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The unexpected global success of John Carpenter's Halloween opened the floodgates and a wave of slasher films of varying quality soon swamped the cinematic landscape (most horror fans will know that Carpenter's film wasn't the first “slasher” - Mario Bava's Bay of Blood and Bob Clark's Black Christmas served as templates for Halloween.) Aside from the many direct knock-offs, which featured mysterious killers and high body-counts, there were more offbeat variations on the subject and German director Ulli Lommel's The Bogeyman (as it was called in the UK) was certain one of the more unusual takes on the sub-genre...

Ah, this brings back memories of the old Vipco cover!

As children, Lacy (Suzanna Love) and her brother Willy (Nicholas Love) witnessed their slutty mother picking up a sleazy one-night stand; when spotted getting it on, the pick-up ties up Willy in order to get some piece and quiet. Lacy unties her brother and he takes a large carving knife and sticks something long and hard into the back of their mother's casual acquaintance.

Jumping forward over two decades, the now adult Lacy and Willy are living on a farm with relatives; Lacy is married with a young child and Willy has never spoken since. After deciding not to go and see their mother before she croaks, Lacy and Willy take it upon themselves to go and see their old house, which was the location of that one event that so drastically shaped their formative years, only to discover that the mirror that witnessed the fatal mayhem is not only still there but the evil force retained in it is unleashed again when Lacy smashes it into several hundred pieces.

Director Ulli Lommel was a student of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and some of the ideas behind The Boogeyman can be thought of as Lommel tentatively dipping his toes into the waters of more thought-provoking subjects, such as suppressed childhood memories resurfacing in adulthood, amongst other things. The Boogeyman almost feels as though Lommel was under orders to make a Halloween knock-off, but wanted to take the initial idea and veer off in a different cinematic direction.

The film starts with an opening scene which is awfully similar to the opening scene of a certain popular John Carpenter horror film from a couple of years earlier; it is night and there is a POV shot of someone approaching a predominately white wooden house at night – through the window, a couple just about to have sex can be seen and it is revealed that the person the audience has been viewing the pre-coital action is one of two children Willy and Lacy – unlike Carpenter's Michael Myers, they are just curious as to what is going on, or at least one of them is, anyway. Things take a more sinister turn, when we discover that the woman they are watching via-fenistra, so to speak, is their mother and the guy just about to put his order for breakfast is some sleazy pick-up who doesn't like kids and proceeds to tie up the young Willy in a manner that implies that he'll be doing something similar to his mother later on. Though the variables are different, the ultimate result is the same, with a young boy murdering someone who has just gotten laid.

The manner in which the children have been affected and deal with their shared childhood experience as adults is markedly different; Willy has been so scarred by it all that he has effectively become mute and has not uttered a word since that fateful night; Lacy just smokes.

Hmm - look familar? John Carpenter must have sprayed beer everywhere when he saw this opener...

Lacy's husband, Jake (Ron James), acts as an anchor for Lacy, being one of those solid, dependable types – strong, but not overly macho – who prevents Lacy from going off the deep end as events take a decidedly supernatural and murderous turn as the story progresses. At one point, it is revealed that Jake has painstakingly reconstructed the smashed mirror in an act of devotion that borders on the obsessive – it's a pity that the one missing piece just happens to be stuck on the bottom of his son's shoe and that it's a case of “have evil, will travel” as the body-count increases wherever the kid goes, particularly when a bunch of horny teens decide to have a party beside a lake.

Speaking of which, though there is a reasonably amount of characters meeting their maker during the film, Lommel chooses to exercise a level of restraint in the amount of gore seen on-screen; Lommel takes the concept of seeing sex-crazed young people in horror films (who more often than not come to a sticky end moments after coming to a sticky end) and presents it in a more frank and honest fashion – for example, one of the bunch of lakeside party-people attempts to fellate another one of the group in a dingy boathouse, which is far removed from the idealised – and sanitised – sex that is depicted in other horror films of the period. Most of the victims in the film aren't actually related to Willy and Lacy – the poor sods just happen to be collateral damage whenever a fragment of the mirror is around. The most amount of blood and gore in the film is reserved for the fate of the local priest, who tries to tackle evil head-on in a very Father Merrin-type manner and the ultimate outcome is the same, but with more blood.

