Oct 20, 2013

The Boogeyman (1980)

While German actor-turned-auteur Ulli Lommel (Haytabo, Cocaine Cowboys) never received the same singular fame or fortune as his former collaborator Rainer Werner Fassbinder, he did manage to make it to Hollywood to create a somewhat ‘successful’ horror franchise that started with the highly derivative yet paradoxically strange The Boogey Man (1980) aka The Boogeyman, an international hit that made $25 million worldwide despite its mere $300,000 budget and also had the honor of making the UK's 'Video Nasties' list and spawning two sequels. Made directly after Lommel moved from Deutschland to the United States and collaborated with Andy Warhol on two cult flicks, Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Black Generation (1980), The Boogeyman was mostly filmed in bumfuck Southern Maryland, undoubtedly one of the last places one would expect a Fassbinder superstar to end up. Co-written and starring Lommel's then-wife, DuPont heiress turned actress Suzanna Love (Olivia, The Devonsville Terror), who made a number of films with the director the decade or so when the two were still married, The Boogeyman is a no-budget supernatural horror film of sorts that was made in the wake of the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), but also displays discernible influence from The Exorcist (1978) and The Amityville Horror (1979). Directed by the man behind what is arguably the greatest horror film of German New Cinema, Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe—a work co-starring and produced by Fassbinder based on real-life Weimar era cocksucker kraut serial killer Fritz Haarmann—The Boogeyman was certainly a career changing work for Lommel in that it not only made him a lot of money and set him up in Hollywood, but it is the first work where he shed his European arthouse cred and became forever pigeonholed as a horror hack and director of artistically unmerited celluloid junk, which is rather unfortunate for a man who worked with Fassbinder and Warhol and who directed a delightfully diacritic and decadent horror masterpiece like Tenderness of the Wolves

 Indeed, I would be lying if I tried to pass off The Boogeyman as anything aside from semi-supernatural quasi-schlock, yet the film has a certain crude charm to it as a work directed by a deracinated kraut who seems to have next to nil interest in the horror genre as a whole. Centering around one of Lommel’s self-proclaimed favorite themes—childhood trauma and how such traumas haunt one for the rest of their lives—The Boogeyman is also a somewhat cryptically personal work for the director as a man who came of age in war torn Germany, stating of his less than ideal birth in Berlin in December 1944, “It was 20 degrees below zero. My mother wrapped me in a carpet because she had no blanket. Around us other babies were dying. Yet I survived, and ever since I always seem to find myself in the eye of the storm.” After meeting and living next door to Elvis Presley, whose rock music ‘liberated’ the director and inspired rebellion in him, Lommel ran away from home at the mere age of 16 in what would be a life-changing and somewhat tragic experience that created an irreparable rift with the filmmaker's father. As revealed in an interview in June 2012 conducted by Rory MacLean for the Goethe Institute London, Lommel’s father Ludwig Manfred Lommel—a rather famous German radio comedian who was described as the 'German Charlie Chaplin' and who was quite popular during the Weimar and National Socialist periods—called the cops on his son after he ran away from home, and when the angst-ridden 16 year old found out, he telephoned him and yelled “How could you do this to me, you old Nazi?” in what would be the last words he ever said to his father. In The Boogeyman, the themes of childhood trauma and a nasty irreparable break with one’s parents are explored in a most brutal supernatural fashion in its depiction of a killer mirror, thus expressing in a cryptic way the pain that Lommel undoubtedly laments on via the unlikely form of seemingly nonsensical cult horror. 

 As depicted at the beginning of The Boogeyman, when they were mere tiny tots, siblings Willy and Lacey watched through an outside window their masochistic and alcohol-addled mother having sadomasochistic sex with her degenerate boyfriend, and when the two loony lovers finally noticed the two child peeping toms, the boyfriend savagely gagged and tied the little boy to a bed. In a Michael Myers-esque revenge, Willy stabbed to death his mother’s boyfriend via a butcher knife after his sister untied him from the bed. Unfortunately, aside from being the one who untied her brother, thus acting as an involuntary accessory to the bloody butchering of her mother's batshit crazy boy toy, Lacey actually witnessed the killing in a mirror and the reflection will prove to haunt her—both literally and figuratively—for the rest of her life. Flash forward twenty years later and Lacey (Suzanna Love) is married to a cop named Jake (Ron James) and has a young son of her own. Unfortunately, Willy (played by Suzanna Love’s real-life brother Nicholas Love) did not grow up to be as 'well adjusted' as his sis as he has been a mute ever since he committed the murder and now does menial labor at a farm owned by his Aunt Helen (Felicite Morgan) where his sister and her family also lives. Since Lacey has never gotten over the night that her brother brutally murdered her lecherous mother’s boyfriend, she has horrible nightmares where she is stalked with a knife and tied to a bed like her bro Willy once was, so, at the recommendation of her loving hubby Jake, she decides to consult a psychiatrist named Dr. Warren (John Carradine, whose son David Carradine would later star in Lommel's Absolute Evil – Final Exit (2009)) so she can deal with and confront her irrational fears. After speaking with the psychiatrist and going through hypnosis, Lacey, with the help of her husband, decides to go visit her mother, who she has not seen since the murder, as well as the flashback-inducing house where she grew up in that has haunted her for entire life. 

