Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #3: "The Boogie Man Will Get You"

When Winnie Slade (Miss Jeff Donnell) bought a dusty old country house, she thought a few creaky floorboards were the worst she'd have to deal with. Sure, the farmhands are a bit nutty, and weird Professor Billings (Boris Karloff) carries on some funny business in the basement, but they're just some harmless eccentrics. But little does Winnie know that the professor's experiments in turning men into super-powered beings have left her with a few well-preserved corpses tucked in the cellar. Not only that, but some shady houseguests check in, there's a mad bomber on the loose, and a killer has taken to stalking the premises. The Slade estate is getting screwier by the minute, and Winnie's ex-husband Bill (Larry Parks) is the only one sane enough to try and figure out what's going on.

Anyone who says that old movies are boring can put The Boogie Man Will Get You in their pipe and smoke it. A surplus of subplots is tough for any movie to handle, but this one clocks in at 66 minutes and still whips itself into entertaining shape. But it should be said that this isn't a true horror movie. There's no ordained "Boogie Man" to speak of, and that Mothman guy on the poster is nowhere to be seen either (what, did the artist think the flick wasn't busy enough?). We have Peter Lorre gussied up like the Reverend Harry Powell, but even he gets in on the goofiness pretty quickly. Nah, Boogie Man isn't an official fright film but rather a farce with a cheerfully diabolical sense of humor. In tone, it's closer to Arsenic and Old Lace than Frankenstein, with Karloff's nutty professor humorously lamenting many a human guinea pig lost in the name of science.

Still, the light approach works best for Boogie Man; with a workload like the one it takes on, truly sinister overtones would've killed its charm. As it, the movie has some trouble keeping up with itself, occasionally dishing out gags and side bits for the sake of having something to do. But with its short running time, Boogie Man wraps up long before it has the chance to really wear out its welcome. It's too cheery to hate, especially when you see the actors having just as much fun. Karloff has a blast defying God's will any chance he gets, but I was even more impressed with Lorre's performance. To be honest, I'm not as up on my Lorre as I should be, but he was wry comic gold here, playing the town jack-of-all-trades who joins up with Billings to make a few quick bucks. Donnell and Parks are just fine as the prototypical bickering lovers, and Maxie Rosenbloom enjoys some good-natured goofs as a particularly dimwitted shuckster.

The Boogie Man Will Get You comes packaged with Boris Karloff's Icons of Horror set, where it's easily the least frightening of the bunch. It's not the first time this has happened, but it's of more respectable quality than Karloff's lighter material tends to be. Sunny and amusing over campy and intolerable, The Boogie Man Will Get You is the very picture of macabre hilarity.

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