Thursday, November 05, 2009

Drag Me To Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)


One sub-genre of horror film that I've never really cared for is what might be called Catholic Horror: films like The Exorcist, The Omen, The Prophecy, Stigmata, End of Days. OK, that's a pretty diverse group in quality, and obviously I think The Exorcist (the only one I actually like) is a lot better than End of Days, but somehow I could never really get into these movies. I've never really been sure why, but I think Raimi's film Drag Me To Hell has clarified things for me. See, these movies are all totally wrong about what's scary in Catholic mythology. The Exorcist seems to think Satan is the scariest thing in Christianity, but he's not. There's not a single story in the Bible, or the sort of informal folklore around it, where Satan kills or harms someone. Sure, he can tempt you, but it's not like most people need much help in that department. The Omen thinks it's the Antichrist. Well, the idea of Armageddon did used to freak me out, but that's really not the heart of things. What's scary in Christian mythology is Hell. (Another way to say that would be that what's scary is God.)

Hell is worse than death. Infinitely worse. It's infinite pain and torment for eternity. It's the most sadistic human urges given life through our imagination. Not only is it eternal, it's irrevocable. No matter how truly repentent you become in Hell, your judgement is final. And God will throw your ass in there for the most petty offenses: masturbation, homosexuality, not going to church, disrespecting your parents, or just failure to believe in Him when He's given you no evidence of His existence (that's the one that freaked me out the most, which is kinda funny--I believed in God enough to believe I could go to Hell for not believing in him, but not enough to believe that I was safe!). Anyone who was brought up Christian knows this fear, and it doesn't matter how liberal your church was. I was brought up in about as liberal a Catholic household as one could imagine, and the priests at St. Martin DePores were not given to fire and brimstone sermons, and I certainly never had the sort of Sunday School lecture that Stephen gets in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but the idea was sure gotten across. This may be the dirty secret of most atheists--we didn't stop believing in God because it was illogical, but because the stress of believing in Hell would drive you insane otherwise (and if you look at the people who do believe in it, you see that born out).
So it's kind of amazing to think that Drag Me to Hell is the first horror movie I can think of that harnesses that fear. Not fear of the Devil, but fear of Hell. Raimi lets God off the hook with the whole Lamia storyline, but that's fine with me. The point is that Hell is fucking scary. Even scarier than being face-gummed by an old gypsy woman. And the fact that the heroine incurred that fate for basically being the same kind of shitty person that we all are, at least sometimes, gives even more weight to the Christian guilt complex the horror rides on.

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