*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick, Christopher Jacot, Doug Bradley
screenplay by Carl Dupre
directed by Rick Bota
½*/**** Image B Sound B
starring Suzanna Love, Ron James, John Carradine
written and directed by Ulli Lommel
RETURN OF THE BOOGEYMAN
ZERO STARS Image D Sound D
starring Suzanna Love, Kelly Galinda, Richard Quick
directed by Deland Nuse
THE FALLEN ONES
** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Casper Van Dien, Kristen Miller, Geoffrey Lewis, Navid Negahban
written and directed by Kevin VanHook
by Walter Chaw The only genre that boasts more direct-to-video fare than horror is porn, and since we haven't quite reached the point of quiet desperation needed to begin reviewing porn, find here a smelted cheddar of four dtv horror features (actually, The Boogeyman got a theatrical release in 1980, though I can't understand why): the eighth film in Clive Barker's venerable horror octology, Hellraiser: Hellworld; The Boogeyman and its second sequel, the legitimately straight-to-video Return of the Boogeyman; and Kevin VanHook's The Fallen Ones. The only thing that binds them together, of course, is the general disrepute of their genre, doubled by their status as never having secured "legitimate" distribution--but, what with us teetering on the eve of the major studios embarking on a grand experiment in franchising their licenses for direct-to-video treatment, now seems as good a time as any to give these films a look. First we had a couple of Wild Things sequels, then The Sandlot 2 and a Carlito's Way prequel, and soon Single White Female will follow in the Disney footsteps of producing DVD cheap product for fast returns and an eternity gathering dust and puzzled glances in drugstore dollar bins. It's the equivalent of turning Idahoan runaways into crack whores before discarding them for the next small-town beauty led astray.
The allure of Clive Barker's demon Cenobites has to do at least a little with their belief that the horrific indignities they visit upon the flesh of the fatally curious are actually pleasures. I don't think they fancy themselves heroes, but perhaps missionaries of a very particular faith, and so the irony of the tortures endured by a parade of pleasure-seeking pilgrims (all of them opening a now-iconic--and stripped of all meaning--puzzle box) was cruel and double-edged. Now, though, eight films in (the majority of them, after the second, made from non-franchise scripts retooled for franchise inclusion), the puzzle box seems to fall into the hands of not archaeologists of pleasure, but hard-bodied co-eds who aren't interested in discovering new, unknown experiences so much as shitting around in the usual slasher-film fashion and accidentally freeing some wise-cracking, cosmic hook-wielding genie. It took almost no time for the Hellraiser and Wishmaster series to converge into some half-congealed mess of tits and gore presided over by a recognizable bogey--around the same amount of time it took for someone to notice that you could rake in a lot of money at the expense of somebody else's good idea. It's not just bad art, it's unscrupulous, cutthroat capitalism; and just as we reject cheap knock-offs of quality product, we should probably look the other way when presented with something called Hellraiser: Hellworld.
Especially when Hellworld has nothing to do with Yul Brynner's robot opus Westworld (and then Futureworld) and a lot to do with the "Bishop of Battle" segment of that early-Eighties schlock anthology flick Nightmares, where players of a video game somehow get sucked into it. (Come to think of it, the flick owes debts to The Last Starfighter and Tron, too.) It's a stupid idea, in other words, one exacerbated by the casting of the usual suspects of beautiful young things who here find themselves trapped in a bad rave by some twisted games master (Lance Henriksen, in the kind of performance you praise for his knowing how wretched the film is--let's think on that for a moment). See, you solve an online game (glimpses of which indicate that the budget for this cheapo production couldn't be stretched an extra ten bucks to hire someone more qualified--say, a retarded twelve-year old--to mock up a few compelling game screens) and are invited to a party at which you're given a bunch of numbered cell phones in the new millennium's version of a key party. Sex ensues, leading to nothing much at a leisurely pace while the Cenobites, Barker's vision of S&M baddies, use meat hooks and cleavers in ways so mundane that devotees of the series will probably want to toss the disc right into the dumpster. The thrill was in the inventiveness of the hunt, the idea that the transgression required of horror scenarios is actually taken out of a perverse sexual curiosity (locating Barker's fantasia in fairytale) rather than some kind of adolescent gamesmanship. When the final double twist resolves itself in Hellworld as the weakest kind of equivocal garbage, the feeling I got was of more disappointment than impatience--a bad sign in any relationship, S&M or otherwise.