The concept of evil being memories being trapped (or at least contained) as a reflection of a mirror is a fascinating one, and not something found in some of the more conventional “slasher” films that began to surface in the wake of the success of Halloween; Lacy and Willy were both subjected to childhood trauma and the memory of their harrowing experience confined within the mirror, which could be seen as representing their collective minds and the breaking of the mirror unleashed what had long been suppressed.

In what is a strange throwaway piece near the start of the film, Lacy and Willy's terminally-ill mother writes them a letter, in which she says that she has a right to see them before she dies; neither of her emotionally-scarred offspring want to have anything to do with her and the letter is hastily destroyed. The letter merely serves as the basis for the main part of the film, it could be looked upon as a Hitchcockian MacGuffin, something not overly important, but it would have been interesting to have had the mother explain her actions to her grown-up children.

An overreaction? Possibly, but she was only in the barn after Willy...

The letter from the dying mother instantly starts to put the adult Lacy on edge – apart from reaching for a fag at melodramatic moments, she is also somewhat jumpier and begins to see horror in seemingly mundane actions (watch director Lommel wring tension from one of her family carving a chicken – we kid you not!). What is interesting is that although Lommel employs some of the so-called “cheap tricks” used in horror/slasher films of the period, i.e. sudden appearance of another character in shot accompanied by a musical “sting” to generate a false-start, he does it in a subtle way that isn't intended to make the audience soil itself, but it is done to startle the character on-screen. There are those who would argue that Lommel was failing to understand the point of a horror film, but it shows just how interested he was in character and story.

There are shades of Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in the character of Willy, as the hulking muscle-bound simpleton is seen as a threat because of his size and the fact that there are aspects to him which seemingly ostracise him from the conventional norms of society and those around him are led to believe that he is a key part of the events unfolding around Lacy, such as  Willy's response to an attempted seduction by one of the locals (who was obviously looking for Willy- ahem), which results in him using his strength to lift the willing wench off the ground by her throat and half choking the life out of her. Unlike Lennie in Steinbeck's masterpiece, Willy is able to vindicate himself and is an integral part of the resolution of the unfortunate situation at the film's climax.

Speaking (or not, as the case may be) of Willy's refusal to talk, just like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Nova in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, or Joey in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, it's no great surprise that toward the end of the final act, Willy's psychological block is going to crumble and he'll say something – it'll probably be something about his foot or juniper bushes....

Screen legend John Carradine makes what is effectively a three scene cameo as a psychiatrist who helps Lacy come to terms with her traumatic childhood experience. Carradine might not have been one of the top-tier horror stars of yesteryear and and his final years just seemed to consist of cameos in the films by the likes of Fred Olen Ray and others to have a “name” to put on marquees, but his presence was always welcome in whatever he appeared in and at least in the handful of scenes he's in here, he delivers a lot of important expository dialogue that helps key the slower members of the audience in on what's going on – it's always a thankless task, but Carradine does it with his customary professionalism. It's interesting that most of Carradine's stuff is shot in an office that has a huge mirror that takes up an entire wall, and that Lommel chose to shoot these scenes with the camera mainly aimed at the reflection, slyly extending the theme that runs through the film, and adding an extra layer inferring that certain types of psychological analysis allow the subject to see itself reflected (or even refracted) during a session. It's during one of these scenes with Carradine that Love's character goes into full-on Exorcist mode, delivering her dialogue with a rasping screech that probably had William Friedkin's finger twitching over the speed-dial button to his legal people – the film is unique enough in tone to succeed without trying to ape something else, so this piece sticks out like a sore thumb.

"It must be Love..."

What is there to say about Susanna Love that probably hasn't been said so many times before? She's an absolutely gorgeous actress who looks amazing on screen and delivers a great performance as the troubled Lacy. Love was married to director Lommel for several years and much like Tim Burton, she was the lead actress for the films Lommel directed whilst they were together. Love's Lacy is an unconventional horror film heroine, as she is happily married, has a young child and smokes, in stark contrast to the “virginal” type that was the staple of American horror films of the time.

Though he really doesn't have much to say for himself, Nicholas Love puts in a pretty good turn as the mute Willy, being able to convey much with his facial expressions, even if most of them project a haunted demeanour; Suzanna and Nicholas were siblings in real life and this can be seen in their on-screen chemistry.

