The Boogey Man (1980)
"The most terrifying nightmare of childhood is about to return!"
Twenty years ago, Lacey witnessed her brother murder their mother’s abusive boyfriend. Years later and suffering from nightmares, she decides to revisit their old home to lay to rest the past. But when she inadvertently shatters a mirror that was present on the night of his death, she accidentally frees his evil spirit from inside. This invisible prowler is now able to slice his way through the family of the people who caused his demise.
A cross between Halloween, The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, The Boogey Man is a supernatural slasher which emerged at the start of the decade just before the market hit saturation point with knife-wielding maniacs. Caught between this new wave of visceral terror and the late 70s obsession with the supernatural and the Devil, The Boogey Man is a weird mix of the two which doesn’t do either sub-genre the greatest lip service. The Boogey Man was also one of a batch of films which was blacklisted in the UK during the 80s as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore that engulfed a lot of the video market at the time. It is only recently that these films have become available uncut for the first time and genre fans who might have missed the likes of this in the cinema because they were too young can now appreciate their wonderfully offbeat charm in all of their glory. The grisly poster of the priest holding up a crucifix whilst blood drips down his face has long been etched on my mind but I never get around to watching The Boogey Man until the recent blu-ray release (which looked amazing I just say – congratulations 88 Films on the great job with the transfer).
Watching The Boogey Man today, it’s hard to see why it would have been tagged along with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp back in 1984. More a supernatural thriller than a slasher, there’s nothing here both explicit or suggested to warrant a ban – perhaps it just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Boogey Man is also a bit of a misleading title. Not to be confused with the dreadful 2005 film Boogeyman, there is no actual ‘boogeyman’ physically going around killing people but rather a malevolent unseen spirit doing the handiwork. Whilst it does allow the film to free itself of the man-in-the-mask clichés, the idea of a supernatural slasher is one which isn’t well developed. The idea of the spirit possessing the mirror and then making people go mad or attack each other seems to have been tacked on half-way through the film as a money-saving option.
The influences of Halloween are evident, from the opening scene with the static shot of the Myers-like house, along with the child-killer murder scene, down to the voyeuristic first person camera work allowing us to see from the eyes of the killer as the supernatural assailant stalks his victims, and the generic synth score. The Boogey Man wears its influence on its sleeve and it isn’t too shy about it either, only this isn’t John Carpenter behind the scenes and Uli Lommel is no Carpenter 2.0. He doesn’t allow the tension to build, doesn’t frame shots to create unease and is happy to keep going back to the close-up shot whenever an effect sequence needs it, thus allowing the audience to clearly see that it is a make-up effect and not something more realistic. The only thing that is truly sinister is the house they’ve used, something out of The Amityville Horror playbook.
The pacing of The Boogey Man is awful, but the script does the film no favours at all, introducing characters and plot threads for no real purpose and failing to follow up on a lot of leads. Whilst the first half of the film is more supernatural and sets up the second half, it’s only in the latter part that the kills begin to mount up as the focus of the narrative shifts onto a group of thirtysomethings who are seemingly in the film to get killed off in grisly ways ala Friday the 13th. These are random additions who bear no relation to any of the main characters or the back story behind why the spirit is murdering people; they’re simply there to up the body count. Horror legend John Carradine pops up for a brief cameo which he filmed in one day – hey it’s good work if you’re famous enough to get it! His character and brief side story have no connection to the rest of the film either but at least it’s another name for them to add to the credits.
There is a streak of mean-spiritedness which runs through The Boogey Man though and it gives the film more of a punch than it should. You know that this evil spirit is intent on murderous revenge but what’s worse is that you get the sense that it knows it can’t really be stopped and begins toying with its victims a little bit. It isn’t fussed about who or how it targets people either: girls have their throats cut; kids have their necks broken; priests have their faces melted; and more. There is a decent selection of kills but as previously stated, the director has the annoying habit of shooting them with close-ups, taking you out of the film for a moment and allowing you the chance to see that you’re looking at a special effect. The idea is to make it look as real as possible, not show the audience how you did it.
Never as scary or interesting as it’s title and poster suggests, The Boogey Man clearly wanted to rip off a number of bigger and better films that preceded it and had no idea about how to bring all of them together under one banner. Switching between parts Halloween, parts The Exorcist and parts The Amityville Horror results in a big mess of a movie which you’ll desperately try to like given the year and era it was made but find difficult to love.
Director(s): Ulli Lommel
Writer(s): Ulli Lommel (screenplay), Suzanna Love (screenplay), David Herschel (screenplay)
Actor(s): Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James, Nicholas Love, Raymond Boyden, Felicite Morgan
Duration: 82 mins