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March 21, 2009

The Boogeyman

1980, Dir. by Ulli Lommel.

When I write these reviews, one of the hardest things to do is find three or four images from the film that represent things I want to talk about, which I do in an effort to avoid boring you fine people with my prose. When I do this, I have to distinguish the names of the photos so I know what I'm looking for, usually naming them something like "mynameisbrucebruce" or "mynameisbrucedogbowl" (Unless I'm not reviewing My Name is Bruce, like now).

This became difficult while capturing images from Ulli Lommel's The Boogeyman. For starters, I got a first person shot that mimics Halloween, entitled "boogeymanknife". Then, I went with a picture of the lead actress being scared by a mirror, which I entitled "boogeymanmirror". I laughed, because I realized then that most of the images I'd want to use would involve a mirror, and now I had to change their names. Then I grabbed the image posted above, and tried to name it "boogeymanknife" - before being reminded by the save function that that photo already exists. It was then I realized that every scene of note - and I struggle to call any scene in this movie notable - involved a knife or mirror. It's that predictable.

The Plot
On a dark night, little Willy and Lacey are watching through the window as their young and whorish mother entertains an abusive young man. Mommy doesn't like this, and the kids end up being put to bed. They don't stay there, and soon mommy's man friend has a few stab wounds and lacks a pulse.

Then we fast forward. Lacey is married and living with her husband and his family on a farm, where Willy (pictured above), who hasn't spoken since "that night", helps out too (all while being creepy looking and having a giant jaw). But Lacey still has random bouts of terror, especially when facing mirrors, and she's soon forced to return to their childhood home by her husband (not her psychiatrist, played by horror legend John Carradine). When she gets there, she meets the kids that live there currently (whose parents are gone for the weekend, something you never want to have happen to you in a horror film), and breaks the mirror that's been in her mother's old bedroom since "that night". Her husband decides enough is enough, and brings the mirror back to the farm, putting it back together so she's forced to face it...or until it's able to kill them all. Sigh.

The Good
The film has a few good shots, even if many of them are mirror images of shots from predecessors like Halloween and Black Christmas. The musical score also is impressive at moments, but that goes away quickly, too. None of the actors break character, and are generally in frame.

That's about it.

The Bad
This section was invented for films like The Boogeyman. But I have no idea where to begin.

Well, looking at the "good" things above, problems jump out. The film obviously and blatantly mimics previous slashers, with near identical shots, an opening that's more like Carpenter's Halloween than Rob Zombie's remake was, and many other scenes that mirror better giallo films of the 1970s. The plot does diverge into a different territory with a focus late in the film on mythology of broken mirrors (really), but this change is silly and takes the film away from either a focus on real human psychology or a supernatural "boogeyman" - which is something you'd assume it would have, based on the title.

Acting across the board is bad, but that's common for a slasher film. Nicholas Love and Suzanna Love, real life siblings, play Willy and Lacey as adults, and neither is particularly competent. Ms. Love co-authored the script with director Lommel, and it's clear that the star and director were on the same page while watching the film - I'm just not sure I was while viewing it.

The musical score seemed cool at first, despite echoing Carpenter's Halloween score heavily. It grew old very, very quickly. There are two or three main themes that repeat throughout the entire film, and they seem to pop up randomly. In any scene, at any moment, there's a chance the score you've been hearing over and over for the entire 80 minutes will kick in. And drive you crazy.

There's more I could say about The Boogeyman, from its introduction of side characters that exist as victims (and worse, some characters are introduced as potential victims and then disappear from the film for good before even being used in that regard) to its hokey "open" ending that adds to the bad taste that was already left in the viewer's mouth. But I'll be nice.

