UNK SEZ: Today is all about THE BOOGENS! Your Unkle Lancifer has teamed up with fellow BOOGENS enthusiast Amanda Reyes of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM fame and we’re both going to share our five favorite things about this lovable 1981 flick which STEPHEN KING himself recommended as a “wildly energetic monster movie”! I think we can all agree that what the world needs now is more BOOGENS! Amanda, take it away….
AMANDA: Opening credits: As an archivist I have an unhealthy fixation on not just history, but also the diverse ways we can (and do) recount the past. That history is often stitched together like a quilt (or maybe Frankenstein is a better reference for this article!), with distinctive artifacts, manuscripts and sometimes oral histories helping us develop the bigger picture. I’m also really into economical storytelling and low budget horror. There is something really simple but brilliant about how the opening credits sequence of The Boogens creates the standard slasher flashback sequence through sepia tone photos and ratty newspaper headlines. The film quietly lays out the story about a booming mine that has been shut down due to several mysterious cave-ins, and deaths, generating an impressive level of intrigue. And don’t forget that sweet harmonica score, which adds just the right amount of melancholy. This is easily one of my favorite openings to a horror film, and without one visceral moment to be had. It’s all about mood and storytelling.
AMANDA: Fred McCarren: I’m not sure when or where I first laid eyes on the adorable and affable Fred McCarren, but he was always a reliable “Oh, that guy,” for me through most of my life. Predominately a character actor who showed up in everything from Hill Street Blues to Here’s Boomer, every so often Fred got to star in a film. And, The Boogens really lets Fred’s star shine. He’s appealing, likeable and beyond charismatic as good guy Mark. In The Boogens, Fred showcases his incredible knack for comic timing, and he constructs Mark as a guy who is funny in small, simple ways, which makes him realistic as a buddy and potential boyfriend. It also seems fairly obvious that Fred is an actor who is not so egotistical that he has to own every scene. I get the feeling he loved the ensemble cast of The Boogens, and he never attempts to be the biggest personality in the room. It’s that low-key approach that makes him so disarmingly sexy, and that is very sexy indeed.
AMANDA: Romance: Going back to Fred McCarren for a minute (sorry, I can’t help myself!)… There are many things about The Boogens that I adore, but ultimately it is my love of love that keeps me coming back to the film. Most genre films of this era have some level of romance, whether it’s unrequited love (which often spurs a character to kill), or simply pure animal lust (which is the case 90% of the time in most of these films), there are always characters who only speak of love (or sex, but we’ll call it love for the sake of the argument). The Boogens definitely has the animal lust component in Roger (Jeff Harlan) and Jessica (Anne-Marie Martin), who are undoubtedly loveable but almost exhausting in their pursuit of carnal desire. They’re fun and all, but it’s the courtship dance between Mark and Trish (my hero, Rebecca Balding) that keeps me coming back for more. There is such a sense of fun in the dialog delivery, and there are so many genuine sparks you think all of that snowfall is going to melt around them. A bit like my heart does! I feel like I’m falling in love with them as they fall in love with each other. Sure, I’m a sentimental fool, but goshdarnit, the love affair between Mark and Trish beats the crap out of any Harlequin romance novel going, and will ultimately defeat the Boogens! So sue me, K?
AMANDA: Friendship: A while ago I wrote a paper for school about female friendship in horror films, and I noted how the influx of slashers coming out at the time (the Halloween remake, Sorority Row, etc.) featured very antagonistic characters. It often seemed as though no one liked each other and I wondered why on earth they would hang out together. I’m a bit old school, but that gives me the benefit of hindsight, and I can see that movies like Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part 2 and so on were appealing because people actually liked each other (I mean, mostly, let’s not get into Melissa in Friday the 13th Part 7, who is amazing but not someone you’d want to share a bowl of ice cream with). When they hung out in the film, you were hanging out with them, and it was cool, man. Real cool. The Boogens has several endearing friendship moments, and I want to drink a beer and barbeque with all of them. But it’s probably Trish and her best girl bud, Jessica that always makes me smile. They want what’s best for each other, and when Jessica plays cupid for her gal pal, the way she tries to sell Trish to Mark by asking, “Isn’t Trish neat?” is one of the sweetest moments I can remember in any horror film. Ever. It’s the engaging nature of the characters that keeps me invested in their outcome, and sad when some don’t make it. I mean, this is a horror film, and yes, I love the death scenes, but I also hate them because that means I have to say goodbye to someone I actually care about. Tiger forever, y’all!
AMANDA: Boogens-cam: Let’s go back to what I said about The Boogens being an exercise in economical horror filmmaking. They’ve got a great location, awesome characters and good set-pieces, but, I have to admit, the monster effects leave a little to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, the worm-like Boogens are charming as all get out, but they are budget too. The filmmakers realize this and in place of overselling it, they opt instead to use what I have always referred to as the “Boogens-cam.” So, it’s like most slashers in that the there are several killer POV shots, but here we’re seeing the terror from the monster’s eyes. A giant worm monster! This means we’re looking through some crazy and fun angles, usually taken from the ground, giving us a glimpse of the victims-to-be as they find themselves in very precarious situations. Jessica’s death is especially gripping, but the awesome POV shots also give those scenes a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel, adding to all that charm I keep falling over myself for. I don’t even care what the monster looks like when all is revealed. Well played, Boogens. Well played.
