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.”