LOS ANGELES — The title, Drag Me to Hell, should have given Alison Lohman a hint. But the actress was so excited to work with director Sam Raimi that she didn't think much about it.
And the director of the Spider-Man franchise admits that he wasn't totally forthcoming about what he was going to put her through when they shot the film.
"I was just so lucky to get her," Raimi says. "I have seen her in a few films, and I thought she was brilliant. But I was afraid to tell her all the things I had to do to her in the film when I was trying to get her. ... So I kind of skirted around some of the tough issues so she'd still take the part."
Lohman says she wondered what Raimi meant in the script when it said that the demon "suckles on her chin."
"I thought that he was just trying to be flowery," says the actress, who first came to prominence playing Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter in White Oleander. "But then I realized (later), he completely meant it."
Lohman plays Christine Brown, a young woman from the Midwest who is a bank loan officer. With a promotion in the offing and wanting to show her toughness, Christine denies an old Gypsy woman (Lorena Raver) an extension on her loan, forcing her out of her house. The old woman then curses her, and Christine is beset by a demon, whom only she can see but who can inflict a lot of physical damage.
So throughout the shoot Lohman had some "pretty awful things done to her," says Raimi, including being repeatedly choked, thrown out of car and buried in mud.
"I haven't done a film this physical before," Lohman says. "I guess when Sam says that he didn't tell me everything, he just made it seem that the film was a lot about my character. ... Actually the bulk of the movie for me was a lot of the torture elements of it. Sometimes I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, what was the point of talking about all this other stuff. ... I should've done more combat training.'"
Raimi was thrilled to make a horror film again. "I love getting back to that genre, which is designed to interact with the audience with thrills and chills."
He says the last one he directed was the 1987 Evil Dead II, which like the other two of the loose trilogy — the 1981 Evil Dead and the 1992 Army of Darkness — starred pal Bruce Campbell. He doesn't consider Army a real horror film, though. "It was a really a sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventure comedy."
After that, Raimi's films were an eclectic mix — the offbeat Western The Quick and the Dead (1995), the thriller A Simple Plan (1998), the heartfelt baseball movie For Love of the Game (1999) and a Gothic mystery, The Gift (2000). Then he embarked on the three Spider-Man movies, which have taken up most of his time for the last decade. (He once told me he would do Spider-Man movies as long as the studio would let him, and indeed there is a fourth installment in the works with a script expected in a few weeks.)
Raimi, 49, says the idea for Drag Me to Hell comes from a short story he and his brother wrote in 1989. It was only when one of his producing partners formed a horror-film company with him that he was able to get a break from the Spider-Man franchise to pursue it.
Horror for Raimi isn't just about screams and gross-outs, although Drag Me to Hell has plenty of those. It's about getting laughs, too, and there are plenty of those, even if some of the audience is covering its eyes at the same time.
"I've always been a big coward," Raimi says. "And sometimes the only way I can take horror is with a little black humor mixed in to make it palatable. It's my artificial sweetener. I get so frightened at things, I feel like I have to put humor in at times."
Lohman says she loves that Raimi's movies are "strange and witty."
Raimi says that when the audience is involved in a horror film, they're "also in a good state to laugh. Sometimes that's my reaction when I'm scared — I laugh or giggle. So I naturally try and take advantage of that in a horror film."