to that title in the past decade. He’s been busy with the Spider-man trilogy and that Oz movie, but he did return to his roots in 2009’s Drag Me to Hell. A odd mix of both modern and classic Raimi, this film stands as a unique and unusual specimen that demands to be examined.

After denying an old gypsy woman an extension on her mortgage, Christine finds herself cursed to have her soul taken to Hell after 3 days. Now in a desperate race against time, Christine must overcome the supernatural forces that are playing with her before their final deed, all the while fighting to keep the things she values most in life, being her job and her boyfriend.

Sam Raimi is most well known for the Evil Dead trilogy, where he mixed over-the-top horror with campy comedy to varying degrees and results. Now the one to really examine in contrast to this film is The Evil Dead, which managed to be over-the-top while still being creepy and a little scary. Drag Me to Hell tries to hit this same balance and while it does to an extent achieve it, there’s just something off about it. As I was watching it I tried to figure out what wasn’t working for me, and I think it’s that Drag Me to Hell is lacking charm. It doesn’t have that kind of charm that the Evil Dead trilogy has or that his other works have. Even Spider-man has a charm to the first two films, but this one, while it has a little, is just missing that. It seems too self-aware that it’s campy and silly, almost like it just got done watching the Evil Dead films. That may just be speculation on my part and not matter to anyone else, but I thought I’d try to explain why this film didn’t work particularly well for me.

Alright enough of that flitting around, lets get to the actual meat and maggots of this movie. Sam Raimi has for all intents and purposes created one of the most unique horror movies of the 2000s. His blend of horror, comedy and even just good writing was sorely lacking last decade and even nowadays. He somehow manages to take cliches that we’ve seen and present them flat-out and then shortly thereafter show something you’ve never seen before. It’s an awkward blend that will turn some people off, but will excite most horror fans.

The acting is fine in this movie, not anything to write home about, but it’s a step up from the wooden performances of many a horror production. The score is some weird blend of horror and the soundtrack to Spider-man, but it’s ultimately quite good. The effects are really good… when they’re practical. The CGI in this movie is godawful, even for it’s time. It’s probably a good thing that this is such a cheesy movie, or those scenes would be incredibly distracting.

Drag Me to Hell doesn’t strike me as mandatory watching in any way, or something even worth buying. However, it is definitely a unique watch and will serve as quite refreshing for those weighed down by the found-footage dredge. If there’s one thing I can say about Drag Me to Hell it’s that it’s fun and really that’s all that matters. It’s a reassurance that Raimi can still do horror, granting that he’s given a low enough budget. Also to anyone interested in lighting, this serves as a great pallet of very basic, but effective lighting techniques. Drag Me to Hell is available to buy/rent from iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Google Play.

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006/9) Review

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 28 episode anime comedy series from Kyoto Animation. It’s fierce fanbase is one that will claim betrayal against anyone who hasn’t even watched it. While Melancholy may be a fun and certainly unique series, it definitely isn’t as worthy of such standing as shows like Madoka Magica or Cowboy Bebop. What Melancholy does offer is a light, fun show (for the most part) topped to the brim with energy and imagination.

Kyon is your extremely average high school guy, but what isn’t average is the extremely odd, but beautiful Haruhi Suzumiya who sits behind him in class. After an off-handed remark Kyon inspires Haruhi to start her own club and after recruiting him, the quiet sole member of the literary club Yuki Nagato, the so kawaii Mikuru Asahina and the mysterious transfer student Itsuki Koizumi the SOS Brigade is born. Their mission: to seek out strange phenomena and in particular find time travelers, aliens and espers. However, Haruhi isn’t an ordinary girl, as it’s revealed to Kyon by the alien Nagato, time traveling Mikuru, and the esper Koizami that Haruhi is actually the unknowing, but all-powerful god of the universe and it’s up to Kyon to prevent her from finding out and accidentally destroying it.

