The fiery ending of “Drag Me to Hell” always packs a punch! [Scene Screams]
stage screams is a recurring column that highlights the horror scenes that make us scream, whether through fear, laughter or tears. It examines the most memorable and often the scariest horror scenes and what makes them get under our skin.
Comedy and horror make great bed companions because of their similarities. Both aim to elicit an extreme and specific response from the audience, and both achieve this through a build-up and an exit. Horror movies create tension and then release it with fear, but sometimes the build-up and release of terror is most important in the film’s punchline – its conclusion. The end of a movie is, after all, the last thing the viewer soaks in before the end credits and the end of the experience. All that to say that that of Sam Raimi Drag me to hell achieved his morally gray end, and he hits as hard today as when he came out.
Credit Officer Christine Brown (Alison lohman) wants a promotion, but her gentle temper means that she is outmatched by her more assertive and complicit colleague, Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee). Christine denies third mortgage extension for senior Sylvia Ganush (Lorna raver) despite begging and begging to prove that she has what it takes to land the coveted job. When Christine leaves work for the day, Sylvia traps her in the parking lot, assaults her, then insults her after tearing a button from her coat. This curse condemns Christine to three days of increasing supernatural torture by a Lamia and will end when she is dragged to hell.
Despite the title of the film, the viewer spends the film with Christine waiting for her to finally find out how to break the curse and avoid a bad spell. As hauntings begin to torment Christine, she wastes little time trying to break her curse. She tries to apologize to Sylvia, only to find the woman dead. Christine enlists the help of a fortune teller Rham Jas (Dilep Rao), for the answers. Thanks to her advice and her desperation, Christine ends up offering her kitten as a sacrifice to the Lamia, attending a session that costs the life of the medium San Dena (Adriana barraza), and the last attempt to remove the curse by handing this button to a new victim. She plans to give it to the vile Stu, but instead digs up Sylvia’s grave to make the button cursed.
Dawn brings a sunnier disposition to Christine. She learns that she got the promotion after Stu was fired, and she’s about to embark on a romantic trip with her boyfriend Clay (Justin long) which will end with a marriage proposal. This is the precise type of happy ending that audiences have been conditioned to expect; Christine may have made some egregious selfish missteps along the way, but she is the heroine of this story.
Then Clay pulls out the envelope containing the cursed button, and Christine pulls back in growing fear. She falls backwards on the railroad tracks as a train rolls towards the station. It is then that the protagonist is mercilessly dragged into hell as Clay watches in abject horror. Cut to the title card to bring home that Raimi made the movie name well.
It’s the precise type of shocking ending that fans still debate over a decade later; Did Christine deserve her fate? Raimi intentionally spends much of Christine’s story portraying a character prone to making bad decisions out of self-preservation, both before and after the curse. But his flaws also balance out with more likable traits and choices. She’s become more human thanks to her relationship with Clay, the ability to not condemn Stu even though he’s reprehensible, and she confesses the pain she inflicted on Sylvia. Christine deserves punishment for the kitten and condemns Sylvia’s house, but maybe not to the point where Lamia drags her to hell to feast on her soul.
But that’s questionable, which contributes to the enduring quality of the ending. The other factors that make this so powerful are misguidance and bluntness. The gruesome images of Christine screaming for help as a train rolls above her, hands pulling her toward the flaming pits as her flesh melts with you. This is even more effective because it is a sudden change in tone to the joyous and happy forever vibe that appeared moments before.
Christine’s final encounter with Sylvia’s corpse gave a sense of culminating finality, and the next scene marked the start of a new chapter for Christine. It gave viewers a sense of closure; the protagonist defeated her antagonist and emerged from her confrontation full of hope and honesty. This makes the moment of his loss downright cruel.
Horror often paints a clear picture between good and evil, yet Drag me to hell blurs the lines. Even still, that final pull on the mat conjures up such an unexpected and visceral response. It has as much to do with Christine as the flawed protagonist as it does with how Raimi structures this story. Raimi is a master of horror comedy and knows how to deliver a dramatic horror punchline that will stay with you for years to come.