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Sam Raimi Discusses ‘Drag Me to Hell’

Sam Raimi Drag Me to HellWriter/director Sam Raimi on the set of ‘Drag Me to Hell.’

© Universal Pictures

When Sam Raimi announced his return to the horror genre with Universal Pictures’ Drag Me to Hell, fans everywhere welcomed him back with open arms. After roaming around in the world of Spider-Man for nearly a decade, Raimi was ready to direct a horror film – a genre he has a lot of love for. “I really like the horror genre,” said Raimi at the LA press day for Drag Me to Hell. “The horror audience is the best audience in the world. They want to be entertained. They go there to be thrilled. I feel like they’ve got a really fun attitude in their hearts when they go to see these movies. Not that normal audiences for everything else aren’t wonderful, but the horror audience is something special actually. Even better than a comedy crowd, they want to be entertained and appreciate things. I think they’re the best audiences in the world right now.”

Raimi had a great time getting back into the director’s chair for Drag Me to Hell. “It was not even flexing our muscles. It was really just a team of entertainers and artists and technicians coming together. I believe having a really great creative collaboration, all the crew members really contributed to this story and we were under a very tight budget and time schedule, not for most filmmakers but for me it was short because I’m very slow with the way I work. Everyone contributed. I think everyone understood that we were making fun entertainment for people. At least that was our goal. We’re going to try to make it a fun, spooky blast of a film for people. It was really clear that we weren’t making an art picture and everyone really got into that. I had a wonderful time.”

Drag Me to Hell follows Christine Brown (played by Alison Lohman), a real milquetoast of a woman who works as a loan officer in a bank. With a promotion to assistant bank manager on the line, Christine takes a stand and turns down a decrepit elderly lady’s request for an extension on her home loan. That move earns her praise from the bank manager and moves her ahead of her chief competitor for the assistant manager position. But it doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Ganush, the woman Christine rejected for an extension. And Christine quickly finds out Mrs. Ganush is not someone you should tangle with. The old gypsy woman curses Christine and soon horribly disgusting things begin happening that suggest an extension would have been the way to go.

Raimi took his time casting the part of Christine as he needed someone the audience would like enough to care about when the bad things start happening. “She’s really despicable. I don’t mean Alison. Alison’s okay, but Alison has a very positive charm that works on the audience, that helps us stay with her despite all the terrible things that she does. A lot of people forgive you if you’re good looking too, and Alison is very good looking and has a very nice smile. You get away with a lot, I think, with that. But when you think about what she does besides throwing that old woman out of the house, she goes against her own vows and kills [spoiler deleted] to save her neck. She lies to the old woman’s daughter at that house when she tries to get her way and get the old woman to take the curse off her. At the séance, when she’s asked everyone to risk their lives for her, she tries to blame her boss when confronted with the demon that it was really him. She, in fact, is ready to give that curse to some poor sap at the local Howard Johnson’s or Denny’s. She barely came up with a better idea. She came that close. I think she was a good person on the outside but when you really start to look at her, when she gets in an extreme situation, the real person comes out. In fact it’s really the old woman that’s the victim in this story and Alison Lohman, I think her character Christine deserved probably what she got. Maybe she was a little over punished. I wouldn’t have been as harsh, personally.”

But Christine’s punishment was always in the script. Raimi knew exactly where he wanted this character to end up from the get-go. “She starts out with the idea that she’s a good person. She thinks she’s a good person. Hopefully the audience can buy into that illusion because they’ve got so many things that they can identify with. She goes to work every day. She’s sweet to people. She’s pleasant and attractive. She’s got a boyfriend that is a sweet, intelligent fellow. They have a connection. She seems generous when it comes to things that aren’t critically important in her life, but when push comes to shove and she’s got to impress the parents, she feels that this job promotion would really help her. At that point, when we all have a chance to be greedy or not, when it’s important, she’s cruel to this old lady for her own betterment. She sins with greed and forces her out of the house, hiding under the rules of the bank. Because I wanted the audience to make this choice with her, I wanted to present her as a nice person. She is a nice person. We all are nice people, but we’re all sinners too. And I wanted you, the audience member, to make this choice with her, when the old woman was unpleasant looking, was absurd, I wanted the audience to say, ‘Yeah, just deny her the loan and get her out of the office for crying out loud.’ Because I had hoped that once you sinners had made that choice with her, that like it or not, you would know in your heart that that thing that had been sicced upon her was not just coming for her, but deservedly so for you because you had made that choice with her.”

Alison Lohman and Lorna Raver in Drag Me to HellAlison Lohman and Lorna Raver in ‘Drag Me to Hell.’

