Nearly every culture has a boogeyman. Many of them have been appropriated and made famous in modern books and movies. Once when I was a child, I was told about a man who wasn’t so much a man as a monster that sort of looked like a man. He was tall and thin and he didn’t have skin. He roamed the Earth kidnapping children for their bones, which he tore from them and put them into his own body, helping strengthen his own brittle bones.
Many, many years later, I was reading one of volumes of the Books of Blood by Clive Barker (they are a collection of short stories and there are several volumes – more on that later, I’ll get on a tangent and forget where I was going with this). The story was called Rawhead Rex and it was a fictional story about the monster Rawhead & Bloody Bones that I had heard as a child. He’s a Gaelic boogeyman of Irish and Scottish tradition.
And boogeymen come in all shapes, sizes, appearances, and special powers, but the majority prey on children. You’d better be good or Rawhead and Bloody Bones will come take your bones!
Interestingly, while the practice of telling our children spook stories to encourage good behavior has decreased, the number of boogeymen have grown. And they have changed, modernizing for lack of a better term. Gone are the days when Rawhead and Bloody bones haunted the nightmares of children, replaced by more modern incantations of boogeymen like Slenderman.
Also, in modern days, with the invention of TV, VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, you can bring practically any pop culture boogeyman into your home that you want. Movies like Pumpkinhead and most slasher films such as Friday the 13th deal with the concept of a boogeyman.
Oddly, while most of us see huge differences between Jason Vorhees and Pumpkinhead, those differences are mostly cosmetic. Both are hominid, primal, and use death as punishment for transgressions. Jason is the more human of the two and wields a machete, where as Pumpkinhead is certainly more spiritual spook than former person with claws and the ability to squash human skulls in his bare hands – but as I said, these are just cosmetic differences because they both stalk their victims and punish transgressions, just like every other boogeyman story available.
And the actions of these boogeymen illustrate the other major update on the concept of a boogeyman. They punish teens, not children. No longer is it about “minding your parents and being good, polite boys and girls” it’s about following societal norms expected of teens; premarital sex, underage drinking, drug use, shitty driving, running away from home, and the list goes on and on. Aiming these boogeymen at teens is why all these films have the same basic character types like the jock, the nerd, the stoner, the easy girl. Teens are supposed to be able to find their own “character” within these tales and relate to them and therefore, when their symbolic character gets punished (usually violently) they can internalize it as “that could be me.”
Boogeymen aren’t going away anytime soon, we need them. Whether we are making films that appeal to teens to convince them not to do drugs, drink excessively, or have premarital sex, boogeymen are a part of the societal collective. And we change them and use them as we find a need.