By Scott Dorward
The Boogey Man (USA, 1980)
Once again, I’m using the October Horror Movie Challenge as an excuse to catch up with films I’ve been meaning to watch for years. I remember seeing trailers for The Boogey Man (also known as The Boogeyman) when I was a teen but was unable to catch at the cinema. Somehow, despite watching every horror video I could in the ’80s, I never caught up with it later. It remained lodged in my mind, however.
The advertising campaign at the time made the film look seedier and more dangerous than most horror I’d been exposed to. Those kids at school who had seen it were gleefully revolted by the gore and violence. They spoke of it in hushed tones between classes, telling of self-mutilation with scissors. A few years later, The Boogey Man would get swept up in the Video Nasties furore, which only made it more appealing.
So, after 40 years, can The Boogey Man possibly live up to my teenage anticipation? The 4.7 rating on IMDB bodes poorly, but let’s find out.
We open as a young woman’s boyfriend catches her children, Willy and Lacey, spying on them in throes of passion. The boyfriend decides to punish the kids, tying Willy to his bed as his younger sister watches helplessly. Lacey frees her brother, who finds a knife and stabs the boyfriend to death. The murder is reflected in a large mirror in the bedroom.
Now, 20 years on, Lacey is living on a farm, married, and with a son of her own. Willy, who hasn’t spoken since the incident, helps out around the farm. Lacey has been seeing a therapist (played by John Carradine) about her recurring nightmares of the killing. He recommends she visit the old family house and confront her fears.
Lacey does so and sees a nightmare vision of her mother’s murdered boyfriend in the bedroom mirror. She smashes it, apparently releasing the spirit trapped within. This vengeful ghost spends the rest of the film using shards of the mirror to connect with anyone who encounters them, tormenting his victims and killing them in gruesome set pieces. Cue weird accidents, self-mutilation and a half-arsed attempt at exorcism.
In its opening scenes, The Boogey Man really wants to be Halloween. It has a murderous child, an almost giallo-like knife fixation, and a creepy, minimalist score that seems to have escaped from John Carpenter’s synthesiser. The climax, in turn, borrows images and elements from Carrie and, especially, The Exorcist. To emphasise this, the score mutates into a cod riff on Tubular Bells. Even the edifice of the house where much of the film takes place appears lifted from The Amityville Horror.
Maybe one hope for transforming The Boogey Man into more of a cult film would be to turn it into a drinking game. Every time you name the original film a scene is ripping off, take a drink. Just make sure to have a spare liver on hand.
One aspect that does work is the use of mirrors. There is a mirror in almost every scene and their constant presence builds a sense of dread. Trailers and second-hand hand accounts had prepared me more for Candyman/Bloody Mary type physical manifestations or creepy reflections, and I was surprised at the relative subtlety of their actual use.
That said, I did find myself wondering whether the mirror at the centre of the story was made of sodium rather than glass. Every time a shard encounters water, it bursts into flame. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but this has not been my experience with mirrors.
The Boogey Man is an extremely uneven film. There are some excellent horror moments but they are lost in a story that seems unsure of where it wants to go. Much like a broken mirror, none of the pieces really fit together properly, and what it shows us is fragmented and less than the sum of its parts.
Barring John Carradine’s pleasingly hammy cameo, the acting is either wooden or melodramatic, with little middle ground. In one scene, Willy encounters the body of a loved one pinned to a wall with a pitchfork and displays so little reaction that we can only assume this is an everyday occurrence on the farm.
The direction is little better at times. What should be a horrifying scene, in which a young boy has his neck broken by a falling window, is so jarringly presented that it comes across as slapstick. In fact, much of the violence in the film is presented with more comic timing than shock value. Maybe the editor had a falling out with the director and this was his petty revenge.
The film’s saving grace is that it’s not afraid to be weird. Still, this is too often undermined by its derivativeness and hamfisted storytelling. A more artful touch might have turned this into a cult masterpiece. Maybe an Italian director of the era could have made better use of its disjointed narrative and desire to shock.
While I certainly didn’t hate The Boogey Man, I did find it deeply disappointing. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it when I was 15 and buzzing from the word of mouth. Now, as a more experienced and jaded horror fan, I can’t say it was worth the 40-year wait.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!