Boogeyman is the second film produced by Ghost House Pictures, the genre label formed by producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert and Senator International. Ghost House Pictures is dedicated to producing commercial feature films with horror, sci-fi and fantasy themes. Raimi and Tapert are known for their distinctive, groundbreaking approach to the horror genre. It was their heritage of 1980s cult hits Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, Darkman and Army of Darkness that raised the bar for all horror films. Tapert says he and Raimi saw the formation of Ghost House Pictures as “a great opportunity. Sam and I have always been fans of horror, so this is a return to our roots.”
When Ghost House Pictures was formed, Senator had already optioned Boogeyman, which Tapert says immediately appealed to him and Raimi and their vision of making a film with a distinctive kind of horror, combining elements of American monster and Asian ghost movies. Set in rural Pennsylvania, largely in a run-down Victorian Gothic house, Boogeyman is a constantly escalating, Hollywood-style horror movie inspired by the psychologically-based storytelling of recent Japanese and Korean horror movies, like Dark Water, The Eye and Pulse.
Raimi and Tapert are again venturing into new aspects of the genre by branching away from the stereotypical monster movie category and giving Boogeyman a strong dramatic story based on a likeable character dealing with a terrifying problem.
Tapert notes, “We had been heavily influenced by Japanese ghost movies and by changing the original script to embrace some of the groundbreaking ideas coming out of Asia, we felt we could play on the ‘is it real or is it not?’ psychological aspects.”
Raimi and Tapert’s unmatched horror track record is what attracted director Stephen Kay to the project. Kay confesses, “I’ve never done anything even remotely similar to a horror movie, but I love watching them. When this came to me and I was told Sam and Rob were the producers I said ‘well, if I’m going to be doing a horror movie, these are the guys to make a horror movie with.”
Similarly, Raimi and Tapert felt that director Stephen Kay would bring something different to the movie, and elevate it from the typical horror genre style. Says Tapert, “We saw his previous movies and really liked the way he worked with actors. We thought we could give him the things that we knew how to do in the horror genre and he would bring something to it that was unique, which was his ability to work with actors and get performances in a genre that you just don’t expect those kinds of performances.”
Boogeyman is a layered film, with exceptional horror frights and “don’t look” terrifying moments bolstered by characterization and storytelling strength more likely to be found in a psychological drama. Following the Japanese tradition, there’s skin crawling tension and intense, visceral frights, set in a compelling dramatic story. Raimi and Tapert told Stephen Kay that in addition to the tension and the emotional impact of drama, they wanted 13 big frights in the movie.
Kay describes Boogeyman as a coming-of-age horror story. “It’s a horror movie about Tim’s personal battle with fear,” says the director. “The boogeyman is the personification of fear. He’s blurred, he’s ambiguous, he’s the unknown. He’s simultaneously a universal fear and an incredibly specific fear. He’s different for everybody, and this is Tim’s particular version.”
Kay set out to create Tim as a real person, living in a real world, whose fears would be believable and therefore even scarier because they arise out of normal, ordinary things. Like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, Kay was able to create real people that audiences connect with and then let them get sucked into their terror.
“If you met Tim on the street in the daytime, you’d think he’s a good-looking, cool young guy,” says the director. “If you went back to his house, you might not notice it at first but he’s got no closets and the bed is on the floor. If you were in a hotel with him at night, you’d probably notice some stranger stuff because now he’s out of his element and there’s a dust ruffle around the bed, the closet door might be partly open and he’ll find it hard to get to sleep.”
Tapert says that on a metaphysical level, the movie is “a journey to try to overcome your childhood traumas and move into your adulthood. If you don’t find a way to deal with your childhood fears, they will continue to haunt you and influence your life and make you emotionally unable to grow up. Most of us move on, but Tim hasn’t. Something has impacted him tremendously and he has to confront it in order to have a normal life. Until he has that physical confrontation with his own personal boogeyman that he created as an eight-year-old boy, he’s not able to do those things that you need to do as an adult to live in the normal world.”
Lead actor Barry Watson was thrilled about the opportunity to work with Raimi and Tapert. "I’m a big fan of their movies,” he says. “I remember when I first saw Evil Dead and Evil Dead II - I loved them. Coincidentally, I bought the special edition DVD box set right before I got the part in this movie. When I heard that Stephen was attached to the film, I jumped at the opportunity. I said ‘put me on a plane to New Zealand!"
