Drag Me to Hell Traditional Effects

The many frights and jumps in Drag Me to Hell are the end product of everything from green screen, puppets and prosthetics to creative man-made props and CGI. Raimi’s imaginative behind-the-scenes team includes alums from his previous films and other artisans well versed in the world of horror and gore.

Traditional Effects

Director of photography Peter Deming, who previously worked with Raimi on Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and served as DP on the last two Scream films and From Hell, used realistic lighting in his shoots that goes progressively darker as Christine is drawn further into the world of the supernatural.

Says Deming of the process: “We went with a lot of source lighting and didn’t correct the odd lighting sources, like in the garage where everything is blue-green. Normally, you’d put all corrected bulbs in, but we went with what was there, including the shots in the street. We used the streetlight look and mixed that with interior lighting. There were a lot of odd color sources that we chose to leave the way they would be naturally. It’s a heightened sense of realism.”
For the séance scene, which has a richer color palette, the cinematographer used additional lighting effects and camera shakes to increase the feeling of anxiety and tension as the viewer begins to believe Christine has no way out.

Deming also took part in creating the atmospheric elements for scenes involving the Lamia, which included reflecting light against shaking Mylar and capturing the unnatural wind that blew leaves down the street. “Sam loves B-movie stuff,” Deming says of the high-impact elements. “He really embraces the wind out of nowhere and the camera shaking and the inventive, interactive lighting. He eats that up.”

The DP made a concerted effort to adhere to the script’s focus on the audience’s relationship with Christine. “From the beginning, Sam and I talked about being with her as much as we subjectively could throughout the film,” he offers. “We stayed right on Alison’s face a lot of the time. We covered scenes and gave her extra-tight close-ups, because we want the audience to be in her place.”

One of the first projects the special effects teams tackled was deciphering how to shoot Mrs. Ganush’s attack on Christine in Christine’s car. In order to film the action, which includes close-ups of Christine jamming her foot on the pedal, hitting the brake and shifting gears, the team created a puzzle car. Their design allowed for the front engine compartment and back trunk—as well as all four sides and doors—to come away from the car. The roof came off in two directions (front to back and side to side), which—despite the tight space—gave the filmmakers a good deal of freedom to shoot from different angles.

Commends Deming of the design team’s work: “There’s no way we could have shot that scene without that car. During preproduction, we went through every shot and figured out what part of the car had to be off and what part of the car had to be on. They sliced up the car according to those shots, and it worked amazingly well. The car was able to be taken apart and put together very quickly.”

Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, the partners at KNB EFX Group who supervised the special makeup effects, have collaborated with Raimi on several of his films. Nicotero and Berger met the director in 1986 on Evil Dead 2 and also collaborated with him on Army of Darkness. When he learned of the project, Nicotero was happy to hear that the film would be using a great deal of traditional effects. “Visual effects are fun, but there’s just something about a bunch of guys pulling cables and moving a puppet around,” he laughs. “Sam is still enamored with that.”
Unlike with several of his past horror films, Raimi did not want this one to be strictly driven by gore. Of the decision, Raimi explains: “I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing I had done before. This time, I didn’t want to have a lot of blood.”

The special effects teams used a wide array of tricks throughout filming Drag Me to Hell. For example, to create Mrs. Ganush’s malevolent floating handkerchief, the team attached the material by four wires to a fishing pole; with the help of a little wind, they then fluttered it around and flapped it toward the source of the curse.

When shooting the driving sequence in which Christine drives manically across town, the handkerchief traveled at 35 mph. Similar to a kite, it was hung on two wires in the direction the car moved, and the material was turned to move in and out of the car when placed in just the right spot.

To create the wind effects in Christine’s Silver Lake apartment (a sign that the dreaded Lamia is approaching), the team used monofilament to open and close doors and move chandeliers and curtains. The craftspeople ran copper tubing pipes through windows and blew air through them toward venetian blinds and curtains.

Drag Me to Hell Movie

With the script in place and production greenlit, Raimi and the producers sought out a leading lady to play the very physical part of Christine Brown. Fortunately for the director, he found Alison Lohman. “Alison has a great humanity to her,” Raimi commends. “She really is somebody that you watch on screen and you care about. Because this character was somebody I wanted the audience to identify with, it was very important to have Alison in the role. Christine is somebody that the audience understands and is easily with at the beginning of the film.” The director feels the viewers have to grow to identify with and support Christine so that we willingly go with her down the dark path she chooses. Raimi adds: “She continues to make choices that could alienate the audience, darker and darker choices, so that she can survive this terrible ordeal she’s going through. I wanted the audience to stay with Christine throughout these very—by the end of the piece—tough decisions that she’s made.”

