Precious Dread

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I confess to a lifelong love of horror movies – the good old-fashioned kind that make the spine tingle with dread, without resorting to gratuitous gore. A truly great suspense film can terrify audiences without a single drop of blood being shed. I haven’t seen many films in this genre lately, however, because most horror films have given way to slasher flicks, full of blood and torture. That’s not my style. I want to be terrified, but I don’t want to be grossed out. I agree with suspense writer Orson

Scott Card, who evaluates the effects of dread, terror and horror in this way:

Dread is the first and the strongest of the three kinds of fear. It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is…. Terror only comes when you see the thing you’re afraid of . . . you know the face of the thing you fear…. Horror is the weakest of all. After the fearful thing has happened, you see its remainder, its relics . . . the grisly hacked up corpse.

In short, dread is created by the anticipation of an unknown terror, while horror relies on the blood and gore in its aftermath. “Drag Me to Hell” is a little gem about demonic curses and things that go bump in the night. It is successful largely because it relies on the intelligent, creative development of dread rather than overwhelming its audience with horrifying buckets of blood. The result is a tense, smart, and surprisingly funny scream-fest reminiscent of an amusement park ride – scary but safe, and oh, so much fun.

As the story begins, Christine (Alison Lohman), a loan officer at a bank, is competing with another person to become assistant bank manager. In order to show that she can make tough decisions, she turns down a creepy old woman’s request for an extension on her mortgage. Big mistake, of course. The woman (Lorna Raver) gets her revenge by casting a curse on Christine. After being terrorized by the woman in the bank’s parking garage, Christine learns that she has only three days to reverse the curse or she’ll spend eternity in hell. How do you terrorize a victim in a movie rated PG-13? Certainly not with a chainsaw. Instead, the film uses the old-fashioned methods: eerie music, menacing shadows, sudden brief images of hideous faces, and graveyard visits at midnight. Oh, and in this case, getting mauled by an ugly old woman’s slobbery teeth.

Movies about demons always have a premise that explains the rules of engagement and provides the possibility of escape. “Drag Me to Hell” offers a plausible set of rules and builds on them throughout, allowing the audience to suspend disbelief and go along with the plot. In short, the story works. There also needs to be a well-meaning skeptic who doesn’t believe the believable premise. This role is ably played by Chris’ academic boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), who can’t see or hear the demons that are roaring at the doorways and windows, but supports her anyway. Every girl should have such an understanding man in her life.

This kind of movie is best seen in a darkened theater, but it’s also a perfect choice for your next Halloween party. Drag out the popcorn and drag your friends over to join you. “Drag Me to Hell” is scary without being gory, funny without being campy, and entertaining as hell.


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