Can a film be more than the sum of its parts? Heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween (and mixed with equal doses of The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist), Ulli Lommel’s sophomore venture into the realm of slashers should have been nothing more than another entry in an already bursting genre. Yet there’s something undeniably attractive about a film dealing with children, really big knives and masked brutes returning from their graves for revenge. Is this just another slasher film, or something more mysterious? Let’s break through the mirrors and take a closer look...
A small southern town, circa 1960. It is night. A light shines from the livingroom window of a large house and two children peer in to have a look. The two are brother and sister. Inside, their drunken mother is in various stages of undress with her large, mean boyfriend. She slips her stocking over the man’s head before spotting the kids, then chasing the terrorized two into their bedrooms. The son is gagged and tied to his bed while the mother laughs. Later as the couple is off having sex, the daughter cuts her brother free with a large carving knife... the same knife that the brother brings into his mother’s bedroom and uses to repeatedly stab his mother’s boyfriend to death. Twenty years later, the brother is a mute and the daughter is married with a son of her own. But when they receive a letter from their dying mother, bizarre things start to happen. The two are plagued by disturbing nightmares of the stocking-wearing, abusive boyfriend returning for revenge. Mirrors start reflecting bloody images of that terrible night from years past. And knives and other garden implements start mysteriously flinging like throwing darts. Is the mute brother the one to blame, or has the ghost of the dead boyfriend come back for the kill?
Well you can’t blame Lommel for trying. Released about a full-year before the zenith of the slasher film’s popularity, The Boogeyman takes the unusual step of applying the slasher motif to a supernatural backstory. Unlike films such as Friday The 13th (which was released the same year) that harnessed the slasher blueprint into an interchangeable, bankable and highly attractive film guide, Boogeyman feels a bit more like a failed experiment. Not only do we have scenes poorly reproduced from straight out of Halloween, but imposing Amityville Horror-like ‘house shots’ of the family home and even a determined priest trying to exorcise a possessed girl in the finale. All this in a slasher film? It does feel like overkill by the third act, as the invisible spirit proceeds to rip away at a girl’s blouse as she runs screaming across the family’s front yard. But for just as many poorly rendered and atrociously acted shots that exist in Boogeyman, there are an equal amount of good ones. Suzanna Love (the director’s wife) as the main girl is overall quite convincing for the material at hand. There are also some notably creepy images throughout the film; none as disturbing as the stocking-wearing man as he stares motionlessly at the terrorized children (a shot re-used several times throughout the film). And the use of mirrors is an effective tool for adding the right amount of ghostly hauntings to any horror film. In one particularly interesting scene, the mute boy is so affected by the images he sees in the mirrors, that he goes throughout the house, painting all the mirrors black. Later as a smashed mirror (which actually contained the evil spirit) has shards of glass fly off that reflect ‘evil light’ into the eyes of others, it forces them to stab scissors into their necks and jam knives into their heads!
Yet the best pleasures of The Boogeyman come in the most unsuspecting form. Whether due to Lommel’s incompetence as a director or just bad editing, several scenes come off with an unintentional amount of humor. The boy who sticks his head in an open window screaming “Gotcha,” only to then be squished to death by the window ceil – the freak-out the main girl does upon seeing a ghostly image in a mirror, only to then grab the nearest chair and bash the hell out of it… in someone else’s home! – the country girl who tries to put the moves on the mute brother in the barn only to have him gyrate like the Incredible Hulk, grab her by the neck and lift her three feet off the ground! These are the memorable bits that make The Boogeyman so much fun. Knives entering the flesh of an unsuspecting victim? Love it. Blood that pops and bubbles to the beat of the opening credits? Priceless.
So while Lommel has continued to prove himself as a candidate for the “Worst Director of All-Time” award (as certainly his most recent work has demonstrated), it’s nice to look back and see that the man at least started out with promise. The Boogeyman has since gone on to spawn 2 more official sequels (which continue to re-use sizeable amounts of this film as ‘flashback footage’) and was even graced with a beautiful looking, remastered DVD release from Anchor Bay (though it was on a Double Feature with Lommel’s 1983 film The Devonsville Terror). Certainly worthy of another look, The Boogeyman is one of those films that may fade into darkness for years at a time, but is never really forgotten. Recommended.