Thursday 6 April 2017

The Bogey Man (Ulli Lommel, 1980) DVD Review

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“The Most Terrifying Nightmare of Childhood is About to Return!” Combining dark themes of childhood trauma with slasher movie tropes, The Bogey Man (or Boogey Man, if you prefer) – a former 'Video Nasty' in the UK – tries to do something original with the genre at a time when the formula was being set that others would blindly follow...

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“I can't escape it. That night still haunts him and there must be a reason. I'm afraid something is going to happen.” In a flashback opening reminiscent of John Carpenter's Halloween (a white house at night, smooth POV shots), Willie and his younger sister Lacey spy on the amorous antics of their boozing mother, as she entertains one of her random pick-ups, only to be caught in the act. Willie is punished – gagged and bound to his bed by his mother's lover – but is then freed by Lacey who proceeds to watch – through the mirror in her mother's bedroom – as Willie stabs the strange man to death with a kitchen knife.

“Because you said the Lord is my refuge, no calamity will befall you.” Twenty years later, Lacey (Suzanna Love, The Devonsville Terror) and her brother Willie (Nicholas Love, Suzanna's real-life sibling) live and work on their Aunt and Uncle's farm. Lacey is now a married mother of one, while Willie is a simple farm hand who doesn't speak. Despite their troubled start in life, they seem to be living a relatively normal life – until a letter from their estranged, and dying, mother arrives. Willie hasn't spoken since that night, while Lacey refuses to acknowledge her mother at all, and so the letter dredges up memories they both wish had remained forgotten.

“All of this is nothing more than a bunch of fantasies going on in your head.” Lacey experiences a vivid nightmare in which she simultaneously takes the position of her brother and her mother's lover. Bound, gagged, and stripped on a bed, she is menaced with a knife in a darkly sexual dream that reveals troubling nascent thrills that have never been openly addressed for the past two decades. The visions and experiences of their childhood have wrought negative effects in the present day. Indeed, while Lacey and her husband Jake (Ron James) attempt to discover the truth with the help of Doctor Warren (genre legend John Carradine) and hypnosis, Willie – with a collection of knives secreted away in his bedroom – flips out when he's propositioned by a local woman and takes to painting every mirror in the house black. Suffice it to say, the siblings have some considerable psychological issues that need dealing with. However, when a return visit to her childhood home leads to Lacey destroying the mirror through which she witnessed the murder, the malevolent spirit of the departed returns to wreak havoc!

“There's a force in that mirror and it created terror!” Unusually for a film that is generally classed as a slasher movie, The Bogey Man's titular evil-doer mostly remains an unseen entity manipulating the visible world. Scissors fly through the air and sever jugulars, open windows suddenly fall on vulnerable heads, and – in one of the film's most memorable and inventive moments – a barbecue spit locks two lovers in a kiss for eternity. In the United Kingdom, the film was swept up in the 'video nasties' moral panic of the 1980s. It was initially banned in October 1983 when it ended up on the Director of Public Prosecution's list of films that were deemed liable to deprave and corrupt their viewers. However, in July 1985, it was acquitted and removed from the final list of thirty-nine official video nasty titles.

However, in this day and age where The Walking Dead is mainstream entertainment, The Bogey Man is fairly tame, which makes the fact that films like these were hounded by scaremongering tabloids (looking for boosted sales figures) and censorious Bible thumpers (desperate for publicity) all the more silly. The violent scenes are sparsely placed throughout the running time, and aren't as gruesome as the label of 'former video nasty' would suggest. What is surprising, though, is the attention paid to the script. Delving into strong themes of early exposure to trauma, scopophobia, and the schism between sex and violence, Ulli (Olivia, aka Prozzie) Lommel's film – which he co-wrote with David Herschel and his then-wife Suzanna Love – seeks to provide ample motivation for the protagonists.

“Let's get rid of these ghosts once and for all.” The execution isn't always successful and the pacing is initially on the slow side, but the full-bore paranormal showdown in the climax – bathed in glorious primary colours like an EC comic book – works well. Backed up with an atmospheric synth soundtrack by Tim Krog and some striking imagery – such as the phantom tearing at Lacey's shirt, and the infamous image featured on the poster – The Bogey Man is one of the more intriguing and unique entries in the slasher genre. Even though the shocks have lost some of their impact over the years, Lommel's film still has much going for it to remain as recommended viewing for horror genre aficionados.

“I know you think I'm crazy, but I saw what I saw.” 88 Films' 2015 DVD release – now part of the Cult Cinema Collection on DVD, but still part of the Slasher Classics Collection on Blu-Ray – looks and sounds pretty clean. The extras are sparse, comprised a various trailers, a stills gallery, and a 17 minute interview with a quiet and considered Ulli Lommel, who shares a few interesting tidbits of behind the scenes information, as well as his somewhat bleak view of our 'infantile society' as he sees it through the camera lens.

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