Random Moments
  • One more complaint: Lacey is directly involved in the actions of "that night", but is treated as innocent for the rest of the film. She's told repeatedly not to feel like it was her fault...even though it kind of was.
  • The first-person scenes that evoke Halloween in the opening aren't even shot in frame. That's why I had to say "generally in frame" in my Good section. What kind of movie can't even allow me to use "The film was in frame" as a positive without being wrong? Ugh!
The Verdict
It's obvious by now, at least to me, that I've spent more time thinking about the ineptitude of The Boogeyman than was spent thinking about the making of the film. Billed as "the 1980 original" on new DVD packaging, which assumes it's connected to the 2005 film Boogeyman, I was hoping for at least a fun slasher that could provide some insight into that film's failures. Instead, I was reminiscing about how much I liked 2005's Boogeyman...and I didn't like 2005's Boogeyman. Just ugh. Somebody get this movie out of my head.

The Mike's Rating: RUN AWAY!

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun

1969, Dir. by Robert Parrish

The box cover for the DVD release of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun proclaims "Man has conquered the moon. Now take another momentous journey!" As if it wasn't hard enough to not look at this film as an attempt to cash in on the space craze of the late 1960s. Also borrowing slightly from Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is a film that could easily have fallen out of interest as a rehash of the ideas and films of the time. Thankfully, the similarities are only an outer shell for the adventure, and the film provides itself with plenty of chances to carve its own niche in the sci-fi canon.

The Plot
Really, there's not much to say that this film's title doesn't imply. In the future, the European Space Exploration Council discovers that there appears to be an unknown and eerily similar planet in the same orbit as Earth on the opposite side of the sun. Naturally, the first response is to send out some astronauts to investigate, and American Glen Ross (Roy Thinnes, fresh off cult TV hit The Invaders) and Brit John Kane (Ian Hendry, known to cult horror audiences from appearances in Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter, Theater of Blood, and the original Tales from the Crypt film) are more than willing to take the trip. After a colorful trip around the sun, they find themselves on the new planet - maybe.

The Good
While this Journey started off as something we feel like we may have seen before, it quickly bucks many of the ideas we had coming into the film. The astronauts, as well as their superior (played by Patrick Wymark of Witchfinder General) are developed well early in the film, and there's a lot done to make us care about the mission before these two men are hurtled into the abyss. Thinnes' story, particularly involving his wife and her trouble dealing with his space travels and their effects on him, is well drawn and engaging, and Hendry's Kane is a sufficiently cynical counterbalance. Wymark might get as much screentime as either of the stars, and gives a likeable performance that helps keep the characters' relationships seeming genuine.

The film is also controlled well by director Robert Parrish, previously an Oscar winning editor, who shows a clear understanding of what his goals are for the film. While Kubrick's 2001 is lauded for its approach to the silent interactions between humanity and space, Parrish brings forth his ideas with a lot of dialogue and a few well-placed visual representations. It's unfair to compare almost any sci-fi film to 2001's approach, and that is still the case here - but it is worth noting that Parrish made this film his own and shook that film's shadow early on. The film also features the visual style I love about this era in regard to set design and use of colors, with cavernous rooms of many colors and a sharp contrast in color and mood from scene to scene. The scope might not match an epic like 2001, but there's more than enough visual flair to delight the eyes.

The Bad
There are some early worries about the film getting its feet set, and the first act of the film takes its time in making its ideas and purpose known to the viewer. In retrospect, this helped develop the characters and their psyches, but at first glance the slow start creates some concern in pace for a relatively short film. It's also surprising how little of the film actually deals with the interstellar journey, but the places the screenwriters and director take the film in the final act make up for this. I had no idea where the film was going with just over a half-hour left, but the turn the story took provided an interesting turn and kept me thinking even after the finish (even if the final frames may seem to leave some ideas on the table).

Random Moments
The Verdict
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun doesn't do anything extremely well, but it hits enough right notes to leave a very favorable impression. The final act and its conclusions may leave some unimpressed, but I found the film's ideas intriguing enough to make me think about it further. Adding that to a generally impressive visual style is more than enough to put this space and mind adventure over the top in my book. If you're looking for a thought-provoking space adventure, and aren't feeling up the daunting challenge of something like Kubrick's film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is an enjoyable midnight subsititute.

The Mike's Rating: Prime Choice

March 18, 2009

Bad Dreams

1988, Dir. by Andrew Fleming.