Though she was game for the physical challenges that would be ahead, Lohman was not necessarily a horror fan when she joined the cast. The actress explains: “The only reason I didn’t like horror movies is because I get very, very scared. Why would I sit through a horror movie if I’m going to have my eyes closed the whole time?”

Still, the actress was fascinated enough by Christine’s journey that she was game for the challenges. “I liked the fact that my character has a real arc,” she says. “In the beginning, she makes this one mistake. She becomes a more compassionate and sympathetic character, and I actually enjoyed doing stunts. I think they’re fun, and I didn’t mind getting bruises.”
Playing counterpoint to Christine is Clay, her sympathetic (if doubting) boyfriend. Justin Long found that the pragmatic, skeptical character reminded him of his father. “My dad’s a philosophy professor, and he’s very rational…very stoic and logical,” comments the performer. “He comes from the school of thought that there’s an explanation for everything. I had to tap into somebody who is just a bit more right-brained in their thinking. I’m the first to believe anything: Nessie, Bigfoot, ghosts. I feel like there is supernatural stuff all around me.”

Clay’s role in Christine’s life is pivotal throughout the film. “I am trying to be as supportive as I can without just telling her she’s nuts and walking away,” Long explains. “That’s a testament to our relationship.” And though he acts as Christine’s primary support system, Clay is rarely present for the Lamia’s attacks upon his girlfriend. Long deadpans of missing out on the movie’s grosser moments: “It’s a strange desire when you find yourself oddly jealous that somebody gets to have maggots thrown up on them.”

As Christine’s boyfriend, Clay behaves the way most rational people would…with consolations and compassion for a struggling loved one, but holding onto a strong doubt that anything supernatural is really occurring. “Justin brings such an easygoing, loving boyfriend to the part,” compliments producer Tapert. “Once the part was in his hands, he found a way to make me believe that he loved this woman. He brought concern and care for the woman that he loves to all those scenes. You feel that, and it’s invaluable.”

Stepping into the very unglamorous role of Mrs. Ganush is Lorna Raver, an actress who may be an unfamiliar face to moviegoers. Raver spent much of her career on the stages of New York and Chicago before making the jump to Hollywood. “I haven’t done a lot of film work because it’s a difficult area for an older woman of a certain age who is not a big name,” Raver shares. “When this came up and I found out that Sam was involved in the project, I was very excited.”

Raver won the part via the traditional audition process. Due to the usual protocol, Raver saw only small pieces of the script at first. Says Raver, “I had no idea what I was getting into, because all I had read was about a little old lady coming into the bank because they’re closing down her house. It was only later that I saw the whole script and said, ‘Oh my!’”

Once she grew accustomed to the content and the arduous tasks that were ahead, the performer found her first experience working with Raimi a relaxing one. “Sam has these touches that are a little bit off-center that break the tension,” Raver muses. “He’s great to work with as an actor because he includes you in the process. I found it interesting to watch him on the set because he’s very focused, and sometimes you can see the movie running behind his eyes.”

Though this is the first major film role for the veteran actress, she relishes each opportunity to play character roles unfamiliar to her. To prepare for this role, Raver met with a Hungarian dialect coach. The performer even asked her coach to translate portions of the script into Hungarian. The vocabulary lesson came in handy during several scenes. Raimi would ask Raver to use some of the Hungarian words in the most emotional, passionate moments of Mrs. Ganush’s attacks on Christine.

No one was more impressed with her talents than the man who helped imagine the both sympathetic and vicious Mrs. Ganush. Says Raimi: “Lorna went to town with this role, especially in the car attack scene. She’s a real fighter who was always willing to give you one more take and put everything she had into it.”

Relative newcomer Dileep Rao came aboard the project as psychic Rham Jas, who becomes an unlikely confidante for Christine. Rao was taken by the story’s contemporary spin on classic horror movie themes and believes “the most interesting aspect of the script was that it was both very modern in terms of who the characters are, but the style was a throwback to a type of horror I like. The script had mystery, wonder and a good deal of humor.”

Producer Curtis recalls Rao’s casting: “Dileep came in, and he was a little bit younger than he read in the script. But as we were looking at his reading, Sam said, ‘There’s no minimum age requirement on wisdom.’ Dileep has that wisdom and presence on screen, and that’s what made him right. Once he got on camera, he brought that shoulder for Alison to lean on.”

