How Sam Raimi Delivered Horror’s Most Shocking Ending in Years

PG-13? No problem.

Written by Jon O'Brien
Universal Pictures
Inverse Recommends

One might anticipate a shockingly bleak denouement from a Stephen King adaptation, as in the desperate familicide of The Mist. Or from some arthouse nihilism, as in the horrific self-sacrifice of Martyrs. But a PG-13 horror comedy from the man who’d just finished helming the first Spider-Man trilogy? And yet Drag Me to Hell left audiences so shellshocked that screenings should have been accompanied by free therapy.

Director Sam Raimi was no stranger to mastering the tricky balance of scares and laughs. He was responsible for the first three Evil Dead films, which pushed the boundaries of taste and decency on a micro-budget. But while Bruce Campbell’s Ash was put through the wringer, he ended the franchise as a hero with his life intact. That’s not a fate afforded to Alison Lohman’s leading lady Christine Brown.

The bank loan officer’s nightmarish tale begins when she meets Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly Hungarian lady pleading for a third mortgage extension. Although sympathetic to her cause, Christine is more interested in the prospect of promotion dangled by her hard-nosed boss. Upon rejecting the request, though, she’s verbally and physically attacked by Sylvia and, via an innocuous coat button, hit by a deadly curse that will make any career ladder climbing irrelevant.

Drag Me To Hell has been interpreted as a commentary on the subprime mortgage crisis that developed shortly before filming, which might explain why Christine, as a representative of the system, is punished so severely. She’s violently assaulted by a malevolent entity who continues to haunt her every waking hour. During a quest for forgiveness where she stumbles into the now-departed Sylvia’s wake, she’s bitten, choked, and vomited on with maggots and formaldehyde by her vindictive ghost. She can’t even enjoy a piece of cake without hallucinating it as a sentient, blood-oozing being.

The frustrated homeowner who starts the drama.

Universal Pictures

Some uncharitable viewers believe Christine’s torment is entirely deserving, citing how she put her own well-being above a vulnerable old lady’s. But Drag Me To Hell isn’t presented as a case of pure schadenfreude, recognizing that most people are multi-faceted and can’t be categorized as wholly good or bad.

Christine makes some very morally questionable decisions, but she’s hardly a monster. She puts her business brain before her heart when rejecting Sylvia, but she’s a loving girlfriend to Justin Long’s kindhearted professor Clay, and as evident in the scene where she’s class-shamed by her boyfriend’s awful parents, she has her own vulnerabilities. It’s these shades of gray that make Drag Me To Hell’s finale a gut punch rather than a satisfying comeuppance.

Raimi cleverly lulls us into a false sense of security. After fortune teller Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) informs Christine the curse will murder her in three days, she agrees to a seance with medium San Dena (Adriana Barraza), who witnessed a poor young thief suffer the same curse 40 years prior. Things get wild and gross, but Christine learns the curse can be passed on if the offending coat button ends up in someone else’s possession.

Christine enjoys a false victory.

Universal Pictures

In another example of the film’s macabre sense of humor, Christine thinks about giving it to bootlicking work rival Stu (Reggie Lee), a random diner, or another aging, ailing lady. However, deterred by her conscience — further proof she’s not exactly evil incarnate — she instead decides to dig up Sylvia’s grave and stuff the envelope containing the button into her rotting mouth.

But Christine accidentally gets rid of the wrong envelope, and the happy ending indicated by the guarantee of a promotion and Clay’s impending proposal is obliterated in the most terrifying manner. Just before Clay is about to pop the question at Los Angeles Union Station, Christine learns of her careless mix-up. As she backs onto the train tracks in horror, fully aware time has now run out, hands suddenly appear to, well, drag her to hell, turning her appearance terrifyingly skeletal in the process. Cut to Clay’s devastated face and a cue card that reminds everyone the clue was right there in the title.

Even those involved have since acknowledged Christine's brutal punishment didn't exactly fit her crimes. After stumbling upon an official Netflix tweet that claimed Drag Me To Hell had “the perfect ending,” Lohman responded, “Strongly disagree.” And Raimi, appearing to forget that he was responsible, told Bloody Disgusting, “It is a morality tale, she did do the wrong thing, but holy cow, give her a break!” Still, in a genre renowned for mining sequels by stretching ideas beyond their breaking point, you have to applaud a film that pretty much guarantees there’s never any going back.

Related Tags