While slasher cinema owes a stylistic debt to Bob Clark's 1974 classic Black Christmas, it was John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece Halloween that kicked the genre into overdrive, with dozens of productions and studios stumbling all over each other to get a piece of the slasher pie. One low-budget entry unfairly labeled a Halloween knock-off is Ulli Lommel's 1980 film The Boogeyman – a fascinating, stylish and entertaining little flick that I think deserves more love than it tends to get.
Lommel began his film career as an actor and protégé of legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who produced Lommel's acclaimed 1973 film The Tenderness of Wolves – a psychodrama based on the real-life exploits of serial killer Fritz Haarmann. Lommel's cinematic fascination with serial killers would continue much later in his career... but I'll get to that later. After directing a couple of oddball art films, Lommel took the helm of The Boogeyman, which solidified his rep as a horror director when it became a box-office hit.
The film stars Lommel's then-wife Suzanna Love as Lacey, a young mother still traumatized by a childhood incident in which she helped her younger brother Willy murder their slutty mom's boyfriend – whom we only see wearing a nylon stocking over his face. As a young adult, Willy (played by Love's real-life brother Nicholas) is even more damaged than Lacey, and hasn't spoken a word since that fateful night. They move to their parents' rustic New England farmhouse (a dead ringer for the Amityville Horror house) along with Lacey's husband and young son, but the idyllic setting provides no escape, and she's continually haunted by visions of the faceless fiend.
In an effort to confront her past fears, encouraged by her therapist (horror icon John Carradine in a brief cameo), she revisits the house where it all happened, and is horrified to see an image of the masked man in the bedroom mirror, which she shatters. In an odd (and kinda dickish) move, her husband insists on taking the mirror home and pieces it back together to prove once and for all that Lacey's vision was a fantasy and nothing more. Of course this is exactly the wrong thing to do in a horror movie: breaking that mirror released the murdered man's malevolent spirit, which possesses and/or kills anyone who comes into contact with even a tiny sliver of the glass.
Mirror imagery figures prominently in The Boogeyman, and Lommel composes several shots in which Lacey is juxtaposed with her own mirror double – foreshadowing the film's climax (which owes more to The Exorcist than Halloween) when the evil man's spirit finally seizes control of her body. The idea of a broken mirror releasing everything it has “seen” actually comes from ancient folklore, and I'm surprised the concept hasn't made its way into other horror films. Unique for its time in that the “slasher” is a disembodied entity that triggers his victims' deaths (an approach developed more thoroughly in the Final Destination series), The Boogeyman has some sick and unique kills – notably a tense scene where a buxom young victim jams a pair of scissors into her own throat (after slicing open her shirt, of course), and a kissing couple shish-kabobbed through their mouths. The electronic score by Tim Krog is a winner too, also unfairly labeled a Halloween ripoff; apart from a pensive bell-like theme in the prologue, it's mostly a surreal and experimental soundtrack, with lots of rumbling dark ambient tones and jarring shock cues.
Sadly, Lommel's career never quite took off after this one, which had two lame, throwaway sequels rehashing most of the original footage (the 2005 film Boogeyman has nothing to do with this one, by the way). He did a couple more decent genre films with Love (The Devonsville Terror and Brainwaves), but over the past decade he's been cranking out tacky direct-to-video serial killer bio-pics: The Zodiac Killer, BTK Killer, The Green River Killer... you get the idea. Skip those and watch this one instead; it's his personal best.