Feb 9, 2005 at 12:00 am

After lending his muscle to the American remake of The Grudge, Sam Raimi puts his producer’s stamp on yet another horror flick with Boogeyman — but for all its faults (and there are plenty) the film suffers first and foremost from being released about four months too late. Midwinter isn’t the time for zombie-fied children, creaky old houses and things that lamely go bump in the night; the only situation in which a movie like this would have the slightest chance is in an empty drive-through on a cold October night, preferably with the aid of controlled substances and someone else’s white-knuckled grip on your forearm.

As it stands, the only person enjoying controlled substances seems to be the film’s star, formerly squeaky clean 7th Heaven teen Barry Watson. Limping his way through the film with the dull, heavy-lidded stare of a collegiate stoner, Watson plays Tim, a young man with a trophy girlfriend (Tory Mussett) and an unusually irrational fear of closets — not to mention wardrobes, dressers, cupboards, pantries and under-the-bed dust bunnies. Tim suffers from Bad Horror Movie Backstory Syndrome, which, in layman’s terms, means he’s plagued by frequent and utterly random visions of murder, death and mutilation, accompanied by high-pitched screeches. His psychiatrist offers up perhaps the most laughable remedy in the horror textbook: Spend one night in your spooky childhood house, and all your fears will disappear.

Anyone familiar with the concept of a horror movie will know what happens next. A series of tame, flash-edited shocks punctuated by the occasional cool camera angle or special effect, Boogeyman falls squarely in the tradition of safe, uninspired B-horror pictures. Director Stephen Kay is savvy enough to borrow from The Omen, Poltergeist and Amityville Horror; unfortunately, he also displays a working knowledge of dreck like The Cell, Darkness Falls and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. You know you’re in trouble when the film’s creepiest, queasiest moment isn’t in the haunted house at all, but on the road, when Tim’s windshield has a close encounter with a kamikaze crow.

You come to appreciate little moments like those in bland movies like this, which makes the appearance of Emily Deschanel as Tim’s former sweetheart Kate all the more welcome. Deschanel (the younger sister of indie goddess Zooey Deschanel, and it shows) has a natural, halting charm that brings to mind such ’70s stalwarts as Debra Winger, Margot Kidder, Karen Allen or horror queen Adrienne Barbeau. Saddled with stock dialogue and an even worse hair stylist, she manages to convey humor, warmth and a sense of her character’s personal history in just a fraction of screen time. This film might not survive the bargain bin at the video store, but Deschanel has a long career ahead of her — let’s just hope it doesn’t involve a role in Boogeyman 2.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].