I haven’t seen The Bye Bye Man yet. I know the basic story and I’ve been spoiled on—I think—a few of the major beats, but I still haven’t seen it and don’t know terribly much about it other than it sounds like a mixture of A Nightmare on Elm Street and It Follows. People are saying that it’s very bad and that could very well be the case. At least, that’s what it looks like they’re saying when they remember to actually talk about the film.
Because, the truth is, it’s almost impossible to hear any discussion of the feature, good or bad, over the meme that the title has become. People have more widely latched onto this than any horror movie in recent memory, all of them to give their pun on what a terrible, terrible title this is.
Granted, most of my social network feed is entrenched in the horror community anyway, but I can’t go more than ten or fifteen minutes at any point during my considerable Internet activity without seeing someone make a joke about the title. Everyone says it sounds like the stupidest thing ever. That it sounds like the least scary name for a horror villain.
As many problems as people might have with the film and as valid as they might be, this is the only thing they’re talking about. We have memes like The Bye Bye Bye Man, The Farewell Gentleman (which I actually like quite a bit) and the infamous The PeePee PooPoo Man. All of these things are designed to point out that it has the least scary title you’ve ever seen.
But isn’t that kind of the point? From the first time I heard the title, before I saw the poster or the trailer, I just assumed that it was supposed to sound like a child’s nursery rhyme. And it does. As far as I was concerned, it served its purpose and I didn’t think much more of it. Then I saw just how huge of a thing it had become on the Internet, and I was kind of baffled. Yes, it sounds silly, but so what?
You know what’s not a scary horror villain name? Most of them. Honestly, almost all of them. Freddy Krueger sounds like a mailman, Chucky’s a Rugrat, Jason Voorhees sounds like a German exchange student, Michael Myers sounds like a respectable financier who would have given John Carpenter the money needed to film Assault on Precinct 13. Okay, that last one is who the character was actually named after. I wouldn’t have batted an eye if Aladdin had off-handedly referred to his guide as “Wishmaster” because it’s no more or less terrifying than simply calling him “Genie.” And then, well, there’s Pinhead.
More than anything, The Bye Bye Man relates back to one horror figure in particular. One iconic figurehead in the pantheon of horror from whom so many of the others have spread: The Boogeyman. There’s nothing remotely scary about that name whatsoever. Originally, it derives from the German bögge, or boggle-man, which effectively means hobgoblin in English. The origins are scary enough, but to just hear the name on its own it sounds like a man in his late forties trying to recapture his roller disco youth.
The Boogeyman is scary because it is this formless, identityless thing that preys on children. It’s scary because of what it does and because of what it represents, not because of its name. The same is true for almost every horror villain. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, they’re not scary because of their names, they’re scary because of what they do and who they are.
Sometimes the scariest thing evil can do is take an innocent, even silly sounding name. A great example would be luring children away with a harmless and goofy name like Pennywise the Dancing Clown. I think Andy would have begun to expect something was up much earlier in Child’s Play if his doll had just said, “Hi, I’m Slash McMurderkill, wanna play?” Or, alternatively as the executives suspect in Child’s Play 2, the doll could have just said “I’m the Lake Shore Strangler and I’m going to kill you.”
I just assumed that The Bye Bye Man was a semi-innocent nursery rhyme name, but the kind of name that could be scary to a really little kid. That’s all I really expected with that title. I think it’s intriguing enough on its own, especially when we’ve already had horror films about Leprechaun, Rumplestiltkin and The Tooth Fairy. It seems weird, when this title is just part of such a long, long tradition, to single it out.
At the end of it day, it seems kind of weird to judge The Bye Bye Man for its title when it seems like it could very well be the only thing about the movie that actually makes sense. Why judge it so hard on the name of its monster, when there are probably much better things to judge it for.
But if it works for you, that’s also great. There are people who like the film, and that’s awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised if I wind up enjoying it to some degree. It was never going to be the next major horror icon, and some of the people who wanted it to be were the people criticizing its name in the first place, which makes no sense. I think we’re due for another Leprechaun or Wishmaster.
That’s an easier bar to meet than the next Freddy or Jason. Maybe The Bye Bye Man will at least get us there. Maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s a better title than The PeePee PooPoo Man, even if that would have inevitably sold more tickets.