The Boogeyman (1980)
Directed by Ullli Lommel
Written by Ulli Lommel
Starring Suzanna Love, Nicholas Love, John Carradine
Release Date November 14th, 1980
Published June 6th, 2023
I often find myself fascinated by the rudimentary elements of filmmaking. There are very basic things that a director must be able to accomplish in order to achieve a level of professionalism and competence. Director Ulli Lommel demonstrates a level of professionalism and competence in The Boogeyman, at least in the first several scenes in the film, the best scenes in the film. Beyond that, he's a crazy person who crafted a bizarre screenplay, much of which feels as if he was whipping it up on set as the film were being made in a slapdash attempt to meet some arbitrary filming deadline.
The Boogeyman opens on a visually striking set piece. An older woman is lying on a couch and calling for her lover. He approaches and she proceeds to place her stocking over his head. At this point, we glimpse two children outside the window of the home. Through visual and context clues, it's clear that these two children belong to this woman, and she has left them outside of the home specifically so that she can be alone with this man. Seeing the children through the window infuriates the man and he proceeds to punish the older brother.
He ties the boy to a bed, and this leads to a terrific series of horror visuals. The little sister, all of three years old, goes to the kitchen and finds a very large knife on the counter. The knife catches the moonlight and the incongruousness of a small girl, and a large knife provides a terrific horror movie shock. From there, we see the knife again as the little girl stands in her brother's doorway. For a moment, we wonder if she's about to murder him. Instead, she cuts her brother loose and hands over the knife to him. This leads to a sequence where the camera takes the position of the boy as he walks down the hallway.
We see his arm as if it were our own. He walks down the hall to his mother's bedroom where she and the man, still wearing a stocking on his head, are about to make love. The boy proceeds to murder this man, stabbing him repeatedly in the back. I believe that this is a terrific sequence. It's followed by another basic and formal bit of visual storytelling. The story leaps ahead in time. We know this because the visual style, the cinematography, is brighter and more modern. Our main clue however to this shift in time is a very simple pan across a crowd inside a church.
Immediately following the murder, we are thrust to a new location, a cemetery. The camera flashes across several gravestones before coming to rest on a church where the sound of the scene is coming from. We jump cut inside and listen to the Priest delivering a sermon. The camera watches the Priest briefly before beginning a slow pan over the crowd at the church. This is a well done and yet incredibly basic bit of film language. As a trained audience member, we know that when the camera stops, it will stop on the protagonists of the film. It's something we all know instinctively and is rarely thought of or pondered.
The camera stops on a man and a woman and the visual marriage of one scene to the next via context tells us that this is the grown-up little boy and girl. It's incredibly simple filmmaking. It plays on our expectations, and it visually contextualizes what we have seen before. The new status quo of the movie is in our modern time, 1980, and the characters we witnessed go through this horrendous trauma are still alive and well. We will learn more about them and the story that began so many years in the past will once again come to the fore.
That's a terrific start for a movie. Sadly, it's all downhill from here in The Boogeyman. The film takes the vague concept of The Boogeyman and crafts an utterly ludicrous story regarding a mirror and the man that the little boy killed. Through supernatural nonsense, the murdered man's soul is trapped in a mirror. When the mirror breaks, the murdered man's soul is released and begins to kill whoever is nearest to a piece of the broken mirror. He's seen only one time after he's killed, as a reflection in the mirror before it is shattered, and then the man is never seen again.
The murders committed by 'The Boogeyman' are carried out by his ghost... I guess. We see people get murdered and the implements of their death are not wielded by a human hand. The first victim is somehow forced to stab herself in the throat. The second dies when, I am presuming here, the ghost slams a window down on his neck. Subsequent victims have no connection to the mirror in any way but are in slight proximity to a piece of the mirror and are thus able to be killed by the unseen big bad Boogeyman.
It's a whole lot of nonsense. None of the violence or gore is nearly as effective as the opening scene of the film. The visual style of The Boogeyman only grows blander and while I liked the casting of the adult versions of these child characters, the script abandons them and what little intrigue they can summon rather quickly, in favor of the silly mirror plot. I assumed that we were going to see the brother and sister either at odds as one of them goes on their own killing spree or, perhaps, working together to dispatch people who dredge up their past, like the girl's pushy husband.
Nope, mirror shenanigans is somehow more appealing to director Ulli Lommel. Perhaps it all made sense in his head, but it doesn't translate on screen. In practice, the story of The Boogeyman is silly and nonsensical. There is nary a second of attention given to why a mirror would suddenly be the vehicle for a demonic-ghost killer. The man who was killed in the opening scene was kind of a creep and abusive toward the kids, but he's not established as a murderer. Indeed, he's not well established beyond the silly looking stocking on his head.
I truly believe that the basic building blocks were in place for The Boogeyman. I think there was a potential to take the smart, basic building blocks that Lommel wielded well in the opening two scenes and make a quite serviceable horror movie. Sadly, whatever potential there was in either Lommel or his conception of The Boogeyman, went by the wayside due to his bizarre obsession with making a mirror into a villain in his horror movie.
It's interesting to me that I was just writing about the movie Arachnophobia. I was writing about how director Frank Marshall skillfully made spiders into a formidable horror villain. I was unsure that I could be convinced to be afraid of a villain that I could defeat with a rolled up newspaper. But Marshall skillfully makes a case to be afraid of how stealthy and super-smart his made up spiders were. It's proof that a good director can make anything into a horror villain.
Mirrors however, though they have rich subtextual meaning that can be mined, rarely turn out as great horror villains on their own. The 1990 movie, Mirror Mirror, which I also wrote about recently, tried to make us fear a mirror. That film ends with the Mirror defeated by placing a sheet over it. Not the most satisfying horror conclusion, as you can imagine. You might assume that that movie and this movie, The Boogeyman, would each end with someone smashing the evil mirror. You would be mistaken. Mirror Mirror ends, as I said, with a sheet. The Boogeyman's evil mirror is defeated by pouring water on it. If that doesn't perfectly comment about how ill-conceived Ulli Lommel's The Boogeyman is, nothing does.
The Boogeyman (1980) is the classic on the newest edition of the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. It was chosen to coincide with the release of a new movie called The Boogeyman which is perhaps better than this one. Both films are not good but where The Boogeyman (1980) has the excuse of a mad director obsessed with mirrors, the modern Boogeyman has no excuse for how remarkably, tediously, boring that it is. You can hear me and my co-host Jeff Lassiter laughing over both versions of The Boogeyman wherever you listen to podcasts.
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