Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: The Bye Bye Man

Hey guys, it's finally here! It's The January/February Film Dumping Ground! Yes, it's that magical time of the year when the major studios burn off all the celluloid bombs they didn't dare release during the all-important Summer and Xmas blockbuster seasons! Awesome! Brace yourselves for two solid months of watered-down PG-13 horror films, cheap CGI kid's movies and fart comedies. It's a fantastic time to be a film fan!

The Bye Bye Man was written by Jonathan Penner, and directed by Stacy Title.

Penner has worked primarily as an actor, and previously wrote Let The Devil Wear Black in 1999. Hey Jonathan, don't quit your day job! Stick with the acting!

Title previously directed The Last Supper, the aforementioned Let The Devil Wear Black and Hood Of Horror (which I assume is some sort of urban fright film, and not about a haunted hoodie). Oddly enough, Stacy Title is married to writer Johnathan Penner. Gee, I wonder how she got this gig...

The movie is based on The Bridge To Body Island, a chapter in Robert Damon Schneck's The President's Vampire, which is a collection of allegedly true supernatural stories. Yep, that's right– the producers of this film want us to think this movie's based on a true story. I have absolutely no problem believing this. There's no doubt in my mind that it's true this movie was based on a story.

The Bye Bye Man is the latest in a long ling of tepid PG-13 "horror" films that have littered the cineplex for the past couple of decades. Sadly, like its predecessors, this one is violent yet conspicuously gore-free, and is about as scary as a basket of kittens.


You can practically feel the filmmakers straining here as they desperately try to create a new horror movie icon like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Unfortunately I don't see the Bye Bye Man joining the Slasher Pantheon any time soon. He's strictly a one-and-done movie monster.

A good horror icon needs one or more of the following qualities: A sadistic personality (think Freddy Krueger), an interesting backstory (Freddy again, Michael Myers), a distinctive weapon (Freddy yet again, Jason Voorhees) or a memorable appearance (Freddy, Jason, Pinhead).

The Bye Bye Man has NONE of those. His appearance is extremely bland, as he looks like a generic, pasty-faced ghoul. He has no backstory at all, springing up with little or no explanation. He doesn't even use a weapon! Worst of all, he has absolutely no personality to speak of. He never utters a word or even a moan all through the movie. Not even so much as an awful Freddy-style pun!

The only thing the Bye Bye Man ever does is appear out of the shadows and walk menacingly toward his victims as his slender, bony finger points straight at them. Really, that's it? He doesn't disembowel teens with a razor-fingered glove, or dismember co-eds with a machete? He just silently points? Wow, that is terrifying!

The biggest problem with this movie is its muddled mythology. Horror films need to lay down a set of easy to understand rules, so the audience knows what the characters need to do in order to defeat the monster. The Nightmare On Elm Street movies all had a simple set of such laws— Freddy Krueger's a demon who haunts your dreams. If he kills you in your dream, you die in the real world.

The Bye Bye Man tries to set up a few guidelines, but fails miserably. We're told that simply thinking about the Bye Bye Man makes him stronger, but this rule's applied very inconsistently and sometimes not at all. He's also fond of tossing gold coins on the floor, but why he does this is never explained. There's some sort of locomotive imagery that surrounds him as well, for god knows what reason. Oh, and he has a hell hound that follows him around, but all it does is eat people's faces after they're already dead. Unfortunately NONE of these odd and disparate elements are ever adequately explained in the film. I cannot emphasize this enoughNOTHING about him is explained.

Supposedly the Bye Bye Man is responsible for "all the unspeakable acts in the world," but once again, we never actually see this. All we get are a trio of college students squabbling with one another, and a couple of off screen murders. Why not throw in a few news reports about mass murders in the area, implying that the monster's influence is spreading throughout the city?

With a bit of work, this could have been a neat little psychological thriller. The Bye Bye Man's preferred method is to cause his victims to hallucinate until they go crazy and kill themselves. Wouldn't it have been infinitely more effective if he took a victim's greatest fear, amplified it and used it against them? The movie very lightly touches on this angle, but again it never adequately explores it, because it would have required some actual writing skill.

Credit where credit's due: the opening sequence is very well done, giving the audience the impression they're in for a riveting and terrifying movie experience. Sadly our hopes are dashed once the scene's over, and the regularly-scheduled bland-as-dishwater main storyline begins.


