Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Boogens (1981)

In 1912, the Silver City mine was closed down after a collapsing shaft killed more than twenty miners. There have been rumors that people were killed before the collapse, but nothing has ever been proven. Now, at the beginning of the permtastic 80s, all rumors about the mine have been forgotten.

The company which now owns the mine plans to re-open it. A group of four men - among them engineer Mark (Fred McKarren) and his friend the notorious "funny" guy Roger (Jeff Harlan) - is sent out to check on the mine and start clearing up some of its caved-in parts with the scientific wonder of dynamite.

Since all work and no play does not for an 80s horror movie make, Roger invites his girlfriend Jessica (Anne-Marie Martin) up for a visit. Jessica is bringing her demon-like little dog Tiger and her journalist friend Trish (Rebecca Balding) - the former to fill the movie with scenes of "cute" animal mayhem, the latter to add some really weird banter and the mandatory sex scene with Mark.

Sounds like a set-up for that terrible creature known as the "80s comedy with tits". Fortunately, the dynamiting opens up a part of the mine where Mark and the others find a rather strange pile of human bones. It's the bodies of the dead miners, alright, but why are they lying in a pile?

Could it be that the miners weren't killed by the cave-in? And could it also be that the excavation has freed the creatures who truly killed them? And might it be possible that a tunnel connects the mines exactly with the house where Jessica, Trish and the boys are living?

And what - if anything - has the old codger who hangs around the mine and doesn't utter mad warnings until it is much too late with it all?

Looking at the plot of The Boogens, it's a small wonder that it's as entertaining as it is. Looking at the way it is executed it's more akin to the Second Coming.

It's a monster movie without much monster activity at all - for the first hour, we don't see anything of the film's theoretical stars at all, and, apart from one little murder in the dark and a threatened dog, nothing monster movie relevant happens.

Instead the film treats us to lots (and lots, and lots) of cutesy scenes between the core quartet of characters, as well as Jessica's abominably cute little doggie (don't worry, he will be eaten, if much too late) - the death knell for most horror movies. Yet somehow I found myself strangely charmed by the characters and the odor of 80s cheese everything about the film exudes. The Great Old Ones won't smile at me when they hear it, but I'd even call the film's heroes "likeable".

This doesn't change the fact that a monster movie should have a large amount of monster activity in it, of course, but the masses of filler here at least avoid being too boring. They are also doing an excellent job at making the film a time capsule of the early 80s in Colorado where the film was shot, making up for the complete genericness of the plot with quite a bit of specificness.

The film's director James L. Conway would go on to a nice career directing TV show from episodes of MacGyver to Vulcanian Sex Star Trek or however that one was called. His work here already shows all the signs of what was to come for him - everything is technically very competently done, but never inspired, or mad, or consciously interesting. It's mostly up to the actors to bring actual charm and personality into the movie and they do it, as far as the badly paced script allows.

It's just too bad nobody in the production seems to have had any trust in the look of their monsters or enough sense to make them more active. Sure, they look phony and slightly ridiculous, but how many films about pissed-off looking turtle creatures with tentacles are there?

And honestly, they really should have eaten the damn mutt earlier.



Al Bruno III said...


Chalk me up as a fan as well, it kind of had that Pulp horror vibe going didn't it?

I liked the main characters too, they were a lot more interesting your standard slasher film variety pack.

Wasn't one of the girls from this film in a horror film called SILENT SCREAM around the same time?

houseinrlyeh said...

Yes, she (Rebecca Balding) was. She seems to have gone on to become a professional TV guest star, even teaming up with James L. Conway again for the (execrable for my tastes) Charmed.