Thursday, October 1, 2009

I've Seen Fire And I've Seen Rain But I Always Thought I'd See The Boogens One More Time Again

There are few things more disheartening than rewatching a movie that you loved as kid only to find out that it just isn't any good. Case in point: 1981's fondly recalled creature feature The Boogens. I've had the tape that was released in 1997 from Republic Pictures lying around for ages - and pre-dating that, a bootleg copy bought at a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors way back when - but I never really got around to sitting down for a proper reunion with The Boogens.

I kept buying it, of course, because it was a movie I had really adored as a kid - for a few months in '81 or '82 it always seemed to be on HBO - so adding it to my collection was a no-brainer. But actually watching it again - well, it never seemed like the right time. Or I would put it on but end up getting busy with something else while it played in the background (comic book collections don't organize themselves, you know). But last night I finally made a commitment to watch The Boogens.

See, for a few frightening moments yesterday I thought I had lost my copy. Out of the blue I had been thinking about The Boogens but when I went looking for it where I had last remembered it being, it wasn't there. That then sent me on a wild Boogen hunt through various rooms and boxes and in the span of those desperate moments, I started to beat myself up over having owned this movie forever and a day without watching it so when I finally did come across it in the back of a closet I swore I wasn't going to put off The Boogens one more day.

But damn it, I should've known better. I mean, seriously - I never could remember anything cool actually happening in The Boogens. I knew that the monsters had looked lousy - even by the standards of low budget filmmaking. And I couldn't remember any great splatter FX moments or even ever being especially scared for that matter - and back when I first saw The Boogens, I was an easy mark for scaring! Well, I'm all grown up now - kind of on the old side, in fact, and having rewatched The Boogens I'm trying hard to figure out what could've originally appealed to me about this movie.

If only I had kept a diary, it would make things so much easier.

To be fair to myself, it's not as though it was just young dumb-asses like me that thought The Boogens was worth throwing a party for. At the time, in Twilight Zone Magazine, Stephen King heralded The Boogens as being a "wildly energetic monster movie." Maybe our perceptions of 'energetic' have been permanently warped since epilepsy-inducing editing styles have become the norm in the last twenty years or so but I don't know. After all, some really exciting movies did come out in '81 - like Clash of the Titans, An American Werewolf in London, Escape from New York, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yeah, some of those might seem leisurely paced by today's standards but compared to the crushing tedium of The Boogens, even On Golden Pond looks like Crank 2.

For those unfamiliar with The Boogens, it chronicles the deadly consequences that occur when a long-shuttered Colorado silver mine is reopened. Back in 1912 the mine was closed thanks to reports by the miners at the time of mysterious attacks on them. Turns out that it was damn Boogens causing that trouble. What a boogen really is, or where they came from, the movie never tosses out any clues (it never even refers to them in the film by any name - 'boogen' or otherwise). That's ok - monsters don't need explanations to be enjoyed (although I think it's odd that The Boogens didn't include a representative of that old B-movie standby, the Concerned Scientist).

But while a monster's origins aren't so important, performance must be judged and on that count, the Boogens get low marks. When you're making a monster movie, no matter what you've got to find a way to make your monster work or you're sunk. Unfortunately, the tentacled Boogens are kind of non-descript critters. Despite the damage they inflict, they never appear to be much of a threat. Their movements never seem like anything more than the awkward movements of puppets and fangs alone don't make for a ferocious face.

Where the designers of the Boogens made their real misstep, I believe, is in giving them completely pupil-less black eyes. My gut tells me that the Boogens would've been immeasurably improved as monsters if some scary, jaundiced yellow eyes were staring out of those faces. Call me a cheap sucker for yellow eyes if you want but in this case I think they would've worked like fins on a fish. And along with the yellow eyes, I think it would've also been smart to indulge in some Boogen-Vision shots - kind of like the shots from the Wolfen's POV in Wolfen (1981). Subjective camera angles are one thing but if The Boogens can't have shots in official Boogen-Vision, then who can? I mean, talk about leaving an opportunity lying on the table.

The one endearing aspect I did find in The Boogens was the presence of actress Rebecca Balding, who - along with Friday the 13th Part II's Amy Steel - was the best should've-been scream queen of the early '80s. Balding also starred in the lost 1980 slasher film Silent Scream (due to be released on DVD for the first time soon) but inexplicably, that and Boogens marked her only horror roles (although she eventually went on to a recurring role in the supernatural series Charmed - a show on which Boogens director James L. Conway served as a co-executive producer).