Why do studios keep pumping out these watered down, scare-free PG-13 snore-er, I mean horror films year after year after year? That's easy— money! 

Despite the fact that critics hate 'em, "horror" movies like this almost always make money, because they're filmed so cheaply. The Bye Bye Man's budget was a scant $7.4 million, which is probably less than they spent for donuts on a film like Batman V. Superman. It grossed $16 million in its first week, so it's already broken even and guaranteed to make a small profit. Against all logic and reason, it would not surprise me if we see The Bye Bye Man 2: Even Bye-ier in a couple years.

The studios are never gonna stop making these movies until the public stops going to see them. It's all up to you, people!

SPOILERS, I GUESS!

The Plot:

Please excuse the choppy nature of this truncated plot synopsis. Part of it's due to the murky, muddled storyline, and part's due to the fact that the movie's already started to fade from my brain, hours after I saw it.

The film starts out promisingly, with a flashback to 1969 Wisconsin, where a shotgun-toting reporter Larry Redman enters a home and demands to know if the terrified residents "told anyone the name." Despite their horrified denials, the man brutally executes them (in the most bloodless, PG-13 manner possible), and then goes after the terrified family across the street. 
Unfortunately the film immediately goes downhill the minute this sequence ends.

Cut to the present, where three college students— straight-laced Elliot, his girlfriend Sasha and his best friend John (a smooth-talkin' ladies man)— decide to move off campus to concentrate on their studies (riiiight), and rent an impossibly spacious old house.

The house turns out to be a fixer-upper, so Sasha remodels it, by making lamp shades out of generic brand chicken buckets. I guess that's a visual cue that she's the "quirky" one of the bunch. A few days later, Elliot's brother Virgil and his cute daughter Alice stop by and give the trio a house-warming gift. Alice wanders around the house and into Elliot and Sasha's bedroom, where she finds a gold coin on the floor. She considers taking it, but places it back on an old nightstand that Sasha hauled up from the basement. 


Things go along smoothly for a while, until doors start opening by themselves and more gold coins start dropping onto the floor out of the nightstand. You know, if I had a magic nightstand that dispensed gold coins, I wouldn't worry about whether it was haunted or not. I'd just collect 'em and make a trip to the bank once a week. But I digress...

Elliot opens the drawer of the nightstand, and sees the words "Don't think it. Don't say it." scrawled over and over on the inside. As he examines the drawer, he sees it has a false bottom, and like an idiot lifts it out. The real bottom of the drawer is carved with the name, "The Bye Bye Man." Say, that'd make a good title. Well, not a good title, mind you, but A title. Elliot mentions the name to Sasha and John, but they have no idea what it means either.

The spookiness escalates after that, causing Sasha to call in her supernaturally "sensitive" friend Kim to come in and cleanse the house of evil spirits. Amazingly, Kim turns out to be the real deal, as she rattles off facts about Elliot she couldn't possibly know. She cuts the seance or cleansing or whatever it is short though, when she senses an evil presence that's coming for them all. Elliot realizes she's talking about the Bye Bye Man.

Immediately after Kim's cleansing, the three friends begin begin acting strangely and hallucinating (or do they?). Sasha develops a nagging cough in a little subplot that seems like it's going to lead to something, but ends up going nowhere. John hooks up with Kim for a one night stand, then thinks he sees maggots in her hair and practically shoves her out of his Mustang. And Elliot begins suspecting platonic friends Sasha and John are secretly fooling around behind his back. 


Elliot also begins seeing the Bye Bye Man, who appears as a spectral, ghoul-faced figure in a black hood, accompanied by some sort of poorly-animated hellhound. The Bye Bye Man creeps out of shadows and emerges from coats hung on racks, in one of the very few genuinely creepy moments of the film. Naturally no one else ever sees these ghostly intruders.

The next day Elliot goes to the school library to do some generic internet searching (I guess they couldn't afford Google's licensing fee) on the Bye Bye Man. Couldn't he have done that at home? Does their ridiculously roomy home not have an internet connection?


Anyhoo, he doesn't find anything online, so he enlists the help of Mrs. Watkins, the world's most helpful librarian. They go through the physical records, and discover one lone report of the 1969 Larry Redman incident, in which the name "The Bye Bye Man" is mentioned several times. Unfortunately seeing and hearing the name is enough to infect poor Mrs. Watkins as well.

