Exceptions define genres, sub- and sub-sub-genres, and rare is the film that exactly fits genre parameters, especially in a genre’s formative years, when various filmmakers try to figure out exactly which elements of a successful prototype brought in the audience. Eventually the more successful experiments create a “formula” that the more innovative, creative, and/or odd films that follow struggle to break out of, twist to their own ends, or subvert, until these innovations and subversion themselves become part of the formula or create something new. For every dead-end retread of Night of the Living Dead there’s a 28 Days Later which will then spawn its own legion of imitations, and whose innovations (running zombies, infection instead of reanimation of corpses and so on) will become conventions of their own.
The Boogeyman was released in 1980, after Halloween became the top grossing independent film up to that time, but before the conventions of the Slasher sub-genre it helped create were set in stone. The Boogeyman defies expectations for the genre by combining ghost and possession film tropes with the POV techniques used in Halloween. German actor/director Ulli Lommel, who migrated from acting in Fassbinder films to directing films for Warhol to directing awful no-budget genre films, put the first nail in his own coffin when he directed this inexplicably successful ($35 million on a $300,000 budget) slog of a film which is little more than a collage of scenes, ideas, and techniques from other, better horror films. Lommel has cranked out 42 more films since 1980, with not one, not two, but three of them consisting primarily of portions of this film.
The Boogeyman starts by ripping off Halloween‘s famed opening sequence, showing the exterior of an old house at night, where two children watch their mother make out with a creep. The kids are found out, so the boy ends up tied to a bed frame while Mom and her boyfriend play dress-up in her bedroom, with Mom putting a nylon stocking over creepy’s head. The girl cuts the boy loose with a huge kitchen knife, which the boy proceeds to use to murder the boyfriend. Please note that there is no reason to use POV cam here, as the assailant is known for the entire sequence, and it lacks impact because the boy murders the creepy boyfriend (justifiable homicide?) rather than a complete innocent. Personally, I’ll take Carpenter’s opening, not just because it’s more technically accomplished, but the sequence is unsettling on a level other than “this is going to be a sleazy film, isn’t it?”
Cut to 20 years later. The girl, Lacey (Suzanna Love, Lommel’s DuPont heiress wife who apparently financed many of his films) is now married to Jake (Canadian actor Ron James), has a son named Kevin and lives on her aunt and uncle’s farm. Her brother, Willy (Suzanna’s real life brother Nick, who went on to bit parts in films like The Dead Pool), is mute and also lives on the farm. When a letter from Lacey and Willy’s mother arrives asking to see them one last time, a sense of foreboding comes over Lacey. She begins to have nightmares where the boyfriend attacks her. Jake takes her to see Dr. Warren (John Carradine, Monstroid, who makes for one creepy psychiatrist). Warren hypnotizes Lacey, which reveals the murder-and results in Lacey being possessed by…something…so he sends Jake and Lacey to the old house to confront her demons. Instead, she literally confronts the spirit of the boyfriend, who lives in the mirror that was there when Willy killed him. Lacey flips out when she sees him in the mirror, and she smashes it-a big mistake, as this releases the (evil spirit? ghost? memory of the bad things that happened?) into the shards of the mirror. Worse, Jake takes the pieces back to the farm so he can make Lacey confront her fears (?) by gluing them back together.
Unfortunately the shards keep being left places, which leads to random murders by a combo of TK and possession. First the kids of the new owners of Lacey’s old house get slaughtered by, in order, perverted scissors (they pause in their attempt to stab a girl by having her cut open her blouse-you stay classy, Ulli), a window (yes, a window falling on your neck at normal speed can kill, so be careful!) and a bathroom mirror that flies open at, again, normal speed killing future Sassy editor Jane Pratt, but not before she drops the shard she’s holding into the drain, resulting in foreshadowing…err, a gout of flame! Later shards will cause a pitchfork to unsuccessfully attack Willy, and the reflection off a shard stuck to Kevin’s foot will cause random teenagers to stop boinking and start getting killed in an elaborate and idiotic manner. Jake finally figures out there’s some bad mojo when the spirit nearly dumps Kevin down a well and tears up Lacey’s shirt, so he gets a local ineffective priest (in a scene scored with the worst rip-off of the Exorcist theme I’ve heard in a while) to come out to the farm, but he gets there too late to save the aunt and uncle. Finally there is a climatic (?) battle between red and green lamps, some wind effects, images stolen from The Amityville Horror and Carrie-that is, between the spirit in the mirror and Willy, Lacey, Jake and the priest, which is only resolved when Willy, like Garbo, talks, and Jake figures out that mirror+water=explosion. Guess we didn’t need that exorcism after all! In the last scene in a cemetery we learn that it’s not over…because that fragment is still attached to Kevin’s shoe!
For reasons that are unclear, The Boogeyman enjoys a reputation as an early 1980s horror film that’s a cut above the simpler, more direct Friday the 13th style slashers that were to follow. The Boogeyman spends just as much time ripping off earlier horror hits as those other films-it just takes the time to mix and match a little bit of Carrie-style telekinesis with a few shots of spooky, Amityville windows, and Exorcists with its heavy helping of POV shots of the ghost attacks (accompanied by Michael Myers style heavy breathing) lifted from Halloween. The two separate batches of characters the film introduces just to kill them in novel ways would become standard in the later Friday the 13th sequels. The ghost effects and even effective gore is far beyond the ability of the FX team, and Jake’s insistence, in the face of all evidence, to fail to notice the evidence of supernatural events around him is a cliché in haunting films. The psychiatrist scenes add nothing but the limited marquee value of John Carradine’s name, and there are multiple red-herring scenes with Willy early in the film which go nowhere. The only bright spot is the performances of the Loves, who do a good job making Lacey and Willy likable and easy to root for. Still, this hardly makes-up for the film’s cheap look, bad supporting cast, use of the “random dead meat” device, transparent steals from better films and complete lack of energy and any kind of scares. Not recommended for anyone.
The completely misleading trailer:
The entire film at Crackle.com: