Saturday, September 1, 2012

Meltdown 04: Sequelthon (Part III)

The Boogeyman II (1983) dir. Bruce Starr & The Boogeyman 2: Director's Cut (2003) dir. Ulli Lommel

Ulli Lommel's journey from New German Cinema actor (he's an enigmatic presence in some of Fassbinder's best early work) to Warhol collaborator (Blank Generation, Cocaine Cowboys) to legitimate director of bizarro American horror (The Boogeyman, The Devonsville Terror, Brainwaves) to soulless hack (the two films covered here, his numerous recent serial killer exploitation flicks) is perplexing, but it's also the sort of journey that one can take some grim fascination in. These two sequels to his unlikely 1980 hit supernatural slasher, The Boogeyman, are by equal turns mind-numbing and enthralling, infuriating in their utter lack of scruples and sort of snidely refreshing for the same. Dissatisfied with the state of the American film industry (the sort of the film industry that would gladly bankroll a film as uninspired and lifeless as Boogeyman II), Lommel composes these films to be deliberate wastes of time. Collectively, they possess more gall than any other pair of cash-in sequels, and for that they earn my admiration (respect or enjoyment would be going further than I'm comfortable with; I did, after all, have to watch them).

By some luck of the draw, I viewed Lommel's 2003 director's cut first, erroneously imagining it to be the preferred cut. One can only suppose that for Lommel it is the superior version, but I can't imagine anyone else claiming the same: it consists of approximately 90% footage lifted straight from the original Boogeyman, 3% footage from the 1983 Boogeyman II (but integrated into the film as if someone had hit the fast forward button over all of it), and 7% newly recorded standard definition home video shots of Lommel sitting across from the camera, decked in a baseball cap and sunglasses, recounting the "plot" of the 1983 sequel with all the clarity of someone who has never seen it. It is quite possibly the most cynical film I've yet seen. It has all the appeal of a bad special feature on a dollar bin DVD. Lommel's monologue does allow us to part with a few memorable lines of dialogue, such as "I'm an art film director!" and "I'm innocent."

Feeling that this so-called Director's Cut was only giving me a partial picture of Boogeyman's sequeldom, I made the decision to track down Lommel and Bruce Starr's 1983 "original." (Though Starr is credited as sole director, most sources claim that Lommel-- who is also one of the film's lead actors-- co-directed but removed his name after production. Curious, then, that he'd want his on the later cut...). In this go-around the film is bogged down by only about 40% of its running time consiting of repurposed footage from the original, which seems scant in comparison. The new footage concerns the only survivor of the first Boogeyman film (Suzanna Love, oil heiress and Lommel's wife until 1987) stranded in Hollywood and being courted for the rights to her story by studio lowlifes. Apparently, the sequel rights to Boogeyman II were fought over by various studios before Lommel decided to produce the film independently, and his Boogeyman II appears to be simultaneously a screed against studio exploitation and almost exactly the sort of cheap film that a lazy studio would be glad to spit out. I say "almost" because there's no hiding the film's satire of Hollywood ethos, which wouldn't sit well with any backer: in the film, Lommel plays a director named Mickey working on a picture that used to be titled The Age of Diminishing Expectations (!) before the studio changed it to Kiss and Tell; Mickey laments that his producer insists upon the inclusion of a topless scene ("but that would be pure exploitation!") immediately before Lommel/Starr include it for us; Mickey is seen reading a copy of Hollywood Babylon, filmmaker Kenneth Anger's expose of early Hollywood's seedy underbelly, a time which Mickey refers to as "the good old days," drawing our attention to how much worse it must be in 1983; all this, plus every resident of Los Angeles is portrayed as a lecherous non-talent desperate to use status for purposes of cheesy seduction. But the satire seems double-edged-- Lommel is as much taking the wind out of himself as his vapid surroundings. One character declares that "Halloween is over" and that what audiences and studios want now is "suspense and melodrama." Boogeyman II's equivalent? Death by electric toothbrush, shaving cream, corkscrew, and horsehead fire poker.

The effort here is negligible, and Lommel is a competent enough filmmaker that we can't simply call the ineptness on display here an unintentional misstep. Mickey's wife at one point convinces him that he needs to make these sort of cash-grabs every once in awhile so that his next film can the sort of film he really wants to make-- I don't have trouble imagining that the same sort of reasoning justifies this film's existence, despite any nobler satirical intentions, and Boogeyman II is satisfied with giving us nothing more than the repackaged product a sequel demands. It's rubbing our faces in our desire for a sequel-- it's punishing us for lowering ourselves to a level of taste that it finds deplorable. And that takes a lot of gall. One scene features a woman telling Mickey that he could have made fifty profitable movies for the $18 million that MGM wasted on De Palma's Blow Out. I have trouble believing that Lommel thinks Blow Out was a waste, but, having seen these two films, I have no doubt that he could have stretched that budget out across a hundred grinning, mean-spirited Boogeyman sequels.

Basket Case 2 (1990) dir. Frank Henenlotter

Because I went on for two whole grafs on Boogeymen II, I'll attempt to keep these Basket Case write-ups brief: they're both awfully enjoyable films, consistent in madcap tone and their desire to one-up each previous entry. Basket Case (1982) is a classic of grungy NYC exploitation filmmaking in the last decade of 42nd street's relevancy. As humorous and gory as it is, it's almost somber in comparison to the garishness of its two back-to-back sequels. Produced at the beginning of the '90s, Basket Case 2 & 3 are closer in their sensibilities to the Gremlins films or Beetlejuice (in fact, both films' large and diverse stable of mutated folk looks as if it could have arrived on set direct from the afterlife's waiting room).

Maybe the best way to think about these sequels is as a pair of raunchy cartoons for juvenile adults-- I hope it doesn't hurt my credibility to say that I very much enjoyed them. Duane Bradley and his murderous, mutated, once-siamese brother Belial wake up in a hospital after the first film's massacre of the doctors who separated them. They manage to escape with the help of Granny Ruth and her daughter Susan, who manage a sort of secret assisted living center for a whole gaggle of mutants (or "Unique Individuals," as Granny Ruth likes to call them). Belial is quite pleased to be around his own kind (and even more pleased to find among the inhabitants a female version of himself), while Duane wishes to take this opportunity to get away from Belial and start life on his own with Susan, if she'll have him. Maybe it could have worked out, but a nosy journalist discovers the Bradley brothers' location and tries to capture some proof.

The film plays out as a bunch of elaborate ruses concocted by Duane, Belial, Granny Ruth, and the rest of the Unique Individuals leading the journalist, her photographer, and a private investigator to their messy deaths. All of this is punctuated by a revolting sex scene between Belial and his new mate (named, appropriately enough, Eve) and a midnight mutant picnic that ends in a pregnancy shocker. It's as simple, as insane, and as fun as I've just outlined. The practical make-up for the Unique Individuals is truly work to behold, although I found the updated Belial puppet to be somewhat deficient-- it's undeniably a better puppet, but not quite as creepy as the original and far below the standard set elsewhere in this film. My favorite mutant is a gargoyle who sits on top of the house and flashes the camera a smile every once in awhile. This is unadulterated delirium.

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) dir. Frank Henenlotter

Picking up directly after Basket Case 2, the second sequel deals with the aftermath of Duane's emotional breakdown and the disgusting Belial/Eve love scene. (In fact, a reiteration of that squishy, bestial humping (I think I can call it that) is the first scene we're presented with here, because once was certainly not enough). Eve becomes pregnant with twelve (!) little Belials, and so Granny Ruth packs everyone (including a straight-jacketed Duane) into a school bus on a trip to Ruth's estranged husband's house for the delivery. (He's a doctor with experience treating Unique Individuals. Also he probably has a high tolerance for gross things).

This film plays up the comedy angle, producing ever more sublime gag sequences: Granny Ruth's schoolbus musical number, a sheriff and his deputies speaking entirely through alliteration ("A bassinet of baby Belials!"), and Belial's drug-induced fantasy (being surrounded by topless women whispering sweet nothings along the lines of "a trapezoid is one of the simplest but most intriguing polygons") are only a few of the yuks spilling from the frame. I suppose that a good deal of the comedy also springs from Kevin Van Hentenryck's tour de force performance as an unhinged Duane. He really brings his sweet earnestness to scenes like the one he has with a teenaged girl while straight-jacketed and stuck halfway out of a school bus window-- he's so uniquely likeable that I have a hard time imagining the role working if inhabited by anyone else. The same goes for his line readings: a still straight-jacketed Duane asking, with determination, "May I borrow a Swiss Army knife?" (Additionally, I adore the gradual evolution of Duane's hair, which finds the curly mop he had in the original film reduced to that of a '50s teen greaser here. Only adds to the schoolboy amiability, I feel).

The gore factor is at its height in this third entry, though-- at the same time-- it's also at its most cartoonish. At the end of the film, Belial duels the sheriff while wearing a human-sized mech suit, akin to the one Ripley uses to defeat the Queen in Aliens. After that, the Unique Individuals storm the set of a chat show and declare to the world that the freaks are taking over. And that's as it should be: you're either with these films, or you're against them.

Look out! Next comes: The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Exorcist III: Legion (1990), & Hello Marry Lou: Prom Night II (1987).


  1. Just wanted to say, captain, that you are kicking out the jams lately. Keep on keepin' on!

    1. Thanks, pal! Against all good sense, I shall truck on. October should be fun...

      P.S. Your new theme month already has me tentatively interested in perusing some anime. Consider that the highest of compliments.