Being dull as dishwater is only the first crime of Ulli Lommel's The Boogeyman (1980), a pass by a Fassbinder protégé at American slasher flicks of the late '70s (Halloween especially, but also The Amityville Horror, Carrie, and The Omen) that produces predictably pretentious results without the pang of brilliance accompanying many of the films of Lommel's betters. (But the zesty tang of the genre must've been an alluring one, as the director, besides decades of churning out stuff like The Devonsville Terror and Bloodsuckers, has spent the last couple of years on a trilogy of psycho biopics about the Green River, Zodiac, and BTK killers.) Apparently a mirror witnessed the slaying of an evil boyfriend at the butcher-knived hands of a little kid the boyfriend had, a few minutes previous, tied to his bed. It's interesting to think that the '70s horror cycle was primarily concerned with bad parenting--particularly with the headwaters of the paranoid '70s being the generation rift '60s--but its treatment in The Boogeyman is so weighted with import that it paradoxically loses any potential gravity. After the kiddie-rampage, in fact, an hour passes with nothing much happening save an Of Mice and Men moment in which the now-mute, Faulknerian idiot man-child murderer with a heart of gold (played by Nicholas Love) attempts to strangle a farmyard hussie after a shard of the evil mirror glints in his eye. The breaking of the mirror, in fact, is the catalyst for the horrors of the rest of the picture, as the shards hold the unrestful spirit of Boyfriend, haunting Lacey (Suzanna Love) and causing the local hicks to suddenly develop murderous tics.
A testament to Lacan's theory of identity as it pertains to the objectifying gaze and the devouring attentions of the masculine in horror cinema? Yeah, probably, but it's analysis that bears no fruit when the execution is this excruciatingly dull (and, moreover, when there are so many better examples)--even with the presence of a hambone John Carradine as a hapless therapist. It's possible to admire films for their ambition and the frankness of the imprint of a director's tutelage, but Lommel is to Fassbinder as Lucio Fulci is to Michelangelo Antonioni; a hack with pretensions and a pedigree is a hack by any other name. I will give The Boogeyman one thing, though: there's a reveal involving a piece of mirror and an eye that gave me a little thrill--that is, until Lommel waters down the image by holding on it for an eternity.
Still, The Boogeyman is high art compared to its second sequel (packaged, inexplicably, with the first film on opposite sides of a flipper), the excrescent The Return of the Boogeyman. It's hard to even call it a film, as it consists mainly (90%) of scenes lifted from the first two Boogeyman pictures, strung together as the psychic experiences of narrator Annie (Kelly Galindo) in sessions overseen by shrink Dr. Love (Omar Kaczmarczyk). It's like an anniversary clips show for a long-in-the-tooth sitcom, filmed with the same sort of production values as a backyard porno and scripted (by an uncredited writer) with almost exactly the same kind of ear. You might be curious that it offers a few gratuitous, gauzy tit shots, which were conspicuously lacking in the original, but really, it's the kind of crap any chimp could put together on iMovie given a little time and a handful of peanuts. I wouldn't trust my drink on it if it were a coaster.
A different kind of bad--the kind that's not terribly painful to watch--is Kevin VanHook's SciFi Channel original feature The Fallen Ones. An obvious knock-off of Stephen Sommers's Mummy movies, it follows the excavation of a mummified forty-foot giant, the son of bad guy Ammon (Navid Negahban), who has spent three millennia in Hell waiting for the perfect time (i.e. the present) to resurrect one of his boys in the American southwest. Leading the excavation is Fletcher (Casper Van Dien, his head a perfect cube--should he and Ben Affleck ever go into storage, they can be stacked like Tupperware), the Indiana Jones under the employ of Robert Wagner's rich millionaire Morton and under the thrall of pretty rockhound Angela (Kristen Miller). There isn't a moment of The Fallen Ones that's not played tongue-in-cheek: It's a B-movie with no aspirations to be something better and thus, with modest aspirations firmly in place, it does what it does with an admirable fidelity to the camp classics of Saturday afternoon matinees past. When the giant mummy (were this released in the '50s, they would've called it "Attack of the 50 Ft. Mummy") finally awakes to wreak bad-CGI havoc, it's anti-climactic, certainly, but also sort of hilarious. A nod, intentional or otherwise, to Clive Barker's "In the Hills, the Cities" story reminds that there's a lot of material out there that merits a film treatment more than this, but the spectacle of Tom Bosley as an aidel rabbi provides the piece with its own kitsch charms. Take what you can get.
The usual set of special features adorns Dimension's DVD release of Hellraiser: Hellworld, starting with skippable trailers for Mindhunters and Scary Movie 3.5. Through the menu proper, you can also access trailers for The Prophecy: (Uprising and Forsaken), Dracula III: Legacy, and The Crow: Taradise--I mean, Wicked Prayer. Over its handsome 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, one has the option of listening to either a fairly accomplished DD 5.1 soundmix (the party sequence in particular is fulsome and obnoxious) or a commentary featuring director Bota, executive producer Nick Phillips, overlord Joel Soisson, and F/X dude Gary J. Tunnicliffe. I interviewed a low-level producer once, by the way, and they don't know jack about shit. Just so's you know. The commentary is pretty standard fare but, as per usual, I was surprised how self-deprecating Bota actually is, making it really hard to dislike the guy. He admits to taking a few direct pointers from Clive Barker, which is nice in of itself but makes me pine for the days when Barker himself was giving film directing the old college try. Although there's a certain skeeziness in the discussion of getting young girls to be naked for your picture and in a moment where Soisson (I think) compares part of the film to Salvador Dali's artwork (both sections reminding of how quickly these things can descend into ugliness or arrogance), it's otherwise a relatively painless track. A standard "Making of" ("Ticket to Hellworld: A Behind-the Scenes Look" (13 mins.)) goes through the standard motions of regurgitating the plot and then having the cast and crew foam on about how much they loved the process and the mythology and on and on. Again, though, the flick looks better than you have any right to expect--though, to date, the only one of these Dimension flicks to really benefit from that sleekness is the third Wes Craven Presents Dracula flick.
