Wednesday, May 2, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

A lot of psycho-killer films imitated HALLOWEEN, but German writer-director Ulli Lommel, who once appeared in the films of "New German" director Rainer Fassbinder-- belongs in a special category all to himself. Viewers acquainted with John Carpenter's masterwork will immediately recall that the little kid in the film calls Michael Myers "the Boogieman," and so it's not at all surprising that an enterprising filmmaker might choose to recycle the name for another psycho-flick. And the setup for the main body of the film is about as derivative of HALLOWEEN's setup as it could be-- at least in its broad detail.

Yet Lommel didn't just turn out a carbon copy of a hit. True, BOOGEY MAN isn't any sort of "deconstruction" of psycho-killer films, as one might expect from a director with a long history in avant-garde cinema. It's far too incoherent and badly constructed for that. But there are some points on which Lommel reverses the Carpenter formula.

In my review of HALLOWEEN, I summed up its famous prologue thusly:

The prologue informs us that at the age of six little Michael Myers took a knife and stabbed his sister after she'd made love with her boyfreind.  Yet, though this inevitably conjures the spectre of incestuous sexual jealousy, Carpenter and Hill only indirectly invoke Freudian explanations of Michael's malice.  Then they undercut the standard psychological interpretations by having their Voice of Authority speak not of the Oedipus complex but of an "evil" that has left Michael bereft of any normal affects.  It's also inevitable to associate the stalker's knife-attacks with the employment of a substitute phallus, but one must ask: is it because Michael suffers from negative compensation, or because he has, in some inexplicable way, become the literal incarnation of "the Boogeyman?"  Does he attack young women because he's attracted to them, or because, being sheer evil, he opposes everything that symbolizes life?
I don't know whether or not Lommel shared any of my opinions on Carpenter's theme, but BOOGEY MAN seems to be embracing Freudanism even as Carpenter rejected it.

If there is a Freudian  "primal scene" in Carpenter's prologue, it consists of pre-adolescent Michael witnessing such a scene not between his father and mother-- the template employed by Big Sigmund-- but between his sister and her boyfriend. In Freud's reading, the young male should feel hostility toward the male possessing his mother, but Michael defies this model, choosing not to attack the boyfriend but killing his sister instead. However, Lommel re-reverses the situation. This time, a pre-adolescent boy witnesses his mother making love to her new lover, and he slays the man, leaving the mother alive, who is later referenced but plays no further role in the story.

But wait; there are two kids watching the adults make out. The mother's never-named lover punishes the boy Willy by tying him to his bed, while the mother sends Willy's sister Lacey to her room. However, Lacey, who's seen Willy abused like this before, gets a butcher knife from the kitchen and cuts Willy loose. Willy then takes the knife and interrupts the coitus by stabbing the Bad Not-Dad to death. So this time the evil boy has a sister helping him, and if there's one coherent character-point communicated when the movie proper starts twenty years later, it's that Lacey feels guilty about giving Willy the weapon that makes him a killer.

The movie proper begins with Lacey married and with a kid, living on a farm with her aunt and uncle. Willy's there as well, but he hasn't spoken since murdering his mother's lover. The mother is still alive somewhere, and to some extent she sets off the new round of violence, sending Lacey and Willy a letter that she wants to see them again before she dies. They never do go see her, but Lacey starts having dreams that Willy may start killing people-- specifically, sexy women-- which speaks to her ambivalence about her brother's sexuality. Lommel seems to support the possibility that Willy may go on a Michael-rampage soon. A sexy neighbor-girl corners Willy in the barn, trying to get friendly, and he nearly strangles her to death, obviously revealing an extreme level of trauma about his mother's choice in lovers.

However, Willy isn't the menace. Lacey actually unleashes the real menace-- the ghost of the slain lover-- when she visits her mother's old house, urged by her husband to get some closure with her past. When Lacey looks into the mirror in the room where the murder took place, she sees the figure of the unnamed lover. Spooked, Lacey smashes the mirror, but this apparently has the effect of releasing the ghost to go on a killing spree-- though he seems strangely more preoccupied with Lacey than with the person who killed him.

The pseudo-logic relating the ghost and the various mirrors he inhabits makes no real sense-- especially the revelation that possessed mirrors can be destroyed by water! But on the plus side, Lommel's emphasis on extreme close-ups makes his take on psycho-killers seem unusually claustrophobic. Without dwelling on all the filler-deaths, Lommel does deliver a really lively conclusion when Lacey's husband brings in a priest to exorcise Lacey, and possessed Lacey, a shard of mirror in her eye, radiates supernatural power, nearly killing her hubby and definitely killing the priest-- though he does succeed in ridding her of the glass shard and destroying it. Oh, and in this big conclusion, Willy finally recovers the ability to speak, though he doesn't say much of anything, beyond helping the husband transport the ghost's mirror and dump it in the well.

It's probably a waste of time to put such a vacillating flick on the psychiatrist's couch. Nevertheless, it's slightly interesting that although Willy is set up to look like another Michael, Lacey is both the person who revives the evil ghost and the person through which it manifests. She's also the one who apparently fantasizes about her brother killing hot women, which isn't totally off-the-beam since he almost does kill one woman. But the fact that she's both the one who unleashes her brother's madness and the malice of her mother's lover makes me wonder if she's not the true "boogieman" of the movie.

Later Ulli Lommel repaid the viewers who made his horror-film a box office success by releasing not one but two sequels to BOOGIE MAN, both of which critics have described as amateurish psuedo-spoofs which depend heavily on recycling a lot of the first film's footage. I plan never to see them.

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