What makes Melancholy an interesting watch is two fold: The bat shit insanity of the situations Haruhi puts her friends in and those friends themselves. The characters are really what make this show, and despite having little drama between them they’re a fun bunch to get invested in. The narrator for the series, Kyon, provides a fun spin on things with his sarcasm and wit. It should be noted that in the english dub, which is what I watched, he’s played by the excellent Crispin Freeman and he does a bang-up job of it. While we’re on the subject the english dub for Melancholy is rather nice, with solid performances all around even if it doesn’t have the same energy that the japanese does. Anyhoo back to the characters. The three supporting characters all fit into their anime stereotypes, but by the end of the series you have a sense that they’re more then that and that kind of character growth justifies the cliches for me. Haruhi herself tends to be one note, but looking at the series as a whole you can see that she actually has a complicated psyche and is much more then just “weird.”

The stories of Melancholy are often times simplistic, but they get blown out of proportion by the stakes involved. Something as simple as making a movie all of a sudden becomes an exercise in tension with the fate of the world riding on it. The show doesn’t really have any filler episodes since the status quo doesn’t change once the world is set up and all of the arcs no matter how long or short aren’t particularly earth-shattering. In fact it seems to me looking back on the series that… nothing really happened. Yes there was stuff, but comparing it to how much they could have done and how high the stakes were they actually did shockingly little. To me at least. Thats not to say the stories of Melancholy are bad, most of them are filled with witty dialogue and fun character bits to stay entertaining and the show does manage to repackage many anime cliches with a hint of Haruhi magic to freshen them up again.

The animation, done by Kyoto is rather good, but rarely is anything astounding. All the characters look consistently good, but there are several points where the animation quality drops when they’re farther away or in motion. The style itself is nothing too special, but the designs given to concepts like The Closed Space are rather interesting. The openings and endings have a fun energetic style to them and fit the rather good music well. The endings also have the characters doing a choreographed dance, which became incredibly popular and has appeared in every Kyoto show since. The score of the series is okay, with a range of music from jazz to pop and for the most part it does it’s job, but there are a couple extremely annoying songs that distract from their scenes.

Now before I wrap up it’s important I address the story arc that has sparked lots of controversy all over the internet: “Endless Eight.” “Endless Eight” finds our characters stuck in a time loop, forever repeating the last two weeks of summer. The only way to get out is to figure out what Haruhi wants to do before summer ends. In the first episode we see the characters go about their summer activities and have a good time. In episode 2 the same activities occur, but this time it’s discovered that they’re stuck in a time loop and they don’t know what to do about it. In episode 3 the characters have forgotten the time loop since time has reset, and so they go about same activities until they discover the time loop, but still they can’t do anything about it. Episode 4 has the same activities and the characters discover the time loop, but can’t do anything about it. Episode 5-7 repeat this trend until in episode 8 Kyon finally figures out a solution and the loop is broken. Now it’s not like the episodes repeat themselves, they are all animated separately and little things in the dialogue and the character interactions do change. Despite these changes you are pretty much watching the same episode 6-8 times depending on how you weigh the differences in the first and last episode. This is obviously hard to get through, but like a few films I’ve mentioned (Redline, Gravity) it’s an experience. It achieves something greater then the sum of it’s parts by you watching it and you can only get that by watching the entire thing. “Endless Eight” puts you into the shoes of Nagato who remembers all 15, 532 repetitions since her “mind” transcends time/space. This loop is massively important to her character and with each episode you slowly get dragged down by the tedium of it and you get painfully sympathetic. So while “Endless Eight” is a hard arc to watch, it is important to … at least once. After an initial viewing you can pick and choose what episodes to watch and I would probably recommend parts 1, 6, 7, and 8.

What damaged The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya most is that when it was aired, it wasn’t aired in the production release order, but rather in the chronological order of the events that occur. This completely screwed up the pacing of the series and while it did make some aspects of the story more obvious, they weren’t exactly unclear to begin with. So when watching Melancholy, make sure that the source you’re viewing it from starts with “Episode 00: Mikuru Asahina’s Adventure.” And with that said let me declare that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an extremely fun and entertaining show to watch, with lots of greats stories and characters that provide one of the most unique viewing experiences and one that could only be pulled off by anime. Melancholy is available from Crunchyroll and on DVD from Bandai Entertainment.