The Boogens (1981)

The Nightmares of Many 80’s Children Have Been Dug from Their Graves!

Olive Films unearths “The Boogens”!

I spent many hours of my formative years digging through the archives of the Horror Section in many Mom & Pop video stores in the 80’s and 90’s. Those were the days long before Red Box and On Demand, and video stores would fill their shelves with all kinds of obscure curiosities to meet the hungry demands of the booming home video market. You wouldn’t just find the Top Ten horror titles and New Releases on the shelves, but you’d also stumble onto foreign, low budget, no budget and completely forgotten drive-in schlock-fests amid the more familiar “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels. But there was one film I only heard about through whispers and half remembered terrors of childhood psychological scars that I never managed to see. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to over the years that mentioned “The Boogens” whenever the subject of “scariest film you’ve ever seen” was the topic of conversation. It apparently played frequently on HBO in the early 80’s when we didn’t have cable TV, and had a fairly limited VHS release about the same time. Although this little indie monster movie terrorized a generation of kids, it had never fallen into my grasp.

On Tuesday, August 7th, Olive Films finally released “The Boogens” on DVD and Blu-ray so that kids of all ages can relive their nightmares in the digital age. I picked up my copy from the fine folks at Wild & Woolly Video and sat down with a bowl of Jiffy Pop Popcorn (you can’t eat microwave popcorn and watch a flick from 1981!) to experience the terror myself.

“The Boogens” is a difficult film for me to review today fairly. I’m not 12 years old, and I don’t carry with me the baggage of nostalgia that surely accompanies the memories of those who did see the movie back in the day, but I do understand the cultish fandom this film has inspired. I doubt many modern horror fans, for example, would share my love of the amazing little 1983 backyard opus, “The Deadly Spawn,” or my enthusiasm for the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis slasher shocker, “Terror Train,” if they were to watch them for the first time today. The time and place in our lives when we experience horror films and the way they impact us as we become horror fans does matter.

For all the complaining many horror fans did after the fallout of “Scream” and the slasher film rebirth of the late 1990’s, when good looking Warner Brothers TV stars started filling out the casts of most horror films, the thing many of us had (purposefully) forgotten is how bad the acting was in the typical low budget horror films of the 1970’s and 80’s. That’s the first thing that struck me as I watched “The Boogens.” To be fair, it’s exactly the same kind of bad acting seen in “Friday the 13th” and most other horror films of the same time period, but I’ve seen most of those other films so many times that I don’t even cringe at the terrible line delivery of the amateur actors anymore.

“The Boogens,” for the uninitiated like me, revolves around the reopening of an abandoned mine in a small town in Denver. Two horny recent college grads and their equally horny girlfriends move to the area to work on reopening the mine. Just like in “Friday the 13th,” there’s a crazy old guy lurking around as an omen of doom. After blasting open a mine shaft that has been closed for decades, the two poor saps release an ancient race of nasty little flesh hungry monsters who now have access to tunnels leading to every basement in town, and chaos ensues.

I could relate to “final girl,” Rebecca Balding, as I had actually seen her also playing the final girl/Scream Queen role in a slasher film called “Silent Scream” (1980) during its theatrical release at a long closed local grind-house in town known as the J-Town 4! I was still a kid when I saw that, so that helped me put the time frame for “The Boogens” in its proper reference. I also recognized Ann-Marie Martin from her role as Stephen Strange’s love interest in the 1978 Marvel TV version of “Dr. Strange.” Yeah, I watched a lot of TV as a kid.

By today’s standards, the film moves at a snail’s pace and most modern youngsters under 25 wouldn’t likely make it 45 minutes in, but this little flick does manage to build to a fairly rousing finale. The creatures themselves, while not having much actual screen time, look pretty scary when actually revealed late in the film. Their whip-like arms with razor sharp claws make for a couple of pretty gory killings, and the puppets/animatronics are fairly well designed and look pretty good on film.

While I can’t quite say I think “The Boogens” is a lost classic awaiting rediscovery, I’m happy that the film is finally available for all those that have been wanting to see this monster mini-epic on DVD for so many years. The Blu-ray and DVD both include an audio commentary by director James L. Conway, screenwriter David O’Malley and star Rebecca Balding. Wild and Woolly Video is currently selling the DVD for $18.99.

~The Phantom of the Ville

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