Kay and Tapert both believe that Watson brings a “nice guy” quality and a sense of realness to the role of Tim, which is crucial in getting the audience to believe in him enough to go with him on this journey. “The role required someone who is inherently likeable because his problems are fairly enormous and could turn people off,” says Kay. “But Barry has made it real and understandable.”
Watson says the role of Tim was challenging for him on two levels: "It's a tremendous challenge being in every scene. There’s a lot of work to do. And because of that, there's a greater sense of responsibility on my part. It was very emotional creating this journey for Tim to come to terms with himself and his problems. He held onto his childhood fears for so long that it's now time as an adult to deal with them."
Emily Deschanel enjoyed working on this film, particularly because of her character and because of Stephen Kay: “He’s really smart and he knows how to keep it light on set. He’s like a big kid. I think as a director you have to have a view of the world that is like a child’s, discovering things all the time, and I think he has that.” She says of her character, Kate: “She’s a country girl and is very straightforward and says what she thinks. I think of her as the voice of reason. She brings in some common sense and the audience needs that because you’re not sure if Tim’s going crazy or if he’s really fighting the boogeyman. So, she kind of represents the audience and I like that.”
Stephen Kay enjoyed being able to cast Emily against type. In a more conventional film, Kate would be cast as the girl next door who is innocent, open and understanding beyond reproach. And Emily’s not that. She’s a complicated woman and she's a complicated actress. She's very much in the moment and real. So her relationship becomes real and unpredictable and you don’t know where the character is going to end up.”
As Tim’s girlfriend, Jessica, Australian actress Tory Mussett represents the good life Tim could be having if he would let go and move on from his fears. “She thinks she can save him from his troubles,” says the actress, “but she discovers that he’s just too much work and it’s too hard for her. She likes him a lot and she spends a lot of the time trying to get him to love her and let her help him, but he’s lost in his fear, so she becomes very frustrated.”
Working with Stephen Kay was a great experience for her. “Stephen is a fantastic director. He’s an actor, so he’s an actor’s director. He has a clear idea of what he wants and he’s very good at expressing that.”
As Tim’s mother, Lucy Lawless relished playing such an influential, memorable character as Tim’s mother: “I was working in Europe and Rob Tapert called and asked if I wanted to play a drug-addled mother who gives up custody of her son. I’m all for playing those small gems of parts which are attention grabbing, colorful roles, rather than having to sustain a whole movie. This is one of those terrific little parts, so of course I grabbed it.”
Nine year-old Skye McCole Bartusiak plays Franny and pays tribute to Stephen Kay: “He’s the youngest director I've ever worked with, so he’s a lot of fun,” says the actress. “Sometimes you get directors who don’t understand how to talk to kids, but because Stephen has a daughter my age, he talked to me in kid language, so I think because of that I could give him more.” Kay returns the compliment: “Skye is a very trusting actor. Her spirit is so open that if you give her a couple of little words and point her in a direction, she goes there. The dynamic between Franny and Tim is the emotional core of the movie, because if you’ve got a guy who’s dealing with issues created in his childhood, you need to have a child for him to work it through with.”
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Boogeyman was shot in New Zealand at exterior locations in and around Auckland and in studios in the western Waitakere City, where Raimi and Tapert’s hit syndicated television series Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys were shot from 1993 to2001. Filming took place over 10 weeks from June to late August 2003. Most exterior scenes were shot at night over two weeks of challenging mid-winter weather.
Raimi, Tapert and Kay assembled a talented team to bring their vision to reality. Director of photography Bobby Bukowski (Arlington Road, Dogfight) worked with Kay on The Last Time I Committed Suicide and Wasted. Production designer Robert Gillies, costume designer Jane Holland and line producer Chloe Smith are New Zealanders, Xena and Hercules alumni who have worked closely with Tapert on all of his and Raimi’s New Zealand-based productions. Make-up/hair supervisor Marjory Hamlin recently worked on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and Jane Campion’s The Piano. Editor John Axelrad’s recent work includes Changing Hearts starring Lauren Holly and Faye Dunaway and What’s the Worst That Could Happen? starring Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito. Visual effects company Oktobor’s most recent film was the New Zealand movie Whale Rider and they worked closely with Weta Digital on The Lord of the Rings. Most of the rest of the crew, all New Zealanders, worked on Xena and Hercules, Lord of the Rings or the New Zealand section of Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai.