© Universal Pictures

Sam Raimi says it was Christine’s flaws that made her so real and relatable. “It’s what made the character interesting to me, that she was flawed and capable of making mistakes and selfish choices,” explained Raimi. “Unfortunately, I understand her because of that, because I am weak and flawed and scared and selfish and all those things. That weakness fascinates me. I detest it, but it’s what interests me. It interests me because I’m flawed because I can sometimes explore the things that trouble me. I think all writers work this way. They take a part of themselves, what they understand as their problems or whatever, and they put them out there. I wish I had more noble problems. She’s such an awful character, it’s really embarrassing. That’s how writers work, I think.”

The Return of Spider-Man

Spider-Man 3 didn’t exactly earn rave reviews, and Raimi is well aware of that fact though he doesn’t dwell on it. “Do I take the criticism into consideration? Yeah, absolutely,” admitted Raimi when asked about the negative reviews. “All filmmakers want their films to be liked. I shouldn’t say that, but I definitely want my films to be liked by the audience. I don’t make an artistic type of picture that I can say to myself, ‘Even if this crowd doesn’t like it, it stands as a work of art and will be appreciated years later or has meaning without the audience.’ I simply am an entertainer and I make films for audience appreciation. When they don’t like it, I don’t have a leg to stand on. If a critic doesn’t like it, it’s like, ‘Oh, he hates me,’ or, ‘It’s bad, they don’t like it.’ Every time I get a bad criticism, I just try not to dwell on it but it’s very upsetting. You really want to please people.”

Given the fact a lot of the criticism over 3 was leveled at the multiple villains, will Raimi go back to just a single villain on Spider-Man 4? “I’m still working on Spider-Man 4,” answered Raimi. “More properly, the writer is writing the screenplay right now. David Lindsay-Abaire, a New York playwright, is in New York supposedly writing. We’ll see. I gotta call that guy. He should be done with his script in about four weeks I think. I think I’d be better prepared to answer that question once I’ve read that script and know what the movie is.”

Lindsay-Abaire was tapped to write Spider-Man 4 in order to take the franchise in a new direction. It definitely wasn’t because Spider-Man screenwriter Alvin Sargent had exhausted all of his Spider-Man stories. “[Alvin Sargent] has got so many great stories and characters and great humor and drama within him that it would be impossible. But, I wanted to work in a new way and a new direction. I had just read this great play that David Lindsay-Abaire had written called Rabbit Hole and I just really wanted to work with him on Peter Parker.”

“I remember often times in this process [on Drag Me to Hell] my assistant director Michael Moore would come up to me and say things like, ‘Sam, you’ve got an hour left and you’ve got eight shots what do you want to do?’ And I would think, ‘Oh my god, we’ll just shoot it tomorrow.’ And he would say, ‘You’re not coming here tomorrow, you’re never coming back here, the budget won’t let you come back here. You now have 55 minutes, how are you going to get the shot?’ First I’d panic and then I would remember the basics are all I ever needed and I would think, ‘Well, what’s the point of this scene? What’s the core of what I’m after? It’s that this character in the story is confronted with this situation, she makes this realization, and that’s where the scene ends. And I can get that with a close up of my actress and a little bit of a lighting effect.’ Maybe she was going to come outside and see the sun coming down and I was going to have a crane shot and she was going to realize she didn’t have much time. With a simple rose colored gel and a lamp that’s being faded up and her coming into a close up, she can look off into the direction of the light, suggest she’s seeing the sunset, a little bit of wind will help with the idea of the setting sun and she’ll make a realization in her eyes, at that moment the camera will move in a little bit to underline this realization, a bit of fear will come upon her as she realizes she doesn’t have much time as the light is dimming, and she exits frame. With that shot I remembered I can get everything I needed, that I thought I needed eight shots to get. And it was invigorating. It never should have been those eight shots anyway,” said Raimi.

But as much as Raimi wanted to return to the Spider-Man franchise, he didn’t want to do it without Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire. “I only wanted to do it with Tobey because my interest is in living the character with Tobey in a deeper way than we ever have lived it before. There comes with the familiarity a knowledge of a lot of the basics. I think it’s really going to allow us to delve deeply into him as a human being, which is really why I’m into it this time.”

“With great power comes great responsibility,” as Uncle Ben says, and Raimi knows there’s a lot riding on the fourth film of the franchise. “With those Spider-Man pictures, which I love making, there’s still a lot of responsibility on the director’s shoulders and the producers, everyone’s shoulders, because you’re dealing with a character that has been around for 40 some years, is much loved by people throughout the world. And people not just have a sense of ownership of Spider-Man, rightfully so, but they look up to him as a hero. Generations of people do. So you have to be careful with how that portrayal takes place. You have to have a lot of respect for the ownership of everyone, which they do have over that character and so I was using the word responsibility of the responsibility to present him in a proper light. And that’s a great job, but it’s much more freeing to take a break from that and work with your own characters in a place where no one has any expectation of them because they don’t know them. You’re really free to do anything you want. So there’s a lot more freedom’s that come with the independent picture, Drag Me to Hell.

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September 21, 2009 - Posted by | 1

5 Comments »

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