 When Lacey arrives at her quaint childhood home, she and her husband Jake talk with the new family living there and everything seems alright until the young mother sees the reflection of her mother’s dead boyfriend in a mirror upstairs and panics, smashing the mirror in the process with a chair. Rather absurdly, Jake has the bright idea to keep the broken mirror (with the consent of the owners, of course), including all the shattered glass, in an attempt to get his wife to get over her fear and the two leave to go back home with it, but a piece of the mirror is left behind, which glows red and, in no time, an unseen metaphysical force brutally slaughters the entire family living in Lacey’s old childhood home. Meanwhile, seemingly autistic Willy begins to paint all the mirrors at his family’s farmhouse black and after seeing his reflection in a mirror in a barn, he strangles a female friend of his sister who tries to get in his pants, almost killing her in the process. When Lacey and her hubby get home, Jake puts all the pieces of the mirror back together, but a couple pieces get loose, ultimately resulting in the darkly romantic deaths of a teenage couple on a nearby beach after Lacey's son's shoe, which contains a shard of glass from the mirror, shines in the teen lovers’ direction. When Jake finally becomes convinced the mirror is evil, they have the family priest, Father Reilly (Llewelyn Thomas), come by to see if an evil spirit haunts the broken mirror and sure enough, Lacey and Willy’s Uncle Ernest (Bill Rayburn) is killed after taking a flying pitchfork to the throat and not long after, Aunt Helen is found strangled to death with a hose wrapped around her corpse. After Father Reilly touches the broken mirror, it turns the entire room red and a shard of glass magically flies off, landing on Lacey’s eye and she becomes possessed with the sinister spirit of her slutty mommy’s dead lover. Eventually, husband Jake is burned up when the shard of glass covering Lacey’s eye projects a neo green laser beam onto him and Father Reilly, taking a lesson from The Exorcist, pulls out a cheap toy-like crucifix and waves it in the possessed pretty girl’s face in a lackluster attempt to exorcise the S&M-inclined evil spirit from her soul. Luckily, Father Reilly manages to get the sinister shard of glass out of Lacey’s possessed peeper, but he dies as a result of his effort, and Willy and Jake throw the rest of the smashed looking glass in a well. In the end, Willy finally gets over his acute autism and begins to talk again for the first time in twenty years and he and his sister visit the tombstone of their deceased aunt and uncle, but a red shard of glass shines in the cemetery as they leave, thus hinting at a The Boogeyman sequel. 

 Indeed, thus far there have been two sequels to The Boogeyman, including The Boogeyman 2 (1980), which was co-directed (albeit by Ulli Lommel), and Return of the Boogeyman (1994) aka Boogeyman 3, for which Lommel was an uncredited co-director and for which about half of the film was comprised of recycled footage from the original The Boogeyman film, not to mention the insertion of a bathtub murder scene from the director's cult horror flick BrainWaves (1983) aka Shadow of Death. On top of that, Lommel released a ‘director’s cut’ of The Boogeyman 2 in 2003 entitled Boogeyman 2: The Directors Cut aka Bogeyman 2 – Redux with approximately 90% of the footage being from the original The Boogeyman, in between glaring shot-on-video pseudo-documentary footage of the director pretending to talk to police in a room that is clearly his own house (as Lommel revealed in an interview, most of the original cut of The Boogeyman 2 was actually shot at his house!). Interestingly, in a recent interview, Lommel revealed that junky queer ‘literary outlaw’ William S. Burroughs helped him edit The Boogeyman, so one can only wonder if the novelist’s ‘cut-up technique’ had an influence in the editing of Return of the Boogeyman and Boogeyman 2: The Directors Cut as they are both essentially rearrangements of The Boogeyman, albeit with a couple (and mostly pointless) added scenes. Lommel is also apparently working a remake currently titled The Boogeyman: Grail of Evil, as well as a fourth film entitled Boogeyman 4D, or as the auteur revealed in an interview with Soiled Sinema a couple months ago, “Next year I'm making BOOGEYMAN 4D - why 4D? It plays in the fourth dimension, Sci-Fi /Adventure genre and not R-rated but PG-13. Budget $24 million to be filmed in 3D,” thus proving that The Boogeyman never really dies. Maybe it is because I grew up near the area where it was filmed and I appreciate Lommel’s ‘outsider’ perspective on Americans, but The Boogeyman is a quasi-guilty pleasure of mine and certainly a work I regard in much more esteem than overrated supernatural schlock like The Amityville Horror, even if it not up to par with the aberrant aesthetic perniciousness of the auteur filmmaker’s Teutonic serial killer masterpiece Tenderness of the Wolves. In a recent interview, Lommel confessed, “I think that art can heal” and while making The Boogeyman might not have refurbished the filmmaker’s torn soul, it might have allowed him to exorcise some demons relating to his traumatic childhood as a war baby of a defeated and destroyed nation and his lack of reconciliation with his father, on top of the fact that the film made him rather wealthy.  As arty and atmospheric as genre films from the late-1970s/early-1980s of the supernatural horror sort get, The Boogeyman is one of the only films to get me in the Halloween spirit this October.

-Ty E

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