Elliot goes to see Kim, and finds she's also been infected by this supernatural "virus." She claims she's been seeing disturbing hallucinations, and unbeknownst to Elliot, has killed her roommate. They go for a drive and Kim thinks she sees a family hurt in a car wreck, and demands Elliot stop so they can help. Despite the fact that she knows she's prone to seeing visions, she still runs right toward the suspiciously pitiful family and into the path of an oncoming train. Splat!

Every police car, firetruck and ambulance in Wisconsin then shows up at the scene of this small accident. Poor Carrie-Anne Moss enters the movie for some reason, playing Police Detective Shaw, the world's most sympathetic, yet hard-nosed cop. She questions Elliot and says witnesses saw him chase Kim into the path of the train, and that he's in big trouble unless he tells her what's really going on. He refuses to mention the Bye Bye Man to her in order to keep her from becoming infected.

Fortunately for Elliot, he's released after police discover Kim left a suicide note stating she killed her roommate and was planning on killing Elliot and his friends as well. That sounds more like a confession that a suicide note to me, but let's just roll with it.


Elliot then discovers Larry Redman's wife is still still alive, and pays her a visit. For some reason the Widow Redman is played by screen legend Faye Dunaway, who must have needed a new yacht payment or something. In a completely pointless scene, Elliot asks her what she knows, and she tells him the only reason she's still alive is because her husband never told her the name of you know who. Yeah, Widow Redman, we kind of figured that out for ourselves.

Dejected, Elliot goes home and hallucinates Sasha and John messing around in bed. He beans John in the head with a baseball bat, which somehow miraculously doesn't kill him. He gets a call from Mrs. Watkins, who says she's been having weird visions and wants to talk with him. Unknown to him, the Bye Bye Man has caused Mrs. Watkins to kill her entire family. As Elliot speeds to her house, he runs down Mrs. Watkins, who's wandering down the road for some reason. His car flips and he crawls from the wreckage and staggers down the road.

Elliot realizes how to beat the Bye Bye Man
— by ignoring the hallucinations he causes. I guess that might work, but what if something you think is a vision turns out to be real?

Meanwhile back at the house, everyone's having hallucinations. Sasha thinks John is Elliot, and John sees Sasha as the decayed corpse of Kim. Elliot enters the house just in time to see John stabbing Sasha with a pair of scissors, while the Bye Bye Man looks on. He tackles John and kills him, but is then horrified when he snaps out of it realizes it was actually Sasha who was killing John, meaning he just killed his own girlfriend. 

The house then erupts into flames for some reason. Just then, Virgil and Alice pull up and see the blazing house. Virgil tries to save Elliot, but the flames are too intense. It doesn't really matter, as Elliot shoots himself in the head to end the Bye Bye Man's curse.


Later after the fire's out, Virgil and Alice drive away. Alice reveals she found a couple of gold coins in the drawer of the old nightstand that was in Elliot's trash. In the movie;'s final flailing attempt to scare us, she says she saw writing inside the drawer (GASP!) but couldn't read it (Phew!).

Detective Shaw arrives at the scene and tells a fellow cop that there's more to this case than meets the eye. We then see John's somehow still alive and trying to talk. Shaw bends down and places her ear inches above his mouth, as he whispers something to her.


The End. Or IS it?

Thoughts:
• The film's unfortunate PG-13 rating really shows in the opening sequence. When Larry Redman goes on his 1969 killing rampage, he shoots a neighbor with a shotgun at near point blank range. She's knocked backward into the wall and slumps to the floor, leaving a small, softball-sized and completely bloodless dent in the drywall behind her. I have a feeling an attack like that would leave a bit more of a mess in reality.

• By far the most unrealistic thing about this movie wasn't the supernatural demon whose very name can affect a person's mind, but the GIGANTIC house that Elliot and his fellow student friends can somehow afford. 

Seriously, his bedroom was almost the size of my entire home! I guess the real estate market's very affordable in Wisconsin.

• About that tag line on the poster: "Don't think it. Don't say it."

More like, "Don't watch it. Don't see it," amirite? Eh? EH? 

