While we sadly continue to dance the sorry dance of one-step forward, two back in terms of social progress in this country, it’s nice for a film to come along every once in a while to remind us that it ain’t as bad as it used to be. Had this film arrived 20 years ago like, I don’t know, Evil Dead maybe, this wouldn’t so much have been banned as sealed in concrete, sent into space and shot into the center of the sun. Of course, these days you really have to gruesomely and explicitly torture the shit out of somebody for some considerable amount of time to earn the dreaded NC-17 (or alternatively you can just show a glimpse of a woman’s pubic hair), so PG-13 it is. But as family friendly as a film like Drag Me To Hell might first appear, do not under any circumstances take your spotty, pubescent little Herbert to see this picture as it could, in all likelihood, fuck him up a little bit.

In the first film from Ghost House Pictures to actually be directed by the boss, master of all things gory and gross, director Sam Raimi makes his long-awaited return to the genre that made him both famous and infamous back in the '80s. A nice side benefit from the PG-13 tag is the opportunity for Raimi to re-introduce himself to those splatter-happy teenagers who are too young to remember his glory days and best know this filmmaker as the guy who made Spiderman a whiney emo bitch. Boy, are they in for a surprise. Drag Me To Hell plays like a cathartic release valve for the helmer, who having bottled up his instincts long enough to knock out three tent pole pictures on the bounce just wants to have a little fun at the expense of good taste. For sure this movie is as dumb as a Republican vice-presidential candidate, but thanks to Raimi it’s every bit as much fun to laugh at, too.

After a few years of wandering the career wilderness Alison Lohman reasserts herself with suitably game performance as Christine, a kindly loans officer who, with promotion in her sights, commits the cardinal sin of greed and rejects an application from an elderly Romany woman who responds with a terrifying curse. Now there has been a tiny bit of brouhaha over the racial stereotyping, and yes, there are caricature Mexicans, chanting Indians, and a gypsy woman so cartoonish she’s practically Bugs Bunny. But to take offense is to miss the point. Raimi’s not mocking them, he’s mocking the genre conventions that have made the cliches what they are and the sight of this woman’s cracked, disgusting yellow fingernails drumming on Christine’s desk is at once both hilarious and deeply unsettling. Immediately when she raises her withered claw to Christine, declaring in a husky whisper “you shamed me!,” we know poor Christine has a tough few days ahead of her.

For as daft as this is (and it really is), it’s a wonderfully committed performance from Lohman who wisely decides to play it absolutely straight as she surrenders her dignity to take on the role of her director’s stress ball. Whether it’s being tossed around like a rag doll by invisible spirits, vomited on by demonic minions, or slobbered on by a toothless old crone, Lohman never misses a step. Some credit is also due Justin Long who as her concerned-but-skeptical boyfriend Clay has enough actor smarts to tinge the earnestness with just enough mildly dick-ish behavior to give humor to a role that might otherwise be set dressing.

But the real star of this picture is its director who unleashes a barrage of unfettered chaos and gruesome imagery, complete with trademark technical verve that really makes you wish he would quit the webby franchise and come home. For this is a man whose imagination is so warped he has actually taken the time to ponder the question of what an all out brawl in the backseat of a car with your Grandma would look like? It’s not all homeruns of course; the opening sequence following the prologue is crushingly dull. You can see the endgame coming a mile away. And a teased encounter with Clay’s stuffy parents over dinner doesn’t come anywhere close to fulfilling its potential. On the whole, though, this is scary, funny and unashamedly silly, with enough going on to please die hards, casuals and everyone in between. Welcome back, Sam. Please stay.

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Reggie Lee

Director: Sam Raimi

Runtime: 99 Minutes

Distributor: Ghost House Pictures

Rating: PG-13