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Originally published Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

"Drag Me to Hell": shocks and slapstick

Hell, according to Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," is somewhere in Pasadena. At least that's where the director's latest jokey thriller begins, in 1969, with a child being devoured by flames that shoot from the floor of a California mansion.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Drag Me to Hell,"with Alison Lohman, Justin Long. Directed by Sam Raimi, from a script by Sam and Ivan Raimi. 99 minutes. "PG-13" — Parental guidance advised because of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language. Several theaters.

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Hell, according to Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," is somewhere in Pasadena.

At least that's where the director's latest jokey thriller begins, in 1969, with a child being devoured by flames that shoot from the floor of a California mansion.

The rest of the movie is contemporary, even if its goofy, gory sensibility suggests the "Evil Dead" trilogy Raimi made between 1981 and 1993. Raimi seems especially drawn to the horror-show potential of false teeth, gushing green phlegm, rotting teeth, creaking wooden houses and persistent flies that enter human noses and mouths (in relentless close-up).

The audience at a preview screening earlier this week squirmed, jumped and giggled as the heroine, a bank-loan officer named Christine (Alison Lohman), dealt with the consequences of throwing a bankrupt Hungarian woman out of her home.

"You have shamed me," screams the old woman, who begs for a loan, then places a curse on Christine when she doesn't get it. The rejection leads to a vicious attack in an underground parking lot, a series of hallucinations that alienate the parents of Christine's faithful boyfriend (Justin Long), and a massive nose bleed that drenches her boss (David Paymer) and co-workers in red syrup.

Somehow this does not lead to Christine's demotion, or even an acknowledgment that the gushing blood has transformed and even compromised her workplace. Only a séance, organized by a fortune teller for $10,000, can offer much relief, and even that isn't final.

Raimi fans, especially those who discovered him during his low-budget horror phase, will be thrilled by the movie's giddy mixture of shocks and slapstick. Those who saw only his "Spider-Man" trilogy may be perplexed by Raimi's refusal to enter the mainstream and provide a conventional happy ending.

Gypsies and cat lovers probably won't have much use for the picture. The Gypsy (Roma) subculture is presented in an especially xenophobic manner, while Christine's pet feline is utterly dispensable under the circumstances. After all, Christine needs to come up with something that qualifies for an animal sacrifice, and her kitty is awfully available.

Still, for all its potential to offend, "Drag Me to Hell" has managed to score a PG-13 rating. Could this be a comment on the blandness of the characters who populate the movie? They're so innocuous, and they're played with so little verve, that you don't feel a strong identification when their lives are wrecked.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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