Exterior locations included two different small towns near Auckland - Waitakere and Pokeno – and were used as different parts of Tim’s hometown. The exterior of Tim’s house was a real home in a rural setting in Karaka, a 40-minute drive south of Auckland City. It was a genuine Victorian Gothic style wooden colonial house, originally built in 1850 in a plush Auckland suburb and relocated to the countryside by its present owner, funeral director Ian Ferguson.
Ferguson says the house is unique in that it’s a mixture of American, English and Indian styling cues put together by a clever architect and is a precursor to the very popular villa style which arrived in Auckland around 1860. Production designer Robert Gillies says this house was perfect for Boogeyman, since it was located in the countryside and its style is similar to American houses of similar vintage.
After the exterior house was settled upon, the interior was built in the studios, along the same Victorian Gothic lines. There’s an imposing polished timber staircase, high ornate ceilings, and lots of dark corners, doorways and closets, which may or may not conceal the boogeyman. Gillies says he accentuated the inherently macabre aspects of domestic situations in order to create the perfect backdrop. For example, “I’ve chosen slightly over-the-top wallpaper patterns. I reckon every kid has lain in bed and looked at the wallpaper. I used to do it at my grandparent’s house – look at the wallpaper and get a bit flipped out. There are also devices that we used to cast big shadows, like macrame plant holders, which, when looked at in a certain way, resemble big humanly hand crafted spider webs. Or a painting that looks one way when it’s hung, but if you put it leaning up against the wall looks like something else. These slightly weird objects give elements of the unexpected as the camera creeps around the house, moving in and around dark shadowy shapes.”
Gillies restricted the color palette to deliberately create the macabre, run-down atmosphere of an uncared-for, uninhabited house. “The details of this world are slightly off, slightly cold. There are blues and greens but no reds, yellows or white. The house on the inside has been scaled up from what it is on the outside to accentuate the sense that Tim is alone in a big old house.”
Tim’s office, his apartment, and the large park nearby were all filmed in Auckland. His office is in real life occupied by an architectural firm and his apartment was a modern art gallery dressed as living space. The park where Tim is chased by the boogeyman during his nervous nighttime walk home from work is Albert Park in the centre of Auckland, which retains its Victorian-era design and landscaping. Jessica’s parents’ home was a large, plushly decorated house found in one of the city’s old-established up-market suburbs, next door to Government House, home of the New Zealand Governor General.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski worked hard on creating effects through lighting. He describes it as delicate and tender. “Stephen Kay and I were curious about approaching this genre because neither of us has shot a horror movie before. We thought ‘What if we shot a horror movie that was truly beautiful, wouldn’t that be evocative?’ Stephen wanted to base it in reality, so he kept things very subdued with a deliberate kind of tempo. There are very slow creeps that we do on the dolly, and the way the light slowly moves through branches, signifying the dread that Tim feels that was the main part of the mood.”
“Bobby and I have worked together before and he’s one of my dearest friends,” adds Kay. “I wanted to work with him on this film because he is so good at creating mood with images. He’s a filmmaker in his heart and he is deeply concerned with the emotion of the scene. He treats the lighting like an emotional painting. The feeling of the movie is mysterious, like a Francis Bacon painting. Our goal was to create things that have that look of the unknown about them. Bacon’s work is evocative emotionally and it’s also just plain creepy. They’re inherently disconcerting images, there’s something about the quality of the light or the texture of the color that makes it instantly disturbing. So rather than approaching this film in a gory or flashy way, we went for a much more subdued, disturbing quality. We found that the more you fracture the image the more compelling the image becomes.”
“It’s interesting because there was this face of horror that was defined by Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream,’ says Kay. “We looked for new visuals. Scream and Scary Movie have deconstructed and demystified the horror movie, so you have to look for the new language of horror movies and it’s coming to the rest of the world via Japan and Korea.”
