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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Don’t Think It, Don’t Say It – Finding the Good in ‘The Bye Bye Man’ [The Silver Lining]

In this edition of The Silver Lining, we’ll be covering Stacy Title’s infamous urban legend adaptation, The Bye Bye Man.

From Cropsey to Bloody Mary, several horror icons have been inspired by modern folklore. To me, the most interesting part of these naturally formed bogeymen is how their mythology has no single author, as these stories are usually developed by several different people recounting what they’ve heard from others, adding and forgetting crucial details along the way in a form of narrative evolution.

In 2011, author Robert Damon Schneck published a book originally titled The President’s Vampire, which described several of these odd legends. The most prominent of these tales was the final one in the collection, simply called “The Bridge to Body Island”. In it, Schneck narrates how a trio of teenagers supposedly used a Ouija board to communicate with otherworldly entities who informed them of the existence of the treacherous Bye-Bye Man. This tragic figure was supposedly an albino serial killer from Louisiana who traveled the country by train and sought revenge against those who tormented him as a child.

While the story devolves into increasingly bizarre supernatural shenanigans after that, suffice to say that it’s a memorable introduction to a compelling character. That’s why it’s no surprise that Schneck was soon approached by Hollywood, with producers intending on adapting The Bridge to Body Island to the big screen. The ensuing project wound up in the hands of the husband-and-wife duo of director Stacy Title and writer Jonathan Penner, who had at one point been nominated for an Oscar for their short film Down on the Waterfront.

When the first trailer for The Bye Bye Man surfaced, promising a creepy story about a group of college students who rent a house with a sordid past, it actually seemed like this was going to be a competent translation of this modern folk tale to cinema screens. The more optimistic genre fans among us were even celebrating the possibility of a new horror icon that didn’t stem from a reboot or remake.


bye bye man movie

Grossing nearly $30 million on a $7 million budget, The Bye Bye Man is a strange example of a film that was clearly a financial success but almost universally despised. The movie currently sits at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics accusing it of being a nonsensical collection of familiar horror tropes. Even the few who enjoyed it admit that it’s mostly because the experience was “so bad it’s good” rather than because of the film’s actual qualities.

Digging a little deeper, it’s clear that the studio didn’t have much faith in the production either. The film originally completed shooting in 2015 but was held back until 2017 after quite a bit of executive meddling. While all we know for sure is that the original R-rated cut of the film was trimmed to a more profitable PG-13, the messy editing and abrupt story beats indicate that some essential parts of the narrative were left on the cutting room floor.

While The Bye Bye Man still boasts an assortment of appropriately horrific imagery, it winds up feeling silly and confusing without the relevant context. Sure, there are more than a few effective scares, courtesy of the late Stacy Title’s eye for dramatic composition and classic horror movie references, but most of these moments are sabotaged by unclear rules and convoluted mythology.

The film’s admittedly silly title also led to a series of increasingly absurd memes and parodies like the infamous “Peepee Poopoo Man” poster and my personal favorite, the “Hi Hi Woman”. While this unprompted viral marketing campaign undoubtedly helped with exposure, it also damaged the film’s reputation as a serious horror flick, with many viewers making fun of the picture before they had even seen it.

In the end, The Bye Bye Man was somehow less than the sum of its parts, containing interesting individual elements that were most likely mutilated in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.


bye bye man horror

I certainly can’t defend The Bye Bye Man as a misunderstood masterpiece, but there are definitely bits and pieces of it that are worth appreciating. The ingredients for a great horror movie are all here, they’re just hidden underneath baffling editing decisions and a story that refuses to elaborate on its most interesting parts.

A deadly “meme” is perfect horror fodder for the digital age, and the idea that merely thinking about the antagonist’s name is enough to summon him is reminiscent of the best bits of the Slender Man mythos. The Bye Bye Man himself is also a truly compelling monster (especially as performed by the legendary Doug Jones), It’s simply a shame that the film isn’t allowed to delve into the best bits of his mythology.

I particularly love his seeing-eye dog from hell, which is named Gloomsinger in the original story and was supposedly constructed from re-animated human body parts. Using trains as a recurring visual motif to signify that the villain is getting closer also ties in well with his serial killing origins.

Again, none of these things are explained in the movie itself, but knowing the backstory beforehand makes the experience much more enjoyable (or at the very least, comprehensible). The unrated cut of the picture restores some of the neutered spooky imagery, which certainly helps to make things more entertaining, but it sadly doesn’t contain any helpful exposition.

I’d also argue that there’s some merit to the claim that The Bye Bye Man works as a “so bad it’s good” comedic experience. If you’re willing to accept the movie’s flaws as a part of its charm, you can certainly have fun with it as a midnight B picture, especially since it’s impeccably produced and it’s clear that everyone involved is trying their best.

At the end of the day, even if you can’t stomach the flick’s cheesy thrills, you’ve got to admit that the filmmakers at least attempted to be original. Things may not have gone according to plan, but I firmly believe that somewhere out there is a cut of The Bye Bye Man that makes more sense and works as a solid horror flick. However, as it stands, there are enough interesting ideas here to warrant a watch so long as you can manage your expectations.

Watching a bad movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience. Even the worst films can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we’re trying to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror flicks.

The post Don’t Think It, Don’t Say It – Finding the Good in ‘The Bye Bye Man’ [The Silver Lining] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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