Many horror fans look fondly back on the 1980s for its string of wildly fun, if occasionally dumb monster flicks – films like C.H.U.D., Pumpkinhead, Larry Cohn’s Q: The Winged Serpent, The Deadly Spawn, Monster Squad and more. The Boogens is an early, more obscure effort, and one unfortunately missed by horror fans who were able to track down other films on VHS, cable television, in a dwindling number of drive-in or independent theaters, and later online or DVD. After its 1981 release, The Boogens was unfortunately not available on VHS until the mid-‘90s (from Republic Pictures), which has been difficult to find in the last decade. But finally, thanks to Olive Films, The Boogens is available for home viewing on DVD and Blu-ray.
An abandoned Colorado silver mine reopens many years after it was closed, due to a devastating cave-in. Roger and Mark have recently moved to the area with Roger’s girlfriend Jessica and her friend Trish. After they’ve blown a hole in the cave to reopen it, they discover a strange, underground lake, next to a pile of bones and skulls. Trish, a journalist, begins researching the past tragic events at the mine. Odd things happen in their house, and a strange old man is caught lurking around. When Roger goes missing, Trish and Mark are forced to confront the tentacled horror unleashed from the mine.
The Boogens is a charming, if sedate mishmash of horror genres and tropes. ‘50s monster movies and the slasher are represented, as well as a mine setting (like the earlier My Bloody Valentine), the basement no one should go in, horny twenty-somethings, and a creepy old man. Though the film gets off to a slow start, the violence and scares are unpredictable and the final half hour, full of disappearances, monster attacks and explosions, ramps up the action.
The Boogens’ small, intimate cast is surprisingly solid, and its characters are likable. Leading ladies Rebecca Balding (Silent Scream) and Anne-Marie Martin (Prom Night) are more fleshed out and less annoying than their teenage counterparts in other ‘80s slasher fare. Their boyfriends, played by Fred McCarren and Jeff Harlan, have some decent dialogue. There are sex scenes and some nudity, but it is relatively tame. Jon Lormer (Creepshow) makes an appearance as the mysterious old man, a trope also found in slasher films like Friday the 13th.
The film is certainly flawed – loose ends, unexplained plot devices and a dragging pace – but no more so than other horror efforts from the period. With low expectations and some suspension of disbelief, it’s a fun, worthwhile exercise in ‘80s monster horror. Despite the low budget, the sets and effects are solid, with some gore appearing late in the game. Director James L. Conway (he primarily directed television, including a few episodes of the later Star Trek series) makes the wise choice to have the boogens appear as little and as late as possible (a la Jaws) and goes for the wackiest creature imaginable – a sort of mid-sized, Lovecraftian Gamera with fangs, claws, tentacles, bug eyes and a turtle shell.
The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer looks much better than the original VHS, but has not been extensively restored. There are some scratches and white specs, but otherwise the print holds up well. The film is still bright and colorful enough to give the full effect of the snowy set, and the ridiculous, low-budget monsters created by Ken Horn (effects artist for The Hills Have Eyes and the wonderful Tourist Trap) are able to thrash their tentacles about clearly, despite the dark basement scenes. This is one of the final films for cinematographer Paul Hipp, who churned out a number of trashy horror and exploitation films, including the bizarre, but wonderful Grave of the Vampire and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant.
The English, Dolby Digital Mono track is mediocre, but more than acceptable, with only occasional hissing. The dialogue is clear, though there are no subtitles or closed captioning options available. Bob Summers’s fitting score sounds great, as do the effects.
Olive Films included a nice commentary track with director James Conway, star Rebecca Balding and screenwriter David O’Malley, which is moderated by Jeff McKay. The track is funny, informative and covers most of the details of the production. It’s clear that The Boogens was a labor of love. Conway, in particular, isn’t afraid to laugh at himself, or the film. Speaking of love: he also tells the story of how he and Balding started dating on set and married while the film was still under production.
Though The Boogens can’t live up to the greatness of certain ‘80s monster movies like Basket Case, C.H.U.D. or The Gate, it has certain undeniable charm, and is worth seeking out after years of unavailability. While The Boogens’ plot drags a bit, its likable cast (including the dog), believable dialogue, delightfully silly monsters and unpredictable pacing will especially please ‘80s horror fanatics.
~ By Samm Deighan