Battle-weary movie critics utter the words "Drag Me To Hell" every time we have to see another "Saw" sequel, or Eli Roth torturepalooza.
Sitting through them is a chore, because the sadism and clinical realism have become somehow bland - you don't realize just how bland until you see what Sam Raimi does with a simple house fly in "Drag Me To Hell," an unconscionably fun chiller that re-discovers the genre's missing secret sauce.
Could it be vomit, seasoned with maggots?
Maybe it's plain old blood, spurting out in unexpected ways. Or something else. I don't want to give away too much, but oh yes, there will be phlegm.
You get these fluids and more in "Drag," the story Christine (Alison Lohman), a promotion-minded bank loan officer who tries to impress her bottom-line boss by denying a loan extension to an elderly woman about to lose her home.
Bad luck! The woman's a gypsy, and curses poor Christine, who in short order is being stalked by a demon whose shadow (we never get a clean look) indicates hooves and horns.
Nightmares and hallucinations follow, most having something to do with stuff going in and out of Christine's mouth (get your mind out of the gutter, because it's all gloriously PG-13).
There is no good time for a curse that dooms you to hell, of course, but the timing is particularly bad for Christine, a rural refugee who's made the jump to the city, whose career is taking off, who is about to get engaged to a young man (Justin Long) from a wealthy family.
He's a professor, and the rational type, so he scoffs when the desperate Christine consults a psychic (Dileep Rao), who reads her palm and identifies the demon that torments her.
He reveals she has three days to lift the curse, adding a ticking clock to the series of jolt/gross-out sequences that Raimi concocts for poor Christine, and for his fans.
"Drag Me To Hell" has the feel of a movie made by a guy relieved to be working without the corporate tentpole pressure of the "Spider-Man" franchise, obviously happy to return to his "Evil Dead" origins (check out the retro Universal logo).
"Hell" has a similar tone - Raimi's peculiar mix of horror and physical comedy. The director's still got game, and manages to shame his torture-obsessed contemporaries without committing the horror-genre sin of being respectable.
Latter-day horror movies, for instance, are infamous for taking the blade to sex kittens.