'Drag Me to Hell'

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Having been preoccupied with a little thing called the "Spider-Man" trilogy, Sam Raimi returns to his "Evil Dead" roots with "Drag Me to Hell," a funhouse ride of a supernatural thriller surrounding a demonic gypsy curse.

He might be armed with a larger budget than what he had to work with in the pre-Spidey days, but Raimi is very much up to his old tricks, retaining that deliriously over-the-top brand of Grand Guignol horror he had abandoned by the mid-'90s in pursuit of other genres.

Raimi's legions of early fans, who'll likely be tickled by the title alone, are certain to eat this stuff up, especially given the buzz that has been building since a sneak preview of an unfinished version in March at the South by Southwest Festival.

The completed version, meanwhile, had a Wednesday midnight screening at Cannes ahead of its May 29 opening.

Life for Christine (Alison Lohman) would seem reasonably far from hell given her position as a Los Angeles bank-loan officer and her nurturing relationship with her college-professor boyfriend (Justin Long).

But all that changes when, forced to choose between granting yet another home-loan extension to weird old Mrs. Ganush (fearless stage actress Lorna Raver) or impressing her boss (David Paymer), she opts for career maintenance.

Facing eviction, the elderly Hungarian woman damns Christine's soul with the curse of the Lamia, a mythical beast who'll pay a visit to haul her off to you-know-where.

Hatched by Raimi and his brother Ivan, the scripting is not without some clunky plot mechanics, but it's hard to notice given all that visceral visual goop heaved onto the screen with gleeful abandon.

Incorporating old-school puppetry and prosthetic makeup combined with judiciously used CGI, along with a colorful cast and composer Christopher Young's unnerving symphonic blasts, Raimi's raucous trip to hell proves anything but a drag. (partialdiff)
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