When Rham Jas realizes he is in over his head, he brings Christine to seer Shaun San Dena, one of the only women in the world who has met the Lamia and lived to tell the tale. Celebrated Mexican actress Adriana Barraza, nominated for an Oscar® for her work in Babel, plays the powerful medium she describes as “born with special skills to deal with the spirits.” It was a welcome role for the dramatic actress who has long had a soft spot for the genre. “I’ve loved horror movies ever since I was a little girl,” Barraza shares. “I saw every kind of horror movie as a child, and I have a large library filled with horror literature.”

The performer enjoyed working with Raimi due to the fact that “he involves everybody in the decisions and creative choices he makes, but most importantly, he welcomes ideas from his actors.” She notes, “This is a very important thing for me because it’s not often a director encourages actors to share their ideas. I have a great admiration for his talent. His politeness and collaborative nature made it a very pleasant experience and atmosphere on set. There is a great juxtaposition between the terror that the audience witnesses on screen and the serenity experienced by the actors on set with Sam.”

Making both a comic and curmudgeonly turn in Drag Me to Hell is David Paymer, who plays Christine’s disapproving boss at the bank, Mr. Jacks. He was most impressed with the way that Raimi unfolds the dilemma Christine faces and connects us to her for the journey. “It could happen to any of us,” Paymer notes. “We’re just normal people trying to make a living. Something strange happens. You get bit by a spider or you meet an old lady who puts a curse on you. Every attempt she makes to get rid of the curse just gets her in deeper.”

As a fan of the genre, the actor likes being lulled into moments of false security. He enjoyed being part of a project that would make him simultaneously laugh and gasp. “In some ways, it’s a little more realistic, which is a good counterpoint: the humor to the horror,” Paymer says. “It gets the audience relaxed. They’re thinking ‘Oh, this is funny. We’re having a good time.’ But then it’s ‘Oh my God, there’s blood spurting everywhere!’”

Rounding out the cast of Drag Me to Hell are several faces that will be familiar to attentive Raimi film fans. JOANNE BARON, TOM CAREY, MOLLY CHEEK, AIMEE MILES, JOHN PAXTON, TED RAIMI, BILL E. ROGERS, CHELCIE ROSS, and OCTAVIA SPENCER all have appeared in at least one of the director’s earlier works.

Drag Me to Hell Is Imagined

More than 10 years ago, brothers Sam and Ivan Raimi penned the first draft of the screenplay that would become Drag Me to Hell. In its earliest incarnation, the script was simply titled The Curse. “We’ve always loved the idea of curses,” Ivan Raimi explains. “We loved thinking about what would happen to an ordinary person if they were cursed and put into these extraordinary circumstances.”

In this instance, forces beyond her control torment young bank loan officer Christine Brown after she commits what seems to be a mild trespass and denies a loan extension to an elderly woman named Mrs. Ganush. As Sam Raimi puts it, the film is “a simple morality tale” where the protagonist is “a really good girl. She means well, and she’s trying to make it in Los Angeles. Christine’s got a boyfriend she really cares about, and to get him, she does one bad thing. She’s makes a choice to sin; it sets the ball in motion, and the movie’s about payback to her.”

“We made Christine morally complex,” adds Ivan Raimi. “She’s trying to get ahead in her job, like anyone else. She’s just a normal person with all of the attributes that we might have, colored in grays instead of black and white. That’s what makes her interesting to me. She’s put into a situation where her punishment does not fit her crime, and it is exciting to watch how she has to deal with it.”

From Darkman and Army of Darkness to Spider-Man 2 and 3, the two collaborators have long been curious to explore accidental, reluctant warriors. Like The Evil Dead’s hero Ash Williams and Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker, Christine is an average person thrust by consequence into a fantastical world that runs parallel to the one she knows. Without warning, her normal life gives way to the bizarre: a surprise attack in her car by a stranger, a preposterously bloody nose, bad daydreams and worse nightmares—capped off by a surreal séance and a breathless scramble to escape an almost certain fate.

