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Monday, October 24, 2011

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Boogens (1981) review


Fred McCarren (Mark), Rebecca Balding (Trish), Anne-Marie Martin (Jessica), Jeff Harlan (Roger), Jon Lormer (Blanchard), John Crawford (Brian), Med Flory (Dan)

Directed by James L. Conway

The Short Version: This monster movie about voracious, mutant, tentacled turtle monsters chowing down on miners and campers near a newly opened silver mine has a slow, but tense first hour, but gains a good deal of momentum during its last half. Despite languishing for years in obscurity, it has maintained a small, but devoted cult following. Fondly remembered by most from frequent HBO airings in the early 80s, this film produced by the director of the infamous SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) is the Chinese food equivalent of the creature feature--it tastes good, but you'll be hungry again a short time later.

A group of miners re-open an abandoned Utah Silver mine. In the process, their blasting has inadvertently awakened ancient, tentacled, flesh eating creatures that have survived for centuries. Two miners and their girlfriends rent a cabin nearby and discover the subterranean monstrosities have access to the cabins basement via tunnels connected to the old mine.

This modest, overlooked and theatrically ignored creature feature has acquired an equally modest, yet loyal fanbase made up predominantly of people who caught the film on HBO back in the early 80s. Granted, more people probably saw the movie on television than in its no doubt brief theatrical run. This relatively slow paced little movie will likely cause mainstream horror viewers to lose interest rather quickly when the largely offscreen monsters aren't slashing and devouring little dogs and the members of the cast.

Essentially THE BOOGENS is a monster movie built around a slasher framework. The one major difference being that not everyone that has sex dies at the fangs and claws of these over-sized tentacled and toothy turtle monsters. There's a creepy backstory about a mine cave in 70 years earlier (visualized in a B/W newspaper montage during the opening credits) and also an old crazy coot (John Lormer, the crotchety and murderous old man who wanted his cake and eat it, too, in CREEPSHOW) who knows about the creatures and attempts to warn the interloping miners that have disturbed the Boogens! The stalking scenes are also reminiscent of the slasher and there are plenty of them here especially during the first hour. The bulk of the boogen action doesn't come till the last thirty minutes when the film picks up a great deal of steam.

The creatures remain largely unseen till the conclusion aside from hearing them skulking about in the distance, tearing at, or latching their tentacles around the legs of a victim. Designed by both Ken Horn (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, TOURIST TRAP, HELL NIGHT) and William Munns (THE BEASTMASTER, SUPERSTITION, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), these mini monsters may be small, but they're loud, cantankerous, very fast and very hungry. Incidentally, both Horn and Munns worked together on Wes Craven's SWAMP THING (1982). These (hardly) teenage mutant not-so-ninja-flesh eating turtles are semi convincing when we do finally get a look at them. They operate in a hand puppet fashion, although they're very energetic and their razor sharp appendages do serious damage during the fiery conclusion.

Conway's movie is successful at creating a creeping air of suspense guided by the oozing strains of Bob Summers score. The Utah lensed photography and wintry setting provide some added incentive towards the films low budget. What with so much happening and things exploding during the finale, it would appear the bulk of the budget was wisely spent where it counted. Still, if it weren't for the sex, nudity and mild gore, this could pass for a Made For TV movie. The films director worked mostly in television and his film contains a few recognizable faces from dozens of boob tube programmers.

poster image: google images

The film came and went without much notice. Bearing an ad campaign that presented the production as something of a ghost picture with an image of skeletal hands reaching up from the earth, the title alone does little to rouse interest. Sounding far too much like 'The Boogers', what exactly is a Boogen, anyways? How did such a title come about? If only there was a DVD bearing a commentary track, we'd probably have an answer to that burning boogen question. Released on VHS in the late 90s on the Republic Pictures label, the film has received a new life on cable via the now defunct MonstersHD channel and most recently on Turner Classic Movies.

It's not as leaden or boring as C.H.U.D. (1981), but comes really close if not for the near non stop creature chases during the last half. Both films are structured the same, yet the former has the larger fan base. Neither movie is spectacular, but THE BOOGENS is of greater nostalgic value for those that grew up in the 1980s when cable was king. Endorsed by none other than Stephen King, THE BOOGENS provide some minor league suspenseful moments bolstered by some juicy monster action and fiery explosions by curtain call.

Availability: Republic Pictures VHS; cable TV airings; Possible DVD release announced but not yet surfaced.


Aaron said...

I need to check this one out. I loved Rebecca Balding in SILENT SCREAM, so her being in this is definitely an incentive.

venoms5 said...

I haven't listened to the commentary on the SILENT SCREAM disc with her on it yet. She apparently didn't mind nudity as she's naked here in BOOGENS twice including a sex scene. If I still had the VHS, Aaron, I'd send it to you. I sold most all of my tapes years ago and somebody stole the remainder I kept.

Maynard Morrissey said...

saw this last year on Youtube - wasn't that impressed. It's boring and tedious indeed - but at least the creatures looked pretty cool.

Franco Macabro said...

Have always wanted to see it, but its inaccesability has prevented it! And I hate watching movies on YOU TUBE!

Unknown said...

Great review. I'm a proud member of that small but loyal fan base you mentioned, so it's great there seems to be such a large surge of interest in it lately.

Aaron said...

Apparently she (Balding) married the director of THE BOOGENS and started a family with him. I think they're still together today, or at least they were when she filmed the extra features on the SILENT SCREAM release.

venoms5 said...

@ Harry: Youtube isn't the most flattering way to watch a movie, but this one is pretty slow paced, but does have some good suspense moments. The monsters are pretty nasty, though, even though you don't see them till the end.

@ Fran: It's an okay movie, Fran. Nothing spectacular. I like it, but that's mostly to do with the nostalgia of seeing it as a kid on cable. There's definitely some worthy moments here and the film picks up a great deal of steam during the last half.

@ JP: Thanks, man. I am honestly surprised that this review has been read as many times as it has. I figured STAKE LAND would have garnered more attention, but I was way off on that one, lol.

@ Aaron: Ah, I see. I did watch some of the extras on that disc, but can't remember them as it's been so long. SILENT SCREAM was a pretty decent little movie, too. I like it better now than I did before.

Fazeo said...

This film was recently released on bluray and includes a commentary by the writer, the director and Rebecca. They answer a lot of questions about the film including where the term Boogens came from. Heh.

It might be the most endearing and fun commentary track I have listened to for a horror film since the David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl commentary track for The Beyond. The director Conway and Rebecca being married really helps bring the track a unique feel. Their commentary track is one of the better tracks I have heard since they have funny stories and memories in every scene.

The film itself is a hidden gem IMO, then again the bluray was the first time I had ever seen it.

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