• British singer/actor Lucien Laviscount plays Elliot's best friend John in the film. Apparently director Stacy Title was mightily impressed with Laviscount's muscly physique, because she has him strip off his clothes as often as possible. Even when it doesn't make any sense story-wise, he struts around sans clothing.

• So the Bye Bye Man gets power from his victims whenever they say his name or think about him, right? The more they think about him, the more powerful he becomes. He also causes them to hallucinate, to the point where they start killing other people. Eventually they're driven mad and kill themselves.

I dunno... doesn't it seem counterproductive to make his victims commit suicide? If they're dead, they can't think about him, right?

I guess he survives by dealing in volume. He infects a person and then they end up infecting countless others before they die, like a supernatural chain letter.

Now that I think about it, that's pretty much how a virus works. It needs a host to replicate itself, but often ends up killing it. It has to rely on the host infecting others to perpetuate itself.

• The director must have reeeeeeally liked The Shining. The hallways in the house look almost exactly like the ones in the Overlook Hotel. Any second I expected to see a pair of twin girls at the end of the hall saying, "Come play with us, Danny!"

The "Don't think it. Don't say it" mantra scrawled inside the drawer (and everything else) also echoed Jack Torrance's "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."

• Whenever we see the Bye Bye Man, he's always accompanied by some sort of hell hound. The creature had an interesting design, but seemed completely out of place in the world of the movie. Plus it didn't help that it looked like it stepped out of a 1990s video game. Or one of the Resident Evil movies.

The filmmakers insist the hell hound was a real dog wearing some sort of monster suit, but I don't believe that for a minute. It looked and moved exactly like bad CGI.

• Speaking of the hell hound... the students' house features wallpaper with what appears to be a hunting motif, complete with dogs flushing birds from the grass. At one point one of these printed dogs turns to the camera, and its head morphs into what I think is supposed to be that of the hell hound.


Note that the Bye Bye Man supposedly only has the power to control the minds of his victims, not alter reality itself. No one's looking at the wallpaper when it morphs, so how the hell is it happening? I guess he has the ability to animate wallpaper patterns just for fun? Handy!

• After Kim's run over by a train, we see a couple of ambulance workers carrying her away on a covered stretcher. I actually chuckled at that scene, because it looked like a completely intact body under the sheet. Train vs. Pedestrian accidents usually don't leave that many remains.

• After Elliot figures out that the Bye Bye Man gets stronger the more you think about him, he tries to distract himself with music. The song he picks? Bye Bye Love of course. No, really. I'm not kidding. There's a demon trying to kill him, and he picks a song with two thirds of its name in the title.

I get it now! Elliot is an idiot!

• I assume the Bye Bye Man's ghoulish appearance is supposed to be terrifying, but unfortunately he ends up looking a LOT like Brain Guy from MST3K.

The Bye Bye Man is of course played by genre favorite Doug Jones. Jones is an incredibly tall and impossibly thin actor, who's racked up over a hundred and fifty film credits over the years— usually as some sort of creature. He's Hollywood's goto guy whenever they need someone to play a willowy and lanky monster.

God forbid Jones ever gains a couple pounds, as his career would instantly be over.

• Once you realize how the Bye Bye Man operates, he seems like he'd be fairly easy to beat. He works by conjuring up hallucinations in your mind, right? So once you start noticing you're seeing bizarre things, shouldn't you be inherently suspicious of them, and maybe somehow check to be sure they're really happening?

• Carrie-Anne Moss plays a tough as nails cop (or at least tries to), who kind of investigates the case. At the very END of the movie, she stands in front of the burning house full of murdered students and tells a fellow cop that "There's more to this case than it appears!" and vows to get to the bottom of it. 

Um... wouldn't it have been a good idea to have said that maybe halfway through the picture, instead of thirty seconds before the credits roll?

• During the end credits, the movie proudly proclaims it was filmed on location in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm not sure I'd tell brag about that if I was the producer (Sorry, Clevelandites!).


The Bye Bye Man could have been an effective little horror film if only it had a better script, adequate actors and a more competent director. It tries to set up a new horror icon ala Freddy Krueger, but fails spectacularly. Nothing about its mythology is ever adequately explained, resulting in a muddled and incoherent mess. Say "bye bye" to this movie and re-watch Nightmare On Elm Street again instead. I give it the first D+ of the year! Congratulations!

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