Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some Things Shouldn't Be Disturbed

A departure from the filmmakers who made popular G-rated Sunn Classics “docudramas” like IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK and THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY, as well as THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS for television. THE BOOGENS is an R-rated horror movie with some nudity and blood, though its slow-burn homage to old-fashioned monster movies of the 1950s lets it stand out from the more violent slasher films that filled screens in 1981.

THE BOOGENS’ screenplay by David O’Malley (FATAL INSTINCT) and GRIMM creator Jim Kouf (hiding behind his “Bob Hunt” pseudonym) is standard genre fare, but director James L. Conway (HANGAR 18) has a good grasp on the material and does a nice job establishing a creepy mood on a reasonable budget (an early crane shot of a woman entering the snowbound cabin where much of the movie takes place establishes the setting clearly and with little fuss). He also gets likable performances from the young foursome who anchors the subterranean thrills. Conway married one of them during production—leading lady Rebecca Balding.

Balding, who had recently starred in another horror film, SILENT SCREAM, and been fired during the first season of LOU GRANT (Linda Kelsey replaced her and went on to earn five Emmy nominations), takes top billing as Trish, a budding reporter who accompanies her school friend Jessica (SLEDGE HAMMER co-star Anne-Marie Martin, who married Michael Crichton and co-wrote TWISTER with him) to a mountain cabin near Silver City, Colorado.

Trish and Jessica’s weekend companions are Jessica’s constantly horny boyfriend Roger (Jeff Harlan) and his friend Mark (Fred McCarren), who are spending the winter helping experienced mining reps Brian (John Crawford) and Dan (Med Flory) open a long-abandoned mine that caved in seventy years earlier, sealing the fates of dozens of trapped workers and spawning decades of legends about what lurks within.

What lurks are toothy, tentacled amphibians with an appetite for flesh and a fresh batch of available prey, thanks to the dynamite that reopened the mine and—unbeknownst to the miners and their lady friends—tunnels that reach the cabin where our four heroes reside. Created and constructed by William Munns (THE BEASTMASTER) and Ken Horn (TOURIST TRAP), the so-called “boogens” are goofy little critters pretty much hidden off-camera until the climax. This is because the one boogen puppet didn’t work very well (and Conway didn’t like it), and the director was left to suggest a whole batch o’ boogens through editing.

THE BOOGENS earns credit for developing its young protagonists better than most horror pictures of the era. We come to like them (though your patience may run short with sex-starved comic Roger), and it hurts when they’re attacked. Conway uses his small cast and isolated setting to good claustrophobic effect, and casting established authority types Crawford (then known as the sheriff on THE WALTONS) and Flory provides a false sense of security.

Although its relatively soft approach clashed with the blood-soaked stalk-and-slash horror films that were popular in 1981, THE BOOGENS was a hit for Jensen Farley, its distributor. Director Conway left features for episodic television, directing series like SUPERNATURAL and 90210 well into the 21st century, while producer Charles E. Sellier continued the Sunn tradition of faith-based junk documentaries (but not before directing the controversial SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT for the 1984 Christmas season). THE BOOGENS filmed in Park City, Utah, where Sunn Classic was based.

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