I already had some idea, but now I finally think I know exactly what Sam Raimi means by ‘spook-a-blast’. That’s how he’s described Drag Me To Hell, his new horror flick, and it seemed like a crazy, made-up tag. He could have saved a lot of time by saying the movie is has the energy of Evil Dead, emboldened with the filmmaking chops Raimi has accrued since then. But I guess he doesn’t want to refer to his old series any more than necessary. Hence ‘spook-a-blast’.

During Universal’s panel in Hall H yesterday, Raimi took the stage along with Alison Lohman, Justin Long and Dileep Rao to show the first footage from Drag Me To Hell, which follows Lohman, a loan officer in love with Justin Long who turns down the wrong woman during a brief power trip at work. Raimi looked disheveled and tired, and when I talked to him on the press line an hour later I could see that he wore a blazer over a t-shirt rather than his customary dapper suit.

Most of the panel was dominated by footage. First a teaser trailer made specifically for the Con, then two full scenes. The trailer was sad and dull, like all the worst tendencies of Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures had been rolled into one project under the master’s direction. That clip rolled to almost no enthusiasm; when it was done I wanted nothing to do with the film.

Then Raimi showed a full scene in which Lohman is menaced by the victimized old woman, who begins the scene hiding in the back of Lohman’s car. It’s a killer scene, with the old woman’s eye stapled shut, a ruler jammed in her throat and a really weird image of the old woman, dentures forcibly removed, trying to bite, or more properly gum, Lohman’s jaw off.

In short, fantastic stuff. Paced perfectly for both laughs and gasps. The audience ate it up; no need to wonder why. This was pure old-school Raimi. Evil Dead Raimi. Though there are a few digital effects, both women look like they’re pushing themselves physically, and the encounter has a really powerful, uncomfortable feel as a result. It’s a great clip, a creepy, ugly, funny clip. Ten minutes earlier I wanted nothing to do with the movie; when the scene finished I couldn’t wait to see the whole thing.

(We also saw another shorter scene that finishes up with the old woman vomiting bugs and worms all over Lohman’s face. Yeah, the old Raimi is back.)

So where did this come from? A few trustworthy people who’ve read the script say that it isn’t good at all, and that it was directly related to Ellen Page’s defection. But how would Evil Dead 2 have looked on the page? The best parts of that movie were made up on the spot as the energy of filmmaking possessed Raimi. Looking at the real clips from the film, I get the feeling that things were very much the same on Drag.

(Incidentally, none of the cast had seen the clips either. Lohman, Long and Rao were fairly cute as they sat down to one side of the stage so they could watch along with the Hall H audience.)

I spent the next 24 hours on a crusade to persuade someone, anyone, to recut the teaser trailer. The spot is genuinely awful — boring and flat and utterly without the energy that made the two clips I saw so fantastic. It has to be buried, because it’ll really burn the movie. The sort of horror comedy Raimi can do so well is very difficult to sell — hence ‘spook-a-blast’ but someone with gumption has to get on this. If Drag Me To Hell is even half as much fun as the Con footage suggests, it’ll be worth the effort.