Sam Raimi has gone from superheroes back to the supernatural.
The director of the "Spider-Man" blockbusters returns to his "Evil Dead" horror roots with "Drag Me to Hell," a Cannes Film Festival entry starring Alison Lohman as a woman fighting a curse that will damn her soul.
"Drag Me to Hell" also has brought Raimi back to Cannes. He said Thursday he had no luck landing a theatrical release for his 1981 low-budget horror "The Evil Dead" until he brought it to the festival's market, one of the world's busiest cinema sales floors.
"No American distributor would touch that film with a 10-foot flagpole. No one wanted it," Raimi said.
Once it screened at Cannes, however, "Evil Dead" was snapped up by French then British distributors. And "suddenly, people in America wanted it, too," he said.
Raimi has returned to Cannes this year with one of the festival's high-profile premieres.
"I'm honored to be here, and I think it says a lot about the artistic parameters of the festival committee that would even recognize artistic merit in what some might consider a lowly horror film," he said.
"Drag Me to Hell" stars Lohman as Christine Brown, a bank-loan officer so eager to earn a promotion that she makes a bad call to impress her boss, rejecting an old woman's request for an extension on overdue mortgage payments.
The old woman (Lorna Raver) turns out to be a gypsy whose curse condemns Christine to the clutches of an evil beast that stalks her as it prepares to drag her to hell for all eternity.
Christine enlists the aid of her boyfriend (Justin Long) and a couple of psychics (Adriana Barraza and Dileep Rao) to fend off the beast.
Along the way, Christine has nasty encounters with a corpse, a demon-possessed talking goat and a fly with a habit of crawling into human orifices. She also makes some dark choices in her desperation to save herself.
While Christine works at a bank, the story was not intended as a credit-crunch fright flick in light of the global banking crisis, Raimi said.
"We just wanted to tell the story of a person who wants to be a good person but makes a sinful choice out of greed for their own betterment at the expense of somebody else ... and pays the price for it," Raimi said. "It's a simple morality tale about how greed leads to destruction."
The film begins rolling out to theaters in the United States and elsewhere next week. After that, Raimi turns his attention to "Spider-Man 4," due out in summer 2011.
With a smaller cast and more intimate production, "Drag Me to Hell" gave Raimi a break from the colossal "Spider-Man" shoots and allowed him and his brother, co-writer Ivan Raimi, to work with original characters without the pressures of a comic-book icon beloved by fans, he said.
The horror genre is a nice fit for the Raimis, given that "Sam has always tried to frighten me," Ivan Raimi said.
"I had to always look behind every door when I walked into a room," he said. "I had to check under my bed, not for monsters but to see if he was going to grab my ankle. So he's really affected my personal space. And likewise, I try to make him uncomfortable whenever I can. I feel it's my job as a brother."