Remarkably, the two The Boogeyman films get a similar kind of first-rate treatment. I remember actually renting The Boogeyman at a long-defunct Colorado video store over a decade ago (Video Plus, you magnificent bastards), a store that stocked a fabulous selection of lurid horror titles with fabulously trashy cover art--the kind you felt guilty peeking at. This was not long after I'd read Stephen King's creepy short story of the same name and so I thought I was about to see a film version of it. No go, but sadder still, it was no kind of substitute; if you can't scare an over-imaginative fifteen-year-old, you can't scare anybody. The Boogeyman and Return of the Boogeyman dock on opposite sides of a flipper, with the former packed with a start-up trailer for The Cave. The menu proper also offers these: (the new, non-"The") Boogeyman, the Yankee version of The Grudge, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Devour, and the hilariously-titled Chupacabra Terror.
A nice, clean print receives a 1.85:1, tightly-matted (non-anamorphic) video transfer that I'm going to guess is more or less identical to that of the platter Anchor Bay packaged with The Devonsville Terror (this one comes courtesy Sony Pictures). Of particular interest is a fire shot in chapter 3 that's striking in its colour clarity and separation. I can't imagine that this film could possibly look any better and watching it in this way actually improves the experience by evoking a kind of evil '80s excess in which it doesn't otherwise indulge. The DD 2.0 mono audio is fine, particularly in recreating in burst fidelity how Suzanna Love screams like a little tin tea kettle. Return of the Boogeyman likewise opens with a trailer for The Cave and is, likewise, decorated with the same sub-menu gallery of trailers. Its video transfer is in 1.33:1, which I suspect is OAR; the colours are washed-out, the lighting is atrocious, and the whole thing stinks of "weekend project." If I haven't mentioned that it looks and sounds (in DD 2.0 stereo) like a porno vid: it does.
And finally, Anchor Bay champions The Fallen Ones with a striking 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that makes a strong case for the company never doing anything half-assed no matter the content. The disc opens with trailers for Dead & Breakfast, Man with the Screaming Brain, and All Soul's Day, and the menu proper additionally offers trailers for It Waits and The Fallen Ones itself. "Giants in the Earth: The Making of The Fallen Ones" (27 mins.) is a perversely extended making-of docu replete with B-roll footage and confirmation that VanHook's name is actually spelled without a space. Ellis Island, you wacky so-and-so! It's amazingly complete, going all the way back to VanHook remembering impromptu catechism courses taken at his dead mother's knee as a source of inspiration. The piece also goes a long way towards demonstrating that for as affable as VanHook seems, he doesn't have one idea worth preserving in this exhaustive a fashion. "Such a delight" cast & crew statements do little to bolster the actual quality of the docu, but because the film is sort of fun in a trash-cinema way, you feel like forgiving a lot of the crimes of self-regard herein. Disappointing that there's no mention of the Clive Barker short that obviously influenced the mummy effigy effect, but I did appreciate the level of pride on display as well as what they did with essentially no money. "Creating Aramis the Mummy" (2 mins.) is a brief discussion of just that while "Animatics: Pre-Visualization" (9 mins.) is essentially an animated storyboard sequence played side-by-side with the finished product.
The centerpiece extra, however, is a lively commentary teaming VanHook, producer Karen Bailey, DP Matt Steinauer, and F/X supervisor Chadd B. Cole. (It's only one of four tracks, the recommended being a loud DD 5.1 mix that makes good use of the surrounds and discretes in general--listen to the mummy throwing a helicopter over a ridge and marvel that something so cheesy could sound so groovy.) Between trainspotting matte paintings and how the ridiculous (but fun) F/X were achieved, the quartet have a nice time ribbing one another. Bailey, in particular, has a sharp wit that's much appreciated, chiming in as she will now and again to deflate gathering ego storms. A surprising amount of silence mars the track, and I found it hard not to chortle during the discussion of Van Diem's "method," but all-in-all, not a bad option if you're into this sort of thing. A "Behind-The-Scenes Still Gallery" is comprised of, I kid you not, in the neighbourhood of 99 stills, while a "Storyboard Gallery" blissfully boasts of 22 at best. You can also read the screenplay by loading this puppy up in a DVD-ROM drive. Originally published: October 18, 2005.