Lommel's film has a look of almost guerilla film-making about it, and this was pretty much the case, as most of the film was shot on location at a farm owned by one of Love's relatives, but it provides a very homely feel that contrasts nicely with the demonic havoc that begins to happen over the course of the film; legend has it that Love herself bankrolled much of the production, even writing cheques on-set to keep the thing going.

Quite why The Boogeyman fell foul of the Department of Public Prosecutions is pretty baffling, as apart from a couple of gore sequences, there isn't really anything particularly violent or shocking. Maybe it's that some of the violence happens to kids and teenagers - the opening scene that shows young Willy being trussed up like something out of an Eric Kroll publication probably rubbed someone up the wrong way back then, though given modern day sensibilities, you'd have thought that this scene would be more shocking now. The death-by-scissors scene is possibly the most gory piece in the film, but even that is relatively restrained, with only a couple of close-ups of the sharp ends penetrating the neck and one or two shots of the aftermath. It's possible that some of the subtle aping of The Exorcist instantly waved a red rag to the-then BBFC Chief Censor James Ferman, who   took a unreasonably hard line against William Friedkin's classic film, and played a small part in The Boogeyman being branded a “Video Nasty”.

Tim Krog's music score, is certainly an effective mishmash of various popular horror elements that were either popular or up-and-coming at the time, with the most obvious influence being Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells from The Exorcist, which manifests itself in the form of a simple tinkling motif that is contstantly repeated as the basis of a form of percussion, along with other layers being applied to add richness to the composition. Elsewhere, when there are moments which ape Halloween, including hand-held/tracking POV shots, there is synth music that provides an underlying mood (or Moog) which is very reminiscent of John Carpenter's wonderful electronic scores from the late seventies, even having accompanying heavy breathing on the soundtrack seems to cement the 'cinematic magpie' approach. The electronic music also seems to borrow or even pre-date some of the work seen in American and Italian horrors of the eighties, where keyboard-based scores eventually gave up trying to up traditional music scores and proudly began to develop their own unique sounds - there is a tinkly, dreamlike piece employed several times in the film that seems to represent Lacy and Willy's childhood innocence which is just wonderful. The music score to The Boogeyman may sound overly-familiar in places, but it's very entertaining and is even able to throw in some genuinely innovative touches of it's own now and again, much like the film itself.

The Boogeyman is not without it's flaws; mainly they are of a technical nature, with some of the lighting occasionally switching jarringly between artsy for mid-shots to being lit by a floodlight on a close-up; some of the practical effects shots where bright light is being reflected in a piece of glass attached to an actor is spotty due to the tiny movements of the actor's head whilst delivering dialogue, etc. There are enough displays of ingenuity and the story moves along at a sufficiently fast  enough pace that these can be forgiven, or at least overlooked.

The Boogeyman ends with the a possibility of a sequel, which ultimately took the form of one of the biggest cinematic rip-offs of all time – Revenge of The Boogeyman, which re-used nearly 50 percent of footage from the first film. Trust us, the second Boogeyman film really stinks.

Video


88 Films has proudly brought Ulli Lommel's psychological horror into the age of high-definition and the results are nothing short of astonishing. We first watched The Boogeyman when it was released on video by the infamous Vipco about 25 years ago and we also bought the Anchor Bay DVD from 1999, with each release seeing a noticeable increase in clarity, but nothing could quite prepare us for how breathtaking The Boogeyman looks on Blu-ray.

Colour plays an important part during the climax of the film, with vibrant greens and reds filling the screen and the clarity and depth of these colours are really showcased in the transfer here; it's not just during the showier moments that the colours pop – some of the subtle hues that are seen during the open scenes are pleasing to the eye and make you appreciate what Lommel was trying to achieve even more.

Presented in 1.78:1 and with a bit-rate averaging at a very healthy 31mps, image detail is wonderful, with smaller details being easily picked out that had previously been lost, such as a stack of board games can be seen in the background in one shot, the names of them can be read in his edition – Parcheesi, anyone? The impressive image detail also extends to being able to accurately depict every single hair follicle on Willy's stubbly chin, not to mention revealing the thin wires used to tear Suzanna Love's clothing during one scene. The apparent cropping of the image from 1.85:1 isn;'t an issue at all, as the difference is minimal. There is a natural amount of grain over the image that is not smeary or artificial in nature and the black levels are most impressive for a film of this vintage.

