New To Blu: The Boogeyman

The '80s horror flick, The Boogeyman finally comes home in a bluray package.

A vintage slasher flick from the height of the genre's first bloody wave, The Boogeyman was a staple of the 1980s home video horror boom. Anyone who browsed video store shelves in the '80s or early-'90s will likely remember its eye-grabbing big-box release from Wizard Video, which was one of the iconic label's most prominent and widely-distributed titles. Yet that time-capsule-ish remembrance is about where The Boogeyman's pop-cultural impact ends: for some reason it never quite developed the lasting cult following that some of the other second-tier slashers like The Burning and Sleepaway Camp managed to, and has largely been forgotten. Perhaps this is because of its indifferent – and often out-of-print – DVD releases, or perhaps it just gets lost in the sea of similar films that came out around the same time. But now The Boogeyman has arrived on Blu-ray for the first time, thanks to an all-region release from the UK's 88 Films (under its British title, The Bogeyman – with the American title included on a reversible sleeve). With an impressive transfer and a new retrospective interview with writer/director Ulli Lommel, this forgotten slasher deserves another look; but will it hold up as a worthy entry in the genre, or is it best remembered as a cool oversized VHS box?

At a glance, what stands out most about The Boogeyman is the pedigree of its writer/director. Ulli Lommel began his career as a colleague and friend of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Andy Warhol, directing minor cult classics like Tenderness of the Wolves, Blank Generation, and Cocaine Cowboys, and acting in several of Fassbinder's films. Based on that, one could easily expect from him a more unique vision or higher level of artistry than most '80s low-budget horror directors; or at least a bit more ambition. But a quick look at his more recent filmography – stuff like Zombie Nation and B.T.K. Killer – should tip you off to the fact that this guy is no Fassbinder. While The Boogeyman is a perfectly well-made early slasher flick, Lommel seemed to have very little ambition to go beyond the conventions of drive-in-style horror. While his early career may have made him a pretty interesting guy, it didn't do much to make him a better director. But that said, he didn't make a bad film; just not one that would redefine the genre as we know it.

There is one thing about The Boogeyman that makes it pretty unique for this first wave of slasher flicks: it has a supernatural premise, with some sort of evil force filling in for the usual masked killer. Weapons float around on their own searching for a victim, creepy telekinetic stuff happens, disembodied voices say ominous things... the threat is definitely a bit more interesting than your garden-variety deformed forest dweller with a chip on his shoulder. But beyond that nifty twist on the formula, this is by-the-books all the way, with particular reliance on tropes from Halloween. Prologue in which something horrible happens involving one of the key players as a child? Check. Horny teens who turn up for no reason except to be Boogeyman fodder? Check. Oblivious protagonists who take an insanely long time to realize that murders are happening all around them? Check. The supernatural twist largely just means that The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror are also fair game to borrow heavily from. The primary setting is a house that looks suspiciously like the one from Amityville, and the musical score – while pretty cool and classic early-80s – is clearly a hybrid of John Carpenter and Tubular Bells.

But honestly, so what? Unoriginality was pretty much the name of the game for the plot of any post-Friday the 13th slasher flick, so that's hardly a crime or a deal-breaker. The question is: is it a fun movie, and does it deliver in the slashings department? And for the most part, the answer is yes. It's a bit slow to start, since none of the characters are particularly strong, interesting, or well-acted (star Suzanna Love is no Jamie Lee Curtis), but a guest appearance by John Carradine and a couple decent nightmare sequences keep things moving until the Boogeyman shows up. From that point onward, the movie basically doesn't care about anything except the supernatural slasher sequences; it knows why viewers are watching, and isn't concerned about narrative logic as long as it can get from one gore sequence to the next. The typical stock teen victims are transparently unnecessary to the plot, and only show up soon enough to die. Story-wise, this is a big weakness; there just isn't any reason for us to care about them, like we do about the much better-developed teen leads in films like Halloween. But the sequences themselves are pretty strong, with decent suspense, creative kills, and practical gore effects that – while not Tom Savini quality – are pretty good for a low-budget genre entry. And a few of the sequences do make pretty effective use of the supernatural killer's telekinetic abilities. One memorable kill in particular offers a darkly comic twist on a famous moment from Friday the 13th that genre fans should get a kick out of.

Visually the film is equally uneven, delivering the goods in some parts while seeming totally ambivalent in others. The portions of the film that are shot in the daytime look decent but unspectacular; again, Lommel had no art-house aspirations here, and the cinematography is strictly utilitarian. But the scenes that are set at night look pretty cool, with lots of the stylized colored light that '80s horror films used so well. When the Boogeyman comes, intense blues, pinks, reds, and greens are sure to follow. The film also has a pretty nifty visual motif involving mirrors and reflections, which have something to do with the killer's supernatural powers. The most interesting shots in the film are the ones that use mirrors in their compositions, and give the household objects a sense of foreboding.

"Mommy. Check this new knife out!!
Watching the film after the release of 2013's Oculus, I was struck by how that film's writer/director appears to have been influenced by The Boogeyman. Oculus is a very different sort of film, in both plot and style, but the stories start from a fairly similar jumping-off point, involving childhood tragedy and horrors involving mirrors. It seems like writer/director Mike Flanagan saw The Boogeyman on VHS as a kid, and it made a big impression that remained in the back of his mind until he started writing his own scripts as an adult.

Which just goes back to The Boogeyman as an artifact of nostalgia from the days of renting horror movies on tape at the local video store. It's probably best appreciated in that context, paired with its once-ubiquitous oversized box from Wizard. It isn't a great movie – it's very uneven, with its harmful apathy towards narrative logic – and 35 more years of the same slasher tropes repeated over and over haven't done it any favors. While the supernatural angle does help set it apart, what you will get is pretty much a by-the-books early-80s slasher; no more, no less. For fans of the genre, it's certainly worth a look, but it is hardly essential viewing. However, it's great that 88 Films has finally given us this typically-neglected title in high def, with a decently long interview with Ulli Lommel to put it into perspective. And while it is a UK release, 88 Films should be thanked for making it an all-region disc, so we Americans can enjoy it too (although we do have to buy it direct from the 88 films web site, as Amazon annoyingly doesn't carry it here). At the very least, it's good to know that companies like this are so dedicated to giving lesser-known '80s cult horror films a home in the high def age, showing such love and care to even more obscure, less unique flicks like this one.

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-Christopher S. Jordan