Drag Me to Hell - Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
Universal's VC-1 transfer comes surging up from the depths of Hell with immensely pleasing results. The image, not in Raimi's preferred aspect of 1.85:1 but in a nice wide 2.40:1, looks spectacular. Both sharp and warmly suffused with earthy and secondary tones - which only serves to makes the primaries, such as thick gouts of blood, look even more striking, or the flames of the Abyss stand-out - the palette is consistent, film-like and richly detailed.
There are certain shots of Lohman, in particular, when every single pore on her face is offered up with incredibly finite and convincing texture. Hair, eyes and teeth - oh god, Ganush's teeth! - all look stunningly crisp, sharply rendered and detailed. Clothing has great levels of information to be found in embroidery - Mrs. Ganush's shawl, Christine's button-snatched coat, for instance. But, even as you relish the sumptuous quality on display here - background objects, views and characters also exhibit a marvellous level of clarity - it is the staple in the eye, the maggot-and-worm vomit-rain from the gypsy's revolting maw, the pesky lip and nostril bothering fly (who even comes as lands on the camera lens), the nose-hose of blood and those wicked fingernails drumming on the desk that will astound with their impeccably presented detail. If you think that the paraphernalia around Christine's house, her garage and the back garden is highly delineated and open to scrutiny, then have a gander at Rham Jas' office-cum-study, with all of its oddities, paintings, effigies and assorted occult nick-nacks, and then cast your eyes over the big séance room later on, with some ornate colours, mosaics and antique decoration - all is offered up for display by an image that is beautifully deep and extremely clean. Flames and lamplight are also given a decent and realistic glow amidst the shadows - the shot when the madness of the séance subsides and the lights come back on is highly effective. The graveyard finale is also wonderfully captured, with shots of the coffin being prised open and the cascading sheets of mud only making the picture more decorative, rather than submerging it in squalor.
There are no problems with the film's contrast either. Shadows have keen delineation and a genuine sense of depth. There were no times when I thought that any detail may have been lost within them, even during the mud-bath finale, sluiced through with arrow-like slivers of silver rain. Bright daytime scenes look somewhat artificial, but this is down to Raimi's and Deming's visual choices. The daytimes have a bright, yellowy veneer that paints them as bogusly happy and cheery, a deliberate contrast to the exquisite sequences of darker, or more subdued lighting. Skin-tones are nicely judged. They are healthy - well, all except for Mrs. Ganush, that is - but this is a product of makeup and good, old fashioned Hollywood sheen and not the transfer. Grain is also evident, as a very fine layer of purely cinematic texture.
But before you go thinking that this disc is absolutely perfect, I should point out that having now seen it on two separate systems, I did find slight elements of shimmering on some more intricate or shiny patterns - the grill of a car, a railing etc - occurring when the camera pans past them, but that was about the only fly-in-the-ointment, visually, as far as I could see. But with the absence of edge enhancement, aliasing, artefacts and DNR, this is still one of those ruthlessly impressive transfers that deserves to viewed and savoured on the biggest screen you can find. I'm certain there are people out there would clock this one up as a sure-fire 10 out of 10, and I'm toying with the idea, myself ... but I'll settle for an official 9.5.
The sound-design has always played an enormous part in a Sam Raimi film and Drag Me To Hell, I'm pleased to say, incorporates his love of immersive surround, sudden jarring effects and profoundly steered atmospherics to a wonderful degree of viewer/listener pulverisation. The track's DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is, therefore, a delight and provides a truly electric experience of both widely spaced dynamics and immediate, almost intimate aural violation.
Vocal treatment has not been made to suffer for all of the spooky bombast on offer. It remains clear, intelligible and varied within the mix no matter what amount of spectral assault is taking place. There are times when voices suddenly become screams and this is well presented with nothing less than realism, and a couple of moments when voices become distorted and issue from around the set-up. High ends are crisp and clear, the mid-range is warm and highly detailed, and the bass levels are wonderfully deep and powerful. The mix is loud, though not ridiculously so. When the Lamia makes its presence felt, the track comes alive with eloquently skin-crawling detail, from Young's clinically clear instrumentation - those keening violin strings really sound close and bold - to incredibly vivid positioning of effects - growls, hisses, rattles, thuds and impacts - to dramatic impacts and all-round, room-swirling activity that boasts seamless panning and natural ambience. The thunderous frenzy of the hanging pots and pans when the Lamia gives them a thorough work-out is wild and possibly neighbour disturbing. I played this disc, the first time, quite late at night, and found the effect seriously jolting.
Eerie creaks and metallic groans will also have you glancing over your shoulder, so supremely convincing and positioned are they. There are instances when wood splinters - the best would be when Christine is hurled violently into the wardrobe - and there is some amazing detail within this shattering effect. The sound of the Lamia's shriek is forcibly rammed out at us on several occasions and then there is great moment when its shadow-hooves thud to a halt outside the bedroom door, really coming across as driven down with some weight behind them. Breaking glass, the car window, for example, is also rendered with scintillating clarity. Wind scuttles about the set-up from time to time, rustling up behind us and then gusting ahead at one stage. The storm at the end offers some great thunder that rolls out across the ceiling and good dispersal of spattering rain and sliding mud. Further subtleties would include the faint buzzing of the fly as it travels around Christine's inner nostrils and then, a little later, from somewhere possibly deep within her.
There are certainly more aggressive and earth-shaking lossless tracks out there - Rambo and Knowing, for example - but Drag Me To Hell more than delivers the goods and provides a pretty much flawless presentation of the film's ominous audio. Another very strong 9 out of 10, possibly even nudging into a full-blown 10, if I'm honest.
“Well, it was fine until Sam actually asked me to ... open my mouth!”
Which just about sums up the fine old riot that lay behind bringing Drag Me To Hell to the screen. As depicted in the only feature on this release that is worth talking about, the 35-minute assortment of Production Diaries, the shoot was hectic, audacious and a whole lot of fun. As you expect, the series of vignettes - which can and should be seen as one feature with the Play All option - are pop-swift, praise-heavy and of strictly promotional value, yet they are still devoutly entertaining, insightful and certainly do aid in your understanding of what went into the film.
With all the cast and crew on-hand to discuss the various elements of the shoot, and Justin Long providing more comedy than he does in the actual film in his role of introductory host, this mainly strives to cover the effects, the gore, the maggots, the wire-work, the fantastic grave-digging mud-bath and the set design. Some of the sound-bites, especially those from Lohman, are stock clichés in their own right - all smiles and fake surprise at the things she had to do - but, along the way, this on-set exposé delivers some proud anecdotes and a nice degree of genuine scene set-up and production walk-through. So, to sum up, this is much more enjoyable than you might, at first, think.
Sadly, though, this is small compensation for the lack of a commentary and a proper making-of documentary that actually looks at the story as well as the design and effects work.
There is also BD-Live and D-Box motion control functionality, as well as a digital copy of the film on a separate disc.
Although it is still perfectly apt to claim that the extras have, themselves, been dragged to Hell, the production diaries are fairly interesting and, in this case, it is most assuredly the film that sells the package ... and your soul.
Alison Lohman seizes the role of Christine with absolute gusto, flying through all the violent and camp excesses that Raimi throws at her with such a devil-may-care attitude that she cannot fail to win you over. Lorna Raver creates one of recent cinema's most striking and memorable villains and the film piles on the scares with the typical set-piece progression of vintage Raimi. Sure, the plot-holes are big enough to drive the director's trademark Oldsmobile mascot through and the story borrows heavily from Night Of The Demon, but this modern take on an almost medieval theme strips away the protective veneer of hip sensibilities and self-conscious clichés to scratch away at some deep, dark fears.
Couple all this genre gold with a transfer that would entrance even the Devil and you've got a release that begs to be showcased.
Often hilarious, Raimi's jazzed-up, worm-ridden ode to eye-and-mouth mayhem is as potent and thrilling an example of a knee-jerk shock-a-thon as you can get. The screenplay is dealt in broad strokes, but the real class can be found in the performances and the chaotic detail in the overall exuberance. Sam Raimi is definitely heading back in the direction of his demented roots with this - gallows humour and slapstick horror aplenty. Let's just hope that, one day, he goes all the way back home to that blood-drenched cabin lost in the Tennessee woods and recites aloud from the Book of the Dead, once more.
Eventually, as with most of Raimi's fantasy/horror output, we can probably expect to see more versions of Drag Me To Hell, although, at least, Anchor Bay haven't got their assembly line greedily geared up to churn out edition after edition. It may not bring anything new to the screen, but there is enough energy, wit, character and sheer style to Raimi's throwback-chiller to have the floorboards give way beneath us and open-up a flaming tunnel straight down into the Pit.
Very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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