Monday, October 24, 2011
THE BOOGENS 1981
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.
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.
STAKE LAND 2010
Nick Damici (Mister), Conner Paolo (Martin), Kelly McGillis (Sister), Michael Cerveris (Jebedia Loven), Danielle Harris (Belle)
Directed by Jim Mickle
The Short Version: This amazingly downbeat post apocalyptic vampire epic is the DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) of bloodsucker cinema. In addition to the requisite blood and gore, there's also an unusually strong element of characterization that's absent from most horror movies these days. This is a surprisingly adept low budget, yet polished picture that's the polar opposite of the mainstreams popular perception of vampire iconography and a film that injects fresh blood into tired veins.
An unexplained vampiric apocalypse descends upon the world spreading like wildfire till nothing remains but dead bodies and rubble. A lone hunter known only as Mister saves a young boy and teaches him how to survive the corpse-ridden wasteland amidst battles with murderous Christian cultists and bloodthirsty vampires. The two make a few friends on their journey to New Eden, what was once known as Canada; an area allegedly free of the undead scourge.
As much as bloodsucker cinema has wore out its welcome in recent years with the proverbial veins having been bled dry, along comes a bleak, downer of a movie that adds a fresh spin on familiar territory. This ambitious sanguinary saga from Jim Mickle is the DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) of the undead. Echoing Romero's hellish vision of a world gone mad, Mickle's movie covers an incredible amount of ground in addition to exploring an unusual amount of character interaction. The action and exposition is evenly spread out and it's all so well handled, it never becomes trite or boring.
Whereas seemingly every other horror movie these days is either a remake, a found footage flick, or a vampire movie, this one here takes an undying beast of folklore and makes it new with some ingenious ideas that borrow from past movies as well as making some socially relevant statements of its own. There's more than one variety of vampire with different methods of disposing of them. No one is off limits here; it's open season on infants, women and the elderly and the camera rarely avoids lingering on the aftermath letting the viewer know that the odds of survival for anyone in the cast are relatively small.
There's a religious subtext here as well which clashes with a slight political undercurrent. In recent years, the governmental dissolution of church and state has become more noticeable as Christianity, or anything related to god is slowly evaporating from society much to the alarm of those with a strong faith in a higher power (there's even a sign that says 'God Bless Right America'!). In the film, there's an ever growing cult of psychotic "Christians" by the name of 'The Brotherhood'. These crazed cultists pander to the mindless, vicious vampires by supplying them with "food". The Brotherhood use the creatures to contribute to the continued collapse and destruction of the remnants of civilization by dropping them via helicopter onto the remaining pockets of survivors who devoutly cling to what they once knew as normality.
Just as the current administration continuously defames, or chops away at America's core of Christian beliefs, this twisted offshoot returns the favor by a literal destruction of the nations government; itself in a different form of decline and moral decay. Religion, or its role in this depiction of society's death throes, is envisioned as just as much in a state of disintegration as the breakdown of civilization. Christianity has been perverted by the "inmates" who now "run the asylum" so to speak. It's also suggested by their twisted leader that this bloodsucking plague was sent by god. One woman, only referred to as Sister (played by an unrecognizable Kelly McGillis), is the embodiment of the last remnants of what could be surmised as a dying breed--the devout disciple of Christ. In this new world, god has seemingly forsaken man, yet Sister blindly, if ever so faithfully clings to her beliefs in the hope that there is still a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. However, in Mickle's maniacal, depressing wasteland, there's no room for the faithful; only the survival of the fittest.
The films true ending--as ambiguous as it is--comes about 15 minutes before the movie actually ends. After a square off with a "new" menace, Martin "grows up" so to speak and he and Mister's 'father & son' relationship ends. After enduring so much strife and struggle over the course of the film, Martin has finally spread his wings and is ready to leave the nest. The angle with The Brotherhood offers up a good deal of potential and is explored to such a degree, that these evil "crusaders for Christ" become just as formidable a presence as the vampires. There's also a hint of a third obstacle awaiting our rag tag band of wanderers once they reach New Eden--if they manage to get their alive. The cold northern air is said to stave off the nocturnal blood drinkers, but our non-merry band are warned of cannibals populating these areas. We never see them and outside of the mention, the flesh eaters are never mentioned again.
Possibly the single most amazing thing about STAKE LAND is that it's directed by the same man who helmed the atrocious MULBERRY STREET (2006), an horrendously executed movie with a passing similarity to this one only not nearly as polished. The melancholic music by Jeff Grace fits well with the impending hopelessness that maintains its presence till the closing moments. From there, it's a question mark as to what awaits our scant few survivors upon finally reaching New Eden (Canada). The possibility for a sequel is there and one hopes that should a sequel surface, it's just as thought provoking on a storytelling level as this breath of fresh earth happens to be.
This review is representative of the Dark Sky 2 disc set