Director Raimi takes time out for horror ride

CANNES: "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi has returned to horror with "Drag Me To Hell" but says its bank clerk heroine has a lot in common with the nerdy superhero student of his blockbusters.

"They are both stories of regular people who extraordinary events happen to," he said in Cannes where he has taken his new movie for an out-of-competition red carpet gala screening.

"Peter Parker (alias Spider-Man) at one point didn't do the right thing and spends the rest of his life paying that debt," he said, referring to the murder of his uncle at the hands of a criminal Peter failed to stop.

"Christine Brown also makes a selfish choice," he said of the heroine of "Drag Me To Hell," in which the bank clerk opts for career advancement over charity by refusing a home loan extension to a weird old gypsy woman.

The audience at a press screening at Cannes both squirmed and giggled as it watched Christine being mentally and physically tormented by an ancient demon called the Lamia as a result of a curse the gypsy casts on her in revenge.

It was Cannes that launched Raimi's career when he showed his 1981 horror movie "The Evil Dead" here and saw it snapped up by European distributors after repeated rejection in his native United States.

Raimi has spent the last few years knocking out "Spider-Man" box-office busting blockbusters but has taken time out from that franchise -- before getting to work on "Spider-Man 4" -- to return to his beloved horror genre.

He and his doctor brother Ivan wrote "Drag Me To Hell" before the economic crisis set in, but its release in this year of recession could not be more timely.

Britain's Guardian newspaper said the tale of a woman losing her home because of a callous banker "could be the first credit crunch horror movie."

"The film is about the terrible effects of greed and how it can destroy you," Raimi, dressed in a dark suit and tie, told AFP in an interview in Cannes on Thursday.

Twentysomething Christine, played by Alison Lohman, enlists the help of a seer to try to have the curse lifted. But it's a tough battle and one that involves quite a lot of gore.

The horror highlights include Christine being gummed by the old crone whose dentures have fallen out, swallowing pints of reeking body fluids oozing out of a corpse?s mouth and repeatedly battling a cloven-hoofed demon.

"It's disgusting what your audience expects of you these days. I'm really shocked and embarrassed," said Raimi with a laugh.

Christine starts out as a very ordinary and apparently decent suburbanite trying to get ahead in modern-day Los Angeles but by the end of the film has become a very different person.

"She's the villain of the piece," said Raimi, noting that to save her skin she progressively ditches her principles and by the end is ready to do anything to transfer her curse to any poor sucker she can find.

Raimi said that as a child he used to go on a horror ride at the local fair where monsters would pop out from the dark.

"I would scream but then titter with laughter. I'm after that experience in this film," he said. "I want the audience to have a rip-roaring good time."