Seeing how casting a truly likable heroine in horror films has become something of a lost art, it's great to see how Balding's charm effortlessly comes across here. I don't know how to describe it but there used to be a sense of reality that came across from actors and actresses where the line between the actor and the character they were playing seemed imperceptible. Up through the early '80s, especially in genre films, it seemed like performers had a natural ability to 'be themselves' on camera - or at least to make it seem like they were bringing no special artifice to their work. And Balding's performance here is a perfect example of that. I have no idea what Balding is like in real life but I'd be very surprised if her personality was much different than that of the character of Trish that she played here. Sure she might not jump into bed with a guy she just met like Trish does (to be fair, we know this is a decent guy and really - what else are these two going to do in a nothing dump like Silver City?) but it's easy to believe from watching her in The Boogens that you were seeing the genuine article. Good luck getting that kind of vibe from anyone in a modern movie.

I wish The Boogens was as much fun as I'd remembered it being. All I can say is that I guess at the time, thanks to Balding and her cast mates (including the future Mrs. Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin) that The Boogens had a charm that some of the slasher movies of the time didn't. This wasn't a bunch of obnoxious teens in peril - instead it was a more personable, adult foursome of friends (even if they were every bit as horny as teenagers). Plus, even if the Boogens themselves were piss-poor monsters, they weren't a guy in a ski mask with a knife and in 1981 that probably seemed worth applauding, too. But none of that matters now. What seemed like a cool little throwback to the monster movies of the '50s back then now plays like the broke-ass production that it was, filled with a lot of yawning dead air. I've always said I'd love it if someone came along to do a remake of The Boogens and now I really want to see that happen.

Boogens director Conway is still active and working in the genre - in fact, he helmed an episode of Supernatural (entitled Fallen Idols) due to air in a couple of weeks - so maybe it isn't out of the question that he could return to revamp The Boogens. Hell, if the producer of the original Children of the Corn could direct a remake of that film for the SyFy Channel, Conway should be able to get The Boogens back in business too. Maybe SyFy might even back a Boogens trilogy - which would be great, just as long as one of the titles is Boogens: Unleashed because, well, it ought to be. It's possible, and even probable, that Conway doesn't even care about revisiting The Boogens (it might also be impossible, given the rights issues that have plagued the movie over the years) but that'd be too bad - because if you had a chance to build a better Boogens, why wouldn't you?

11 comments:

Rev. Phantom said...

I recently watched this again as well. I hadn't seen it since I was a little kid--back in its HBO heyday that you mentioned. Yeah, it was no where near as good as I remembered, but I still thought it was goofy 80's horror fun. I may have been under the spell of nostalgia though.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, I just thought that, if anything, The Boogens could've stood to be a little more goofy, a little looser. For a B-movie about tentacled creatures, it's almost too straight-forward in every respect (unlike, say, Humanoids from the Deep). But I'll always hold a torch for The Boogens - just not as big a torch as I used to.

Vince Liaguno said...

I love The Boogens! Still one of my favorite silly Saturday matinee monster movies of all-time. I'm with you on Balding, too, but I always have had a fondness for Martin (aka Edie Benton) from her turn here to her PROM NIGHT and SAVAGE HARVEST days. Wish she'd make a comeback!

This would be a cool film to see remade, but perhaps something a little edgier than a SyFy Channel redo. Would be a great comeback vehicle for John Carpenter(!). Think of those possibilities...

Jeff Allard said...

Hey Vince, I also have a soft spot for Martin. I agree it'd be great if she made a comeback but sadly I don't expect that to happen. And yeah, a big screen Boogens remake would be preferable to the SyFy Channel but if a remake was going to happen, it'd probably be for TV. But who knows - like you say, I can imagine Carpenter doing something cool with it but I could also see Sam Raimi shepherding a remake through Ghost House. It'd be PG-13 but that's fine - it's practically a PG-13 as it is. Of course, in reality no one's likely going to pull The Boogens from obscurity but it's nice to dream. And hey, stranger things have happened!

Wings said...

Don't recall ever seeing this flick. Might look it up on Netflix, as I am a masochist when it comes to horror movies. :)

Jeff Allard said...

Don't worry about putting yourself through too much pain, Wings. I guarantee you've seen a lot worse than The Boogens!

Jeff Allard said...

...Oh, and by the way - I don't think Boogens is available on DVD so if you're looking for it on Netflix, I doubt if they'll have it.

Wings said...

Doh! You're right. Just checked, not available. Ah well, it will have to wait.

senski said...

When my friends and I saw The Boogens during its theatrical run, we were grateful for the fact that here was a low-budget shocker that didn't involve a guy with a knife. I have great fondness for all the slasher pics of the era, but I have to confess that, at the time, having one hit the theaters every three weeks or so got a little tiresome. In the small market where I lived, we got them ALL. We were in the mood for a good old-fashioned Creature Feature, and I'll always have a special place in my dark little heart for The Boogens!

Arbogast said...

You were a kid when this came out? I was already a man. A goddamn beer drinking, heartbreaking, two-fisted sonofabitch.

Jeff Allard said...

Arbo, my wife would say I'm still not a man. And that's a horrible, horrible thing to say. Horribly funny, yes, but still horrible.