Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THE BOOGENS (Blu-ray)

When I was a Sophomore in High School, there was a girl I knew who was so traumatized by this horror film that she couldn't stop telling everybody how scary it was. Needless to say, that piqued my interest. However, I missed THE BOOGENS (1981) in the theater, on cable, and its limited VHS release in the mid-80s, but thanks to Olive Films, I've now caught up with the titular critters on their new Blu-ray release. Was it worth the wait?

In the hills above Silver City, Colorado, a couple of mining engineers (John Crawford, Med Florey) and their college-age assistants Mark (Fred McCarren) and Roger (Jeff Harlan) are re-opening a silver mine that was shut down 100 years before after a major disaster. The job is going to take several months, so the young men rent a small house near the mine to share with their girlfriends (Rebecca Balding and Anne-Marie Martin). Unfortunately, buried deep in the bowels of the old mine are strange, tentacled, bloodthirsty creatures, and now they're free...

Directed by James L. Conway (HANGER 18), THE BOOGENS is an oddly structured but ultimately effective little fright flick - although I doubt that modern audiences would have much patience for it. It spends the first two-thirds of its running time establishing the characters and keeping the creatures an off-screen, menacing presence, and when the Boogens are finally revealed in the final reel, the Old School puppetry is more likely to provoke giggles from CGI-jaded viewers instead of screams. I happen to think they're pretty cool little buggers, and that the filmmakers really do a great job within the technological (and budgetary) limitations of the era, but today's kids are likely to find them "cheesy." Oh well.

Since we spend so much time with them, it's a good thing that the cast is pretty solid. The standouts are top-billed Rebecca Balding (SILENT SCREAM), an attractive cutie with tons of TV credits, and pretty Anne-Marie Martin (PROM NIGHT) as her best friend. The cast also includes an extremely well-trained Bichon Frise named "Tiger" that's one of the best animal actors I've ever seen in a horror flick - indeed, some of the best suspense scenes in the film involve the talented little fluffball....

Oddly enough, this R-rated opus was a product of the Sunn Classic Pictures outfit, makers of  WILDERNESS FAMILY, GRIZZLY ADAMS and IN SEARCH OF NOAH'S ARK G-rated fare, and was filmed in their home state of Utah. The mine interiors were built inside an old supermarket, which caught fire and burned down from the pyrotechnics employed in shooting the climactic scenes. It was also Conway's last film for the company, as he fell in love with his lead actress, and followed Balding back to Hollywood, where he became quite a force in television as a producer and director.

Olive Films' Blu-ray presentation of THE BOOGENS isn't going to blow away high-def videophiles with its picture quality, but for a 32-year-old, low-budget creature feature, it looks pretty good. The 1080p HD,  16x9, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is littered with small specks, and is occasionally overly grainy, but, in general, the contrast and color repro is solid and it does look considerably better than its long-ago, murky VHS release. Detail is quite good, especially in the darkened mine interiors, and aside from those aforementioned moments, the overall grain structure is nicely filmic. Audio is a satisfactory, clear and sharp DTS-HD Master Audio Mono.

Unlike most of Olive Films' releases so far, which have been disappointingly devoid of supplemental material, THE BOOGENS does contain one bonus feature - and it's a good one. Director Conway, star Balding, screenwriter David O' Malley and moderator Jeff McKay have sat down and recorded a fun and informative audio commentary track that covers not only the making of the film, but how Conway and Balding met and became involved, the connection with family film outfit Sunn Classic Pictures, the various distribution problems that have made the movie so hard to see over the last 30 years, and the now-primitive creature effects.

As I said before, THE BOOGENS is a decidedly old-fashioned horror film with a deliberate pace, limited gore and non-digital monster effects. If that's your sort of thing (and we all know it's mine), then I can definitely recommend picking up the Blu-ray disc. It wasn't nearly as scary as my old high school classmate led me to believe, but it's definitely a lot of fun for fans of 70s-80s horror.

BUY:   Boogens [Blu-ray]