CANNES, France (Reuters) - Aspiring bank managers beware -- refusing loans to frail old ladies could unleash a deadly curse that haunts you for eternity.
That, at least, is the premise of "Drag Me to Hell," a horror movie by U.S. director Sam Raimi who made the hugely successful Spider-Man movies and, before them, "The Evil Dead."
Screening out of competition at the Cannes film festival, the movie laces a classic curse story with humor, and had audiences laughing as much as jumping at a press screening.
Raimi said mixing comedy and fear was like a game of checkers, and the outcome has delighted critics.
"Mixing different modes of horror story-telling with dark touches of humor, Raimi proves here that gore isn't necessary for a cathartic horror-thrill ride," Screen International said.
Raimi said making Drag Me to Hell was a welcome change from the big-budget, blockbuster Spider-Man series which he is due to reprise soon.
The first three movies in the franchise made around $2.5 billion in global ticket sales, according to tracking website www.boxofficemojo.com.
"It's been great to work on Drag Me to Hell, because there's a very small cast," he told reporters in Cannes on Thursday.
"It was very intimate, and that's the only thing I don't really get on the Spider-Man films. It's more like conducting a symphony orchestra and this film is like playing with a jazz quartet and playing on the instruments myself."
Also liberating was working with a new character rather than a comic book hero recognized around the world. "I loved working without the restraints of a character that many other people own and many people look up to," he said, adding that he enjoyed directing Spider-Man movies as well.
FIRST CREDIT CRUNCH HORROR? Drag Me to Hell, which Raimi and his brother Ivan first conceived 10 years ago, opens with Christine, played by Alison Lohman, considering whether to extend a loan to an elderly and odd-looking woman called Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver).
With one eye on a promotion to management at the bank where she works, she declines, and Ganush is dispossessed of her home.
Before Ganush dies, she places a curse of eternal damnation on Christine which the young woman desperately tries to reverse.
Scenes involving what crawls into or flies out of characters' mouths are central to the horror and humor, and office equipment is used as never before in an over-the-top fight sequence.
"We didn't really base it on the existing bank crisis that's happening around the world right now," Raimi said.
"We just wanted to tell the story of a person who wants to be a good person but makes a simple choice out of greed for their own betterment at the expense of somebody else."
He called it a "simple morality tale" about greed and its consequences, which did reflect today's reality.
"Even though the banking crisis was just a coincidence ... I think we probably wrote that story because it's real. That part of it is real and it's a good thing to base a morality tale in something that we're all affected by."
The film opens in the United States on May 29.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
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