Sometimes you come around on a film; perhaps not a complete 180 degrees, but somewhere over 90 and enough to make one reevaluate previous harsh judgments. And so it is with The Boogey Man (1980), German art house director Ulli Lommel’s paean to psychic residue and familial discourse as filtered through a ludicrous mash-up of The Exorcist, Halloween, and The Amityville Horror. Once attuned to its peculiar charms, it’s hard to resist.
Distributed by The Jerry Gross Organization (Zombie) in early November, The Boogey Man was a huge success – probably baffling Lommel and definitely baffling the critics, who were none too kind at the time (nor are most now). Made for a paltry $300,000, the film brought in between $25 and 35 million, depending on which accountant you ask. Big numbers for a film filled with technical inconsistency, mostly poor acting, and enough plot for three films.
Little Lacey and Willy are stuck at home with an alcoholic mom and her boyfriend who likes his sex wearing garter hose on his head (different strokes and all); when the kids are caught spying, the boyfriend gags and ties up Willy to a bed. Lacey releases him, at which point Willy takes a carving knife and does just that to the slimeball as Lacey watches in horror through mom’s bedroom mirror. Flash forward 20 years as Lacey (Suzanna Love – Blank Generation), her husband Jake (Ron James – Olivia), their son, and Willy (Nicholas Love – Jennifer 8) live a peaceful life in a ranch house with their aunt and uncle. Lacey is still plagued by nightmares of the incident, and Willy became so traumatized that he hasn’t spoken since he killed mommy’s special friend.
A visit to a psychiatrist (John Carradine, helicoptered in to shoot a day’s worth of footage) convinces Jake that Lacey should return to the scene of the crime to confront her fears; she’s reticent but agrees to the visit. Once there, she sees the same dreaded mirror and promptly throws a chair through it, smashing it into pieces. Convinced that the mirror holds the key to Lacey’s recovery, Jake takes it back home and pieces it together. However, when a piece comes loose from the glue job, the spirit of the deceased sicko manifests and has severasl people do visceral damage to themselves, always resulting in the final diagnosis of death. Can Jake, Lacey, and Willy conquer the demons from their past, and maybe find a nice floor length mirror from Bed, Bath, and Beyond?
The Boogey Man shouldn’t work – and frankly it doesn’t in the ways I think Lommel intended: whereas he seems to be going for a serious examination of the damage inflicted on the human soul through trauma (and how we deal with it), he simply does not have the acumen to pull it off. Certainly not with this script nor cast up to the challenge; Suzanna Love comes off best as Lacey, and her brother Nicholas has the enviable job of not having to utter any dialogue. Lommel himself is uneven at best, alternating between effective shots and tedium at a perplexing rate.
So, these are the quibbles that the old me had with the film; which isn’t to say those indisputable facts are diminished or dismissed – if anything they ring louder and truer than before. No, the big difference is with how I approach the film.
Any film that manages to squeeze in levitation, sentient shards of glass, double death by screwdriver, bleeding priests, scissor tracheotomies, and pitchforkicide is definitely due for reassessment. That The Boogey Man does all this and more while seriously skirting the boundaries of competence is fascinating; there are truly terrific shots in here, closely followed by the static cling of dreary chats that fall completely flat.
But it’s the reach I appreciate this time around; Lommel is attempting to tell a big story through an exploitation lens – the trailer shows our heroine being attacked by mom’s phantom boyfriend, her top torn to shreds – which cancels out any serious insight because well, the horror stuff is done that much better. And at the end of the day, it will always be the horror stuff that lasts.
Subtlety holds no truck in The Boogey Man; Tim Krog’s synthy score veers between Exorcist-lite cues and Halloween stabs depending which one is being paid “homage” (how come no special Amityville drops for the scenes that show the devilish windows?). That our killer is never seen after his death is an intriguing take; all we hear is heavy breathing and a heartbeat to insinuate the spirit is close by, his fanciful flights invisible to the eye until it’s too late.
The effects are decent, and like I said they’re arranged and shot with enough style to keep any horror enthusiast interested – the trick is to focus on that horror, of which there’s plenty to go around.
So The Boogey Man hasn’t changed, only my appreciation for it; I held disdain for it’s shortcomings as a dramatic horror film instead of admiring it for its anything goes ethos. Cracked or not, it’s always good to look in the mirror from time to time.
The Boogey Man (aka The Bogey Man) is available on Blu-ray from 88 Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: SWEET SIXTEEN (1983)