If you've ever heard of a guy named Freddy Krueger, you know that dreams were a bad place to be in a horror film in the last half of the 1980s. Jennifer Rubin knows this all too well.

Right after making her film debut as former heroin addict Taryn in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (and if you've seen that film, you definitely will remember her disgusting demise), Rubin took the lead in Bad Dreams, a thriller in which she plays a young woman who survives a suicide cult but is left in a coma, and then wakes up in the late '80s (and apparently she hasn't aged in the approximately ten years since the incident, which the movie doesn't really go in to). Anyway, comas have bad results psychologically in movies, and this one is no exception. What follows is a film that's eerily similar to the aforementioned Elm Street sequel, but has enough of its own ideas to remain watchable.

The Plot
After the burning down of the country home of the Unity Field "religious sect", a young woman named Cynthia (Rubin) is found still alive. She's in a coma for a decade, and then awakes to find herself in a Los Angeles mental hospital. She meets the group she'll be part of which has different people of different ages and diagnoses, all of whom are unstable and unwillingly ready to be the fodder of some kind of villain.

That villain arises when Cynthia begins to see visions of the leader of Unity Field, Harris, who takes both his human form and a burnt-up/bloody/creepy form. The latter is scarier, of course, but Harris still has some of his cult-captain-charisma left in his rotting corpse, and he begins to influence the actions of the group members, with deadly precision.

The Good
Bad Dreams doesn't appear to be an original or interesting piece of film early on, but it bucks a few preconceptions as it progresses. It took me a long time to get over the similarities with ANOES3, which is one of my favorite horror sequels of the time period, but by the time the third act of the film was kicking in I had forgotten those thoughts and found myself caught in director Andrew Fleming's film (BTW, the director has since gone on to make films such as The Craft, Dick, and Hamlet 2...and I would not have pegged him for having a film this dark in him). The plot goes toward a psychological explanation in the final act which, despite being flimsy in reality, makes it a little more intriguing than many horror cliches of the era.

Rubin is quite passable in the lead, playing the "survivor girl" role well. Richard Lynch provides sufficient creepiness as Harris, too. It's a shame the rest of the cast (anchored by Re-Animator's Bruce Abbott as the young doctor taken by caring for Cynthia) isn't as effective, but there aren't many large problems with them either. Also on the plus side, the 84 minute flick is well-paced and never dull. There's an "original" ending on the DVD that would have given the film a better sense of closure, and probably upped my grade of the film considerably, but the film we're given instead still does enough to leave a positive first impression.

The Bad
One of the biggest problems facing the film is the side characters, most of whom fit very easily into stereotypes that other horrors of the decade had created. There's the overly dramatic '80s teen punk girl, the young handsome doctor with a heart of gold, the uncaring older psychiatrist, the self-centered hotshot, and more. Rubin's Cynthia is also not original when compared to characters like Heather Langenkamp's Nancy in the Elm Street films, but she at least puts enough into the role to make the character seem worthy of notice.

As stated above, the ending lacks some closure. I didn't think too poorly of it on first thought, but watching the director's original ending in the special features left me longing for a little more. The film deals with psychological issues in a ham-fisted manner, and the additions that were planned for the ending (minus the last 30 seconds or so), would have given the psychological issues facing Cynthia a little more depth.

Random Moments
  • I can't say too much about this moment without spoiling part of the film, so I'll just say this: A bottle of formaldehyde? Really? That makes sense? Just a random bottle of formaldehyde?
  • The film's end credits are surprisingly accompanied by GNR's 'Sweet Child 'o Mine'.
  • I've pimped the original ending throughout this review, but I do need to mention that, if they were to use that ending, the last 30 seconds of it need to go.
The Verdict
Bad Dreams doesn't do everything right, and definitely has problems in character development and originality. But there's a lot of good in its ideas, and Fleming, Rubin, and company do enough to keep it entertaining. I'm always more forgiving with horror films of the '80s that don't start their title with Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, so I'll give Bad Dreams a recommendation as an enjoyable midnight horror for fans of the genre's most commercial decade.

The Mike's Rating: Solid Selection