UNKLE LANCIFER: The Title. Much like Smucker’s jelly, with a name like THE BOOGENS — it has to be good! I have to salute this wonderfully unique and creative name for a horror movie. Some unknown genius snatched something familiar from childhood fears (the “Boog” from “Boogeyman”) then streamlined and pluralized it to come up with something creepy, catchy and uniquely its own. I dig that it sounds like an incurable disease or a fearful feeling like the jitters or the heebie jeebies. I love that it is equal parts threatening and amusing because that is my favorite flavor of all time. It’s such a potent moniker that it even became a go-to punchline on the sitcom NEWHART (in one episode, the character of Michael (PETER SCOLARI) rejoices in the fact that a Fellini festival is finally over and has been replaced by THE BOOGENS. A later episode finds him telling his employer Joanne that she looks scarier than anything in THE BOOGENS). I’m also fond of its bedraggled cursive font that resembles a hastily painted warning sign suggesting unknown danger is ahead. I’m only sad I never got to see THE BOOGENS RETURN on a marquee.
UNK L: The Creatures. First time viewers are nearly unanimous when it comes to being somewhat disappointed by the titular monsters lack of screen-time and less than impressive ultimate reveal. I can’t say I blame them; the film does such a fine job of building them up in our imaginations throughout that their rubbery puppet appearance can be a bit of a sobering let down. That said, once you embrace the clawed, tentacled turtles as simply the humble victims of a limited budget, you kind of have to love them (even if they strangely resemble Witchiepoo’s spider henchman from H.R. PUFF N’ STUFF). The little dudes are a big part of what makes THE BOOGENS so special. For the most part, the film chugs along not unlike your typical (albeit superior) early eighties slasher fare but once our little devils are exposed we’re in pure, squishy monster movie territory (think FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) or ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)). That type of hybrid may not seem like such a big deal now but I can tell you from personal experience (I’ll never forget seeing THE BOOGENS in the theater) it was a blast of minty fresh air at the time (the same might be said of the previous year’s creature feature dancing to a slasher beat, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP). Anyway, let’s just say if somebody made a BOOGENS stuffed animal I would buy it in an instant and if I were Santa Claus, a HUNGRY, HUNGRY BOOGENS game would be under every tree.
UNK L: The Dog. Hey, it’s Tiger, the greatest dog who ever lived! Sure, there are plenty of other adorable pooches that inhabit the horror genre (Muffin from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, Thor from BAD MOON, good ol’ misunderstood CUJO, et al.) but none are quite like unflappable Tiger. Animal rights activist should be smitten with THE BOOGENS because Tiger is presented not only as a sidekick or accessory but also as a fully developed character complete with his (or her?) own meaty storyline. We’re talking real acting chops here, folks! Tiger doesn’t have to resort to language to express wants, needs and fears; Tiger speaks loud and clear with facial expressions and eyeballs alone (and maybe a yelp or two). Tiger alone understands that danger is a foot and the Cassandra-esque canine’s warnings go unheeded to the peril of all involved. If only they had listened! Tiger may not survive the BOOGENS onslaught but that does not negate the puffy puppy’s persistent pluckiness! All hail Tiger!
UNK L: The Snow. I’ve probably mentioned this a million times before but I’ve really got a soft spot for snowbound horror films. They’re great all year round. In cold months you can commiserate along with the characters and in hot months they provide relief from the heat. THE BOOGENS, which was filmed in Colorado and Utah whips up a stark and snowy atmosphere under oppressive slate grey skies and it’s a movie I would not mind living in. The cabin in which most of the action takes place in is all kinds of old-school cozy and inviting and the same can be said for the local watering hole inhabited by counter-Hollywood, salt of the Earth types. The brisk weather also necessitates that all characters involved don exceptionally solid late seventies layered flannel and sweater ensembles. Yep, I’m into the whole look of this movie from the isolated, frigid landscape right down to REBECCA BALDING’s signature pageboy hairdo.
UNK L: The Novelization. This has to be one of my favorite literary adaptions of a horror movie (it’s only real competition would be OWEN WEST (aka DEAN KOONTZ)’s THE FUNHOUSE). It does a fantastic job of not only touching the bases covered in the film but expanding upon them as well. There are several additional interesting characters and a much more catastrophic climax. The mood is tense and grim throughout and the creatures themselves come alive in ways unachievable on film. There’s something almost LOVECRAFTian in the way the monsters squirm about on the page. They are described more as gelatinous blob-like entities and their multitudes and anatomy come across as way more convincing. I recommend you track this paperback down while it’s still relatively affordable. Much like the film, it’s perfect for delivering chills any time of year. The only thing more dog-eared than my copy is Tiger himself.