Boogens, The (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-08-10 06:59

Written by: Thomas C. Chapman (story), Jim Kouf, and David O'Malley (screenplay)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Starring: Rebecca Balding, Fred McCarren and Anne-Marie Martin

Reviewed by: Brett G.

There is no escape!

The horror genre must have really had it out for the coal mining industry back in 1981. First, Harry Warden was unleashed to ruin Valentineís Day by splattering a bunch of locals all over a podunk Canadian mining town, then, a few months later, The Boogens were released to seal the deal for mines. ďTheyíre scary places, man, so stay awayĒ seems to be the general message. Donít let Loretta Lynn (or Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn) fool you--itís kind of cute to be a coal minerís daughter, but itís even better to be a coal minerís daughter who got the hell out of dodge and avoided things like pick-axe wielding maniacs and weird mine monsters.

The weird mine monsters are our subject here. As revealed by newspaper clippings during the opening credits, a Colorado silver mine was shut down and abandoned 70 years ago after a mysterious accident. A small construction crew has returned to the site with the intentions of re-opening it even though the circumstances have remained mysterious after all those years. Roger (Jeff Harlan) and Mark (Fred McCarren) are hired to give a hand, and they decide to rent a nearby cabin with Rogerís girlfriend (Anne-Marie Martin) and her old college roommate (Rebecca Balding). All the poking around the mine eventually results in unloosing the ravenous creatures that haunt the tunnels beneath the town.

The Boogens is pretty old school about all this monster business, though; itís not like a lot of the 80s movies that twisted the spirit of 50s creature features into cheeky, gore-soaked romps. Instead, the title monsters are largely hidden, with a tentacle finally popping out about 50 minutes into the movie when another victim is claimed. Some Sam Raimi style ďevil camĒ (which wasnít even really a thing yet since The Evil Dead was released only a few months earlier) stands in for the creatures in the meantime, as they rove around basements and spook the poor dog. This one's an icy, slow burn with a small scale (the credited cast list is about ten names deep, and it pokes along without much monstrous incident for a while, with the film sticking to down-to-earth pool hall conversations instead of a parade of gruesome effects.

As such, the fiboogens spends a lot of downtime with the main quartet, and theyíre a decent bunch. The Boogens recalls both the frosty, small-town atmosphere and the down-home characters of My Bloody Valentine. While Jeff and his girl are a couple of horndogs (theyíre the type that have marked the anniversary of their first orgasms), they arenít exactly the obnoxious cartoons that would come to populate slasher flicks over the course of the decade. Like their overly hormonal counterparts in those movies, though, their persistent randiness does them no favors here. McCarren and Balding eventually form the more amiably cute couple; McCarren echoes a Jimmy Stewart folksiness in his affected delivery, while the smoky-voiced Martin is a sturdy, mature presence. These two would fit right in with the bunch at Valentine Bluffs, and itís always refreshing to come across a group of 80s horror characters that arenít there to just fill up a body count. There is a creepy John Huston lookalike (Jon Lormer) stalking about town to fill out the requisite ďold harbinger of doomĒ role and amp up the mystery factor, but even he doesnít end up being a goof like Crazy Ralph.

Director James Conway has spent most of his career in TV, which isnít surprising since The Boogens feels like it could have been an especially gory movie of the week during the 70s. His measured approach crafts a spooky atmosphere with robust robust photography that effectively captures a wintry bleakness, and the abandoned mine is filled out with piles of skeletal remains and dank, dark corners. Outright scares and ghoulish sights are mostly reserved for the climax, where the boogens are revealed to be good old fashioned rubber monsters with a penchant for sucking off its victimsí faces (which fills up the gore quotient after all). The obviously low budget is cleverly skirted around by building intrigue around the monstersí eventual reveal, and theyíre around in full force just long enough to be effective. Wisely, the proceedings resist plunging too deeply into the back story; while the characters are aware of the mineís previous tragedy, the film simply presents the monsters without any unneeded explanation. Apparently, Stephen King was a fan of the movie upon release, which doesnít surprise me since a bunch of weird underground monsters inexplicably terrorizing a small town sounds very King-like.

The Boogens had an interesting road to home video; for whatever reason, it didnít make it to VHS until well after its theatrical run. Paramount (who also distributed My Bloody Valentine, so maybe someone there really hated mines) eventually picked it up and shopped it to TV networks, so itís popped up on a few channels during the past few years. Since it somehow ended up in the Republic library, itís been acquired by Olive Films, who recently brought it to DVD and Blu-ray after a long wait by devoted fans of 80s horror. In the annuls of that decade, itís a cool little cast-off thatís largely unlike many of the fiboogenss that came to define the era. A charming little homespun monster movie, itís a far cry from many of its gooey, splattery contemporaries, and itís armed with a solid cast that makes the it personable in the absence of an abundance of on-screen carnage. All told, a pretty good flick was mined from the old monster movie standard. Buy it!

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