Audio


The PCM 2.0 audio presented here is fine, with Tim Krog's musical “greatest horror hits of the seventies” score coming across with a degree of fidelity and depth that greats the ear with a firm-but-friendly “hello”. There is also a nice amount of bass, which adds punch to the score. The upswing in sonic clarity is such that the scene where the kid gets his neck broken by the falling window is rendered more shocking and effective, as you can clearly hear the sound of several vertebrae being crushed.

Extras


Ulli Lommel Interview: Clad in a fetching hounds-tooth hat and matching scarf, the German director has a haunted quality to him as he relays anecdotes about his life and career. Lommel speaks at length on various subjects, including how he came to collaborate with Andy Warhol, and most relevantly, The filming of The Boogeyman, including how horror icon John Carradine came to be in the film, how much he was paid for his single day's work and likening the relationship between them to that of Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi.

To sat that Lommel isn't the most excitable person is could quite comfortably an understatement; in  measured tones, he mentions that he recently worked with John Carradine's son, David, and you can't help but think that there is a degree of cupboard love (which is, strangely enough, what ultimately killed Caradine Jr...). Not mentioning that David Carradine is now very much deceased is a giveaway that the interview was conducted a few years ago.

Lommel speaks about the huge success of The Boogeyman (to the point where demand meant that additional prints of the film couldn't be produced fast enough, and the inevitable Boogeyman II as he tries to explain away one of the biggest con-jobs in film history and even says that he got “some really good reviews for the movie” - I hate to think what illicit substances they were ingesting at the time, but Suzanna Love probably put them on to the supplier.

The director of The Boogeyman is an intelligent person, touching upon existential matters during this interview, but he is clearly uncomfortable being in front of a camera and is obviously much happier behind it. It's worth about 17 minutes of your time, but caution – may cause drowsiness.

Trailer: Looking as rough as arseholes, this trailer tries to squeeze in the title as many times as possible during it's two minute duration and gives away most of the kills from the film. It goes without saying that you shouldn't watch it before seeing the film, which is ironic, really, as  trailers are created to be seen before the film.

TV Spots: These are cut-down versions of the trailer, but have the added attraction of actor Percy Rodriguez, whose velvety tones were employed to great effect on the trailer of Jaws a few years earlier.

Stills Gallery: A fairly brief series of moving images, including stills, posters and lobby cards appear here, all set to the main theme of the film.

Booklet: Calum Waddel managed to achieve the almost impossible and was able to conduct an interview with the somewhat reclusive star of The Boogeyman, Suzanna Love. After her divorce from Lommel, Love pretty much dropped off the radar and effectively retired from acting, living a quiet live and raising her child. This revealing interview has Love admitting that she spent much of her former years drinking heavily and taking hard drugs - the fact that she was an heiress to the Dupont company probably assisted her in her ability to be able to afford such pricey diversions. Love speaks about her early years, her film career and her eventual retirement with a surprising degree of frankness and humour. Waddel manages to prompt his interviewee at just the right moments to get detailed answers in areas that probably wouldn't have been touched upon.

The thorny subject of one of the biggest cinematic rip-offs in history – Revenge of The Boogeyman – is touched upon, with Love seemingly laughing off the whole debacle; if anyone's paid money to watch that cinematic bowel movement, you'll be less than satisfied with her insubstantial defence of the  film.

Suzanna Love comes across as an intelligent and articulate individual, who is more than happy to speak of aspects of her life that many would be decidedly coy about. Calum Waddel has conducted what could comfortably be described as the definitive interview with Love and it's a fascinating read.

It's Three-and-a-Half of Nine!

Overall


The Boogeyman is an enjoyable film from a director who views the horror genre through an art-house lens; the film is not in the top-tier of titles on the DPP Banned List, but it certainly sits comfortably in the upper-middle section.

The guys over at 88Films have to be applauded for bring yet another “Video Nasty” out in a wonderful high-definition transfer that will not only please fans of The Boogeyman – or even ones of The Bogeyman - but also introduce it to a whole new audience.

* Note that the images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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