Boogeyman 2

[22 January 2008]

By Matthew A. Stern

That Ghost House Pictures was planning to release a sequel to Boogeyman was more shocking than any of the CGI shenanigans the original 2005 version had to offer.  Boogeyman wasn’t the first movie with that title (a quadrilogy of shlocky, early-‘80s slasher films bore the same name), and by far not the first movie of its kind.  Amid a sea of J-Horror knockoffs and remakes, Boogeyman was (for all its genre-appropriate jump-cut driven startles) unremarkable, unmemorable, and boring.

Part of the problem with Boogeyman was that its plot had already been executed much more successfully a little over two decades earlier in A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Nancy’s standoff off with Freddy Krueger is a canonical image of a protagonist facing her fear, and in doing so, causing it to dissipate.  Boogeyman flaccidly attempts to re-explore this theme (and this scene) without the fleshed-out Krueger myth there to make any sense of it. 

A prime example of how J-Horror’s idiosyncrasies can go horrifically wrong in translation, the film aspires to be like so many Japanese films in which a bad vibe experienced by a character long ago inexplicably induces a haunting.  Boogeyman, though, leaves you asking, “Why the hell is the boogeyman bugging this guy in particular?”  It makes you feel like jumping on the J-Horror bandwagon wasn’t just an excuse to release a lazy film with no real explanations and plot holes the size of a pitch-black, walk-in closet. 

It was against this unpromising backdrop that screenwriter Brian Sieve and director Jeff Betancourt were given the task of making a follow-up Boogeyman film.  The two first-timers have managed to craft a surprisingly engaging and scary direct-to-DVD sequel that deserves a theatrical release far more than its hackneyed progenitor. 

No matter how you cut it, a supernatural threat named “boogeyman” as the impetus behind the plot poses a cinematic problem. It only sounds frightening on paper.  Steven King’s The Boogeyman is probably one of his most haunting short stories, precisely because of the way it works on our imaginations.  When we see grown adults discussing their fear of the boogeyman on screen, though, it sets off our disbelief sensors. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find an adult employing that kind of juvenile lingo.  Someone might cop to a fear of the dark, a fear of the unknown that lurks therein, or even the fear of some creepy supernatural fellow living in said closet, but the term ‘boogeyman’ sounds almost onomatopoetically goofy.  Sieve and Betancourt revamp the film’s titular antagonist into something almost plausible.  They have characters make fun of the cringeworthy idea of boogeyman-o-phobia, while introducing a killer who slashes his way through teenage mental patients like an inventive Michael Meyers (or a conspicuously silent Freddy Krueger.) 

Laura Porter (Danielle Savre) and her brother Henry (Matt Cohen) have lifelong fears of the boogeyman.  Why?  Because at a young age they witnessed the boogeyman disembowel their parents.  Fair enough.  Henry meets up with Laura on his way out of the psych ward.  Laura has a nightmare and her brother suggests that she check herself in to deal with her fear. 

The sibling swap at the loony bin leads into storyline harkens in part back to another horror franchise classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.  If you remember, that’s the one set in a youth rehab center in which each teenager is killed in conceptual accordance with his or her predominant personality quirk. 

Helming the asylum is hospital supervisor Dr. Mitchell Allen, who doles out therapeutic advice and demands that patients face down their fears.  Allen is played by Tobin Bell of Saw, and his being cast for the role is no accident.  As the body count starts to rise, it becomes clear that this film not only eschews all things J-Horror, it skews closer to the 00s’ other horror trend, gore-no.  Boogeyman 2 is home to plenty of splattery flourishes, like a latter-day Friday the 13th film with Saw¬¬-style special effects.

An unsettlingly jittery camera introduces us to a cast of misfits locked down to deal with their fears.  Some of their fears are unlikely, concocted specifically in order to maximize the killer’s murderous irony.  A bulimic (her presence explained by her “fear of gaining weight”), an angsty teen cutter, a stoner who’s afraid of the dark, a germaphobe, and an agoraphobic, begin to disappear one-by-one from their group therapy sessions one by one. 

As the condescending Dr. Allen insists that the problem is all in the heads of these classic teen horror archetypes, things spiral gorily out of control.  Paul (Johnny Simmons) afraid of germs, finds that he’s gobbled down a cockroach in a bag of chips and is offered a cocktail of caustic cleaning fluid by the boogeyman.  Alison (Mae Whitman), the group’s cutter, is covered in maggots and given a razor to help get rid of them in an incredibly protracted fashion.  Darren, the agoraphobe afraid of “opening his heart”, is killed by way of having his chest pulled open in what must be a partial homage to the legendarily drawn-out kill scene at the beginning of Suspiria

Every character, one for one, is dispensed with a satisfyingly revolting reflection of his or her deepest fear, with no small helping of smirking literalism.  The boogeyman, meanwhile, clad in a black robe and metal cast death’s head mask of unknown origin, is re-invented as a real-live killer, and a concept you could actually see carrying a horror franchise.

An excruciatingly silent chase scene between Laura and the boogeyman, the descent into boogeyman-inspired madness on the part of the hospital’s other therapist Dr. Ryan (Renee O’Connor), and a laundry-list of red herrings and revelations finish out the film like a tension-addled classic.  Appropriately nihilistic in its message, the film leaves us believing that we can face our fears, but that may still leave us completely screwed (which is, in cinematic terms, really more of a European ending).

That the director and screenwriter of Boogeyman 2 were able to spruce up a concept that fell flat on its face in 2005 into an above average horror movie speaks volumes about their talent and their love of the genre.  A film that bucks the stigma of Direct-to-DVD sequels, this unyieldingly dark and bloody feature will surprise you, especially if you were unfortunate enough to catch the first one.  This flick’s ‘80s-slasher-pic-on-gornographic-steroids-appeal is something horror fans will be surprised to find themselves talking about and praising.  “Boogeyman?  Seriously?”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/boogeyman-2/