The Boogeyman (1980) (DVD)

I gotta boogie! I gotta boogie! I gotta boogie on my finger and I can’t shake it off!

It’s another ’80s cult-following horror flick, fondly remembered by some, not remembered at all by others. Heavily influenced by Halloween and The Exorcist, this boogeyman is a ghostly slasher out for revenge.

When they were children, siblings Lacey and Willy are abused by their mother’s drunken boyfriend. Willy took revenge by taking a knife and killing the guy in a bloody mess, while Lacey watched him do so reflected in a mirror. Years later, Lacey (Suzanna Love, The Devonsville Terror) and Willy (Nicholas Love, Twin Peaks) live on a quaint little farm and are trying to move on. Lacey is married and has a little boy, but some intense nightmares reveal that she’s still not over what happened. Willy, meanwhile, isn’t dealing with it very well either. He hasn’t spoken since that night, he keeps snakes and tarantulas as pets, and he has his own personal knife collection.

When her psychiatrist (John Carradine, Ice Pirates) suggests Lacy visit her childhood home as a way of freeing herself from her personal demons, pretty much the exact opposite happens. She spots the same mirror where she once spied the murder, freaks out, and smashes it with a chair. Oh, Lacey, you shouldn’t have done that, because you’ve unleashed your mom’s beau’s evil spirit, and he’s out for vengeance. Now, Lacey, her family, and anyone else reflected in the mirror’s broken pieces will meet their gory end at the invisible hand of the Boogeyman.

I remember The Boogeyman very well from back in 1980. Actually, that’s not true. I never did see The Boogeyman at the theater, but I did see the trailer several times, and that’s what I remember. It promised an invisible baddie, and included a memorable shot of a girl in terror as an unknown force tears off part of her blouse. Watching that trailer while taking the first steps toward adolescence gave me strange grown-up feelings I never knew I had before. Now that I’ve actually seen the movie, it’s not quite the disturbingly sexy ride I’d hoped it would be as a kid, but there’s still enough here to satisfy the curiosity of any ’80s horror fans who haven’t yet sought it out.

The film borrows heavily from two big hits that preceded it. Remember all those moments during the first third of Halloween, where we see everything through Michael Myers’ eyes, hearing his breathing while he stalks the pretty girls? There are a lot of shots like that here. In fact, director Ulli Lommel uses this gimmick numerous times to prolong the suspense, and some might feel that it’s overdone. Later in the film, when all hell really breaks loose, the movie takes on a vibe straight out of The Exorcist, complete with a possession, a never-say-die priest, and lots of gooey slimy stuff. Except that this version adds funky bright green and red lights.

As Lacey, actress and heiress Suzanna Love is possibly the best thing about the movie—after the vindictive title character, of course. Not only is she adorable, but she plays scared without overdoing it. She’s called upon to run through the horror movie gauntlet of emotions, from the happy home life, to frightened, to possessed, and she does it all just fine.

I have to wonder what the Willy character’s place in the movie is. Sure, he’s the one who commits the murder, and there all kinds of red herrings planted early on to make viewers think he’s the big bad. That’s not really a spoiler. If you’ve read the back of the package, you already know it’s not him. Plus, anyone even remotely familiar with horror flicks can see the fake-out coming long before it happens. Beyond that, though, Willy doesn’t serve the story very much. He’s the one who killed our bloodthirsty monster, but said monster is more interested in Lacey. During the big finale, when Lacey is in danger, poor Willy is downsized to just a few reaction shots. Shouldn’t that be the point when he becomes the hero?

The script has a few other problems. At around the midpoint, the movie changes its focus to a group of mid-30s “teenagers” who become the Boogeyman’s next victims. The plot stops, they are introduced, they get killed, and then the plot resumes. I’m not saying the sequence should be cut it contains one of the movie’s most creative death scenes but disconnecting it from the narrative is sloppy writing. Why not establish early on that these “teens” are friends of Lacey’s, and she’s the one who discovers what’s happened to them? By that point in the story, she’s already paranoid that supernatural evil is after her, so this would have upped the tension as the movie heads toward the finale.

Flip the disc over, and you get a second movie, Return of the Boogeyman. Now, I assumed this would be the 1983 sequel, but no. It turns out there’s a third one. Made in 1994, Return of the Boogeyman features a bland psychiatrist (Omar Kaczmarczyk) and his bland Euro-trash assistant (Richard Quick) as they try to help a bland psychic named Annie (Kelly Galinda) get over her nightmares. In her dreams and psychic visions, Annie relives the events from the first film. We have to relive them too, because about 80 percent of the movie is footage taken directly from The Boogeyman. Only the sound has been removed, replaced by Annie’s in-a-trance narration. It’s less like a movie and more like the worst commentary you could imagine.

The audio and visual quality of The Boogeyman is much poorer than we’ve come to expect from the DVD format. Scenes during daylight look OK, but dark scenes are grey and hazy. The audio is unimpressive; a missed opportunity where the quirky score is concerned. Return of the Boogeyman has bigger problems. The 1980 footage has been hacked to pieces to fit the full screen aspect ratio, and somehow the 1994 looks worse, with a grainy, muddy picture that looks slightly purple at times. The actors’ voices are distorted, and often overpowered by the effects or music. The only extras are seven trailers for other horror/action Sony Pictures releases. That original trailer that I remember so fondly from my youth? Not included here.

So, what about the flop that was 2004’s The Boogeyman? Turns out it’s neither a remake nor a sequel to this semi-franchise. Those filmmakers just took the name and ran with it. I guess we’ll have to wait another 10 years or more for a filmmaker to get another crack at making a genuinely scary movie with a “Boogeyman” theme.

So how do I pass judgment on this film? On the plus side, it has a lot of bloody thrills and unintentional laughs that these kinds of movies are beloved for. In the negative column, it’s not all that original, and the script could’ve used a few revisions before production started. I say play it safe and make it a rental.

The Verdict

The only thing The Boogeyman is guilty of is being campy ’80s horror. As for Return of the Boogeyman, toss it down the well.

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