As they wrote, the Raimi brothers imagined what would become the supernatural tormentor for Christine. They chose to use a mythical beast, the demonic Lamia, as their antagonist. While the Lamia has been imagined as various incarnations in many cultures—from a Greek goddess who turned murderess once Hera stole her children to a cannibalistic ogre, succubus or centaur-like creature that is half man/half goat—the stories share a unifying trait. “The one thing the legends have in common is that the Lamia is a demon that, when awoken in anger, drags its victims down to hell screaming,” Ivan Raimi states. “That’s the common, awful thread.”
Sam and Ivan Raimi plotted Drag Me to Hell so that, other than the first few moments of the film, Christine appears in every scene. The story never wavers from telling the horrific tale from her point of view and taking the audience along on her journey. Indeed, the brothers designed their screenplay to bring us on a haunted house-style ride, with Christine as the vessel. Subplots take a back seat to the ever-growing panic she feels and the desperation of her predicament. To play counterpoint to the superstition and fear Christine experiences, the screenwriters crafted her rational and cerebral boyfriend, Clay, a professor who attempts to dissuade her from believing that Mrs. Ganush has cursed her. Of their relationship, Ivan Raimi explains: “Clay’s love for Christine outweighs what his mind tells him to believe and not to believe. This is a love story of ultimate sacrifice.”
Though Sam Raimi was keen to make the picture after the first draft of the script was completed, other projects gained steam and The Curse was placed on hold. The Spider-Man trilogy became an almost decade-long endeavor, and there wasn’t an opportunity to give Drag Me to Hell the attention it needed until late 2007. At that point, producers Rob Tapert—Raimi’s partner at Ghost House Pictures—and five-time Raimi collaborator Grant Curtis shepherded the project, and Ghost House Pictures signed on to finance the film. Universal agreed to distribute domestically and in select international territories, while Mandate—managed by executive producers Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake—would handle the lion’s share of the international distribution.
The producers felt that the film offered a blend of genres that would introduce classic horror to new audiences, while celebrating what die-hard Raimi fans loved about the director’s work. “It’s more than just a horror movie, more than a supernatural thriller,” says Curtis. “The characters are interesting enough for the audience to become emotionally invested. In every movie Sam’s done, you get thoroughly engrossed in the characters.”
Tapert agrees: “This is really Sam’s opportunity to return to kind of filmmaking that I, as a horror fan, have always loved that he’s done—something that is wild and crazy and unexpected and takes me places I didn’t expect.”
Raimi’s longtime producer was curious to see what his friend could do with a smaller-budget film after tackling three enormous blockbusters in a row. “After Sam has directed three Spider-Man movies, he has a command of all the tools that a director has at his disposal,” adds Tapert. “He understands everything about filmmaking and the special effects process; he’s brought this all to bear with Drag Me to Hell. He is able to use the tools of special effects, visual effects, makeup effects and mechanical effects to create something that, hopefully, the audience hasn’t experienced before.”

Drag Me to Hell - Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Justin Long

Though SAM RAIMI has spent the better part of the past decade bringing the blockbuster Spider-Man series to the screen, the director rose to cult status with his Evil Dead trilogy. With those influential films, he helped audiences embrace the shocking spectacle and dark humor that defined his horror brand and inspired a new generation of writers and directors to push the limits of the genre itself.

In 2009, he returns to horror with Drag Me to Hell, an original tale of Christine Brown (ALISON LOHMAN, Things We Lost in the Fire, Matchstick Men), an ambitious L.A. loan officer with a charming boyfriend, professor Clay Dalton (JUSTIN LONG, Live Free or Die Hard, He’s Just Not That Into You). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (LORNA RAVER, Freeway, television’s Walkout) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan.

Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (DAVID PAYMER, In Good Company, Alex & Emma), and get a leg up on a promotion? Christine chooses the latter, dispossessing Mrs. Ganush of her home.

In retaliation, the old woman places the curse of the Lamia upon Christine, transforming her life into a living nightmare. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (DILEEP RAO, upcoming Avatar) to save her soul from eternal damnation.

To help the shattered Christine, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell and brings her to the only woman who can aid her, seer Shaun San Dena (Oscar®-nominated actress ADRIANA BARRAZA, Babel, Amores Perros). As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: How far will she go to break free of the curse?

Joining Sam Raimi behind the scenes for Drag Me to Hell is an accomplished crew of longtime collaborators, led by his brother and co-writer IVAN RAIMI (Darkman, Army of Darkness) and producers ROB TAPERT (The Evil Dead, The Grudge series) and GRANT CURTIS (Spider-Man trilogy, upcoming Spider-Man 4).

Joining the team are director of photography PETER DEMING (Evil Dead 2, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mulholland Dr.), production designer STEVE SAKLAD (Juno, Swing Vote), editor BOB MURAWSKI (Spider-Man trilogy, The Gift), costume designer ISIS MUSSENDEN (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, American Psycho), composer CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Spider-Man 2 and 3, The Grudge series) and special effects makeup artists GREGORY NICOTERO (Evil Dead 2, The Unborn) and Oscar® winner HOWARD BERGER (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Sin City).

The executive producers for the horror film are NATHAN KAHANE (The Grudge series, 30 Days of Night, Juno) and JOE DRAKE (Juno, The Grudge series), with Ivan Raimi and CRISTEN CARR STRUBBE (Dinner and Driving) serving as co-producers.