HorrorFest 2009: 'Drag Me To Hell'
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
So why did I circle back around to discuss "Drag Me To Hell" one last time this year? I reviewed it out of SXSW, I wrote about it again when it came out theatrically, and now, it's on DVD and BluRay, and I could easily just put it in my weekly DVD column and be done with it.
But a big part of the marketing on this home video release is that this is the "Unrated" version, promising a whole new crazy revamp of the moviet that will be much harder, much wilder. That's the come-on, right? Whenever you see any movie on home video that is "unrated," aren't they sort of implying that what you're going to see if you watch this verion is a film that no theater could handle?
What's the truth, then? Is "Drag Me To Hell" significantly different in its unrated form?
You could just compare running times. You'll notice a different of five or six minutes sometimes, or when you're lucky a huge difference, like whole subplots or major scenes reinstated. But with "Drag Me To Hell," the running times between the two versions are identical. To the minute. So... what's the deal?
It was Stephen Sommers who explained it to me one time, and ever since then, I've kept what he said in mind and paid attention to films that straddle that PG-13/R line, and I think he's right. He said that as he was tweaking "The Mummy" for the ratings board, it became clear to him that the thing that made the difference in the rating was how wet something was. He shows a fair amount of violence in the "Mummy" films, but because he keeps most of the violence dry, using either no blood or blood that is any color but red, he is able to get away with more. If he made the exact same film and then added wet red blood, it would tip his film into the R category easily. Sam Raimi seems to be well aware of the rules, and when you compare the two cuts, what you come away with is a solid education in just how arbitrary the MPAA's rules truly are.
There's a great scene in the film where Christine (Allison Lohman) gets a spectacular nosebleed, and when you watch both versions of the scene back-to-back, you can see the slightly different editing, and the way more blood is spilled is actually less interesting in the unrated cut. There's an animal sacrifice in the film where there's no blood in the theatrical version, and there's onscreen gore in the unrated, and the difference there is one of audience sympathy. Any time you hurt an animal onscreen, it's a sure way to turn part of your audience off. The theatrical version of the scene works better overall. And throughout the film, I think the differences between the theatrical and the unrated cuts almost always favor the theatrical cut.
The disc itself is damn near perfect in terms of sound and picture. Peter Demings is a great cinematographer, and his work here is reproduced with an obsessive eye for detail. The sound mix, something Raimi was justifiably proud of in a theater, is just as impressive at home, and I'd recommend the disc just as a technical demo for any BluRay owner even if I didn't think it was a great movie. But I do, and it is. As I mentioned in my "Saw VI" review the other day, the screenwriters of that one obviously tried to villify the insurance industry, and it actually works, creating an easy shorthand for why those characters need to be punished. Here, Christine is a loan officer, and a choice she makes ruins the life of the character asking for the loan and then blows back on Christine in a hurricane of karma, and the choice is a great one. All she had to do is make a human, empathetic choice regarding Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), but careerism and pressure to beat a co-worker force Christine to make the hard choice. Right now, as millions of Americans find themselves sitting across from loan officers, looking for a little empathy, this is a film that feels absolutely wired to the zeitgeist.
Overall, I don't see any point in even creating the unrated cut of this film. It's a marketing word these days, and since Sam Raimi had control over the theatrical cut, it's deceptive to imply that the untrated version is the "director's cut," since it's not. It's not a dealbreaker for me, since I would say the disc is absolutely worth picking up, but I do find the entire idea of these barely-different versions getting hyped up so heavily sort of annoying and insulting.
"Drag Me To Hell" is available now on DVD and BluRay.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009. Except when it doesn't.
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