Drag Me to Hell: Harvest Cake

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao
(PG-13, 99 min.)

"Secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being." Carl Jung

This summer offering has all the nuance of a violent video game, the sophistication of a junior high slumber party, and enough buckets of bodily fluid to incur permanent indigestion. What’s not to like?

Okay, maybe I’m being a little too hard on the flick, which after all, advertises its diabolical direction quite openly in the title, just as Disney/Pixar’s designated Up captures its ascending mood and direction. It’s not as though I was expecting a Bertram Russell treatise on the meaning of life, although the film does throw out some tantalizing quotes by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

And that’s just the trouble. Drag Me to Hell offers just enough hints that it will transcend the inanities of the current horror genre to disappoint viewers thinking they will get more than the typical allotment of grisly clichés and contrived plot twists.

First of all, our damsel in distress has a few complexities of character that intrigue. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is, if not ruthlessly, then at least abundantly ambitious in her job as a banking loan officer bucking to make it to assistant manager. When her boss suggests that a rival for the promotion is good at making the “hard decisions," she goes against her natural inclination to assist an old lady who comes in begging for more time on her delinquent loan.

Of course, the filmmakers are hoping to play on the public’s natural animus toward bankers, now het up to the boiling point, to dent any sympathy we might otherwise have for the perky Ms. Brown.

But they play both sides with an equally snide hand. The old lady, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), is made every bit as repulsive as she is wretched. And to do this they concentrate on the grotesque. Think of every cliché you can about the repugnant habits of the elderly, from their phlegm riddled hankies – Mrs. Ganush’s is spotted with fluorescent yellow – to their slipping dentures. Mrs. Ganush takes out her oozing pair to slurp up the bank’s entire dish of wrapped candies when she thinks no one is looking. Strangely enough, the dentures are as twisted and decayed as aged real teeth would be.

And then there’s her dysfunctional eye, its cornea drained of color, and apparently the reason for her loss of work and inability to keep up with the mortgage. But this abnormality, instead of generating any sympathy, merely makes Mrs. Ganush just that much more repulsive, as the filmmakers play to our lesser natures.

Gone are the classic villains of horror who somehow retained their dignity in spite of their evil intent. Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula was impeccable in his evening ware, with never a hint of his nocturnal cocktails dribbling down his cumberbund. And he seduced his victims like a gentleman, polite and courtly until the inevitable, which was only discreetly suggested on screen. Boris Karloff imbued his Frankenstein monster with a sense of pathos, while Vincent Price lent Edgar Alan Poe’s most psychotic creations a touch of class.

But Mrs. Ganush morphs from a pleading, fragile woman into a relentless and horrible hag, even after her untimely death, where her corpse erupts with a putrid green river of embalming fluid – enough to forever vilify memories of that nostalgic soda fountain drink. No dignity, even in death.

Sadly, I couldn’t help but feel that Mrs. Ganush, the old gypsy woman who ultimately curses poor Christine Brown, is portrayed with a deplorable lack of ethnic sensitivity that would never be shown other more vocal minorities. It’s not that I am turning into a mushy PC proponent; it’s just that I’m asking for some parity, that’s all. The Roma people, as they prefer to call themselves, have been persecuted since they first entered Europe in the 1400’s and they suffered greatly during the Holocaust as well. But they continue to be, like their Nazi tormentors, one of the few safe Hollywood villains.

Christine’s supportive boyfriend is none other than our favorite “Get a Mac” Justin Long, playing a young psychology professor whose office is quite littered with his affiliated computers. Somehow, though, it is hard for me to see him as a professor, even a new one, especially with visions of him as the scruffy geek computer hacker tagging along with Bruce Willis in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard

The rent a psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) is more intriguing, as we are not quite sure if he is a charlatan or the real deal, and his ambivalent actions when Christine first consults him, bear either interpretation. When he suggests a ten thousand dollar séance, plot possibilities prickle, one of which being that the whole curse is a con -- certainly a creative possibility that might have redeemed the film in my eyes.

Instead, we return to gothic gore, animal sacrifice, talking goats, levitating bodies, and burial desecrations, which is what the audiences and critics are eating up. Enough to make you lose your appetite, if you have any sense.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Part of Christine’s “abundant ambition” is a reaction to her humble farm background. We see a picture of a plump girlish version of herself as the “Pork Queen,” a photo she tosses away in embarrassment. Her serious boyfriend is, after all, a psychology professor, whose parents want a similarly prestigious mate for their son.

But Christine is still enough in touch with her roots to prepare a home made Harvest Cake as her go the parents for dinner offering, even describing the richness of farm goose eggs as the special ingredient. That and her honest admission of her mother’s alcoholism are almost enough for us to forgive her dark deeds against her adorable kitten. 

ALMOST!

But don’t let Christine’s minor flaws -- she does volunteer regularly at the humane society, you know – keep you from enjoying her culinary creation. Unlike poor Christine’s cake, ours is free of any ingredients not listed, such buzzing flies or Mrs. Ganush’s eyeball.

Enjoy.

Harvest Cake 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 16 ounces pumpkin
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 large apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Directions

  1. Mix together sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger, oil, vanilla and eggs.
  2. Add pumpkin to this mixture and stir well.
  3. Stir in 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time.
  4. Stir in apples and pecans.
  5. Bake 60-70 minutes at 350 in a greased and floured bundt pan.
  6. Ice with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with nuts.

Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com