New Zealand-based visual effects house Oktobor was charged with the task of bringing the elusive and ephemeral ‘boogeyman’ to the screen. During filming, the boogeyman was played as a character by actor/dancer Andrew Glover, whose movements and look were later enhanced, twisted and embellished by Oktobor. Glover, who in addition to his dance background, has done mask work, says he was inspired by the person that he saw in the mirror after his three-hour make-up transformation. “The make-up process is as if they carved a mask onto my face and so at the end of three hours I looked at myself and was inspired to do and be so many more things that I would have been able to be without the make-up.”
Glover’s role was quite physical, and much of his acting was done with a stunt harness. At Kay’s request, Glover didn’t look at the digital tests from Oktobor during or before the shoot.
All scenes with the boogeyman were shot against a green screen. Visual effects supervisor Brent Gilmartin from Oktobor notes that the process of devising the boogeyman was long and ever evolving. Kay asked Gilmartin and his team to create a figure that was ghost-like but not the ghost of someone. He explained that the boogeyman is unknown; that the mystery makes him scary. He wanted glimpses of his features at first, but at the end, when he was weaker, he wanted to see more of him. He wanted his energy pent-up like a cat about to pounce, quiet at first, and then an explosion of energy. He had to be a shape-shifter who moves through time and space (but faster), and is unpredictable, like a tornado that can touch down in any place. Kay felt that the key to the boogeyman was to see very little of him. A silhouette would be much scarier. Gilmartin used 12 visual effects artists to accomplish this goal; each working on a different aspect of the image.
Boogeyman also called for mechanical special effects, most spectacularly for the climactic scene of Tim’s showdown with the boogeyman, in which his bedroom is shaken with a force resembling a powerful earthquake. Special effects coordinator Brendon Durey says the shaking effect could be equivalent to a 4 or 5 earthquake on the Richter Scale. Durey and his team rigged a mechanically controlled replica of the bedroom set. “We floated the whole set on air shocks and then we had a shaker motor, which is basically an alternating current motor, spin in a circular motion and shake the whole set. The motor is variable speed, so the movement could be erratic, the furniture and props are wired individually so we moved them around and a ceiling panel was rigged to be released on cue to come down in a cloud of plaster dust.” The maelstrom generated by the boogeyman sucking everything from the room into the closet was created by a combination of mechanical and visual effects work, involving wires as well as green screen.
Special effects, make-up and stunts were all involved and Tory Mussett’s endurance was tested during Jessica’s traumatic experience in a motel bathroom. The scene called for three days of intensive filming in a bathtub, in which Mussett did her own stunt harness work and collected several bruises. The bath was filled with a broth comprising non-toxic black ochre and brown tempera paint powder, maple syrup, mud, leaves and twigs. A test batch of water containing food coloring was rejected by make-up supervisor Marjory Hamlin because when tested on a piece of Mussett’s hair, it turned her from bright blonde to brown. The bath water was rigged by the special effects team to churn and bubble in a lethal looking way.
Adding to the discomfort of the bath scene, Mussett was made up in the Boogeyman signature ‘blue and veiny’ style – a blue base with prominent red facial and neck veins - which signifies being scared to death from the inside. Make-up supervisor Marjory Hamlin says: “We researched the look of drowning and asphyxiation and came up with a blotchy blue. The veins are an exaggeration, though. We’ve taken a bit of artistic licence in putting veins where we think they look good because most of the actual face veins are buried under muscles and that was a bit boring.”
Hamlin also went into supernatural realms with the aged make-up for Lucy Lawless who, in her first appearance, haunts Tim in bed at night. He thinks he’s cuddling up to his sexy girlfriend Jessica, but to his (and the audience’s) absolute horror, the person in his bed is his mother, grotesquely aged to about 80.
The make-up for Andrew Glover as the Boogeyman went through several transitions before settling on the eventual gaunt, blackened, shaved head and no-eyebrows look. Hamlin says: “The initial direction was pale and hollow with a long dark wig. I put in some generic teeth and they worked so we had some made. Next we created a darker version in light grey, but we wanted to go even darker and eventually went with dark grey and black with a muddy sort of texture. I tried a bald cap on him and that looked good so Andrew, being a wonderful dedicated actor, agreed to shave his head and eyebrows. I made little prosthetic eyebags for him to accentuate his gaunt, shadowy look. And Oktobor created the fogged-over blind eye effect, so there was no need for lenses.”