Tuesday 28 October 2014

The Boogens [1981]

THE BOOGENS is an American creature feature that was directed by James L. Conway and originally released in September 1981.  It stars Rebecca Balding, Fred McCarren, Anne-Marie Martin and Jeff Harlan.  Four randy twenty-somethings set up home in a log cabin in the Utah mountains while the blokes are employed reopening a long-sealed silver mine.

A standard slasher set up you might think, which it is, but THE BOOGENS is only part slasher flick because what is doing the slashing in this case is not a masked knife-wielding maniac but a bunch of remarkably bloodthirsty mutant turtle creatures.  So a hybrid movie then: part slasher and part creature feature.

Boogen cam
I love a good creature feature.  I'm not sure I've really dealt with this subgenre in previous posts so a quick primer is in order.  In my personal opinion, the creature feature concerns a (more-or-less) normal sized animal or animals running amok.  So you could count FROGS [1972], GRIZZLY [1976], THE PACK [1977] or THE DAY OF THE ANIMALS [also 1977].  I would disregard things like KING KONG [1935], GODZILLA [pretty much every year since time began] or THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS [1953] on the basis that those guys are mega-nasties and properly belong in the realm of fantasy or even science fiction.  I would include, however, abnormally large but actual species, such as JAWS [1975] or LAKE PLACID [1999], and mutated versions of actual species, such as PROPHECY [1979] or tonight's film THE BOOGENS.

A Boogen

The Boogens' natural abode
Of course the water-based creature feature, most of which took their inspiration fron JAWS, is almost a genre in its own right, so prolific they are.  You might actually include THE BOOGENS in that - they are essentially turtles and there is a JAWS-esque killing in a subterranean pool - but I'd say it's borderline in that respect.  Anway, let's not get too bogged down in the taxonomy, what of the film itself?

Well the first thing to report is that it's not particularly original.  As you can probably tell from what I've already said, it's a mish-mash of a lot of familiar elements.  There's the aforementioned sex mad dork, a cute dog, bonking in front of a log fire, shower scenes, basement scenes, a stupid copper, a raggedy old man muttering dark warnings, and liberal use of subjective camera.

"That's the kind of window faces look in at."
Somehow though it all hangs together.  The script is well above average for a film of this type and the relationships between the youngsters are well observed.  Yes the sex mad dork is incredibly annoying but the two girls especially are properly drawn characters. The acting is decent too, again, from the girls especially.

L-R: Deputy, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Freddy
The Boogens themselves - the name is never explained - are vicious critters who live in the abandoned mine and are thus released when our heroes go meddling.  I use that word advisedly because there is more than one element to this movie which makes a subtle nod towards Scooby Doo. Roger is like a priapic Shaggy, Mark is the clean cut Fred type, Jessica is glamorous, amorous Daphne, and spunky little Trish is obviously Velma.  And of course there's Tiger the dog.  The abandoned mine is in itself a Scooby Doo staple.  You half expect the Boogens to reveal themselves to be employees of the local newspaper but, perhaps wisely, that doesn't happen.

and Scooby.  Pardon me, Tiger.

Yes that's a Deputy getting his face sucked off by a Boogen

The quality of the script can be attributed to Jim Kouf, here operating under the pseudonym Bob Hunt.  Kouf wrote the very decent sci-fi flick THE HIDDEN [1987] and the amusing STAKEOUT [also 1987], the latter of which includes jokey references to star Richard Dreyfuss's role in JAWS. Kouf did try his hand at directing, with less notable results, but this particular picture is helmed by James L. Conway who made a couple of genre features but pretty soon moved into TV work, albeit of a fantasy / sci-fi nature.  The direction is actually the least impressive element of this movie: it's rather ponderous and never does anything you're not expecting.  It's professional enough but lacks fair which, I think it's fair to say, suggests TV is Conway's real home.

Rebecca Balding as Trish
Of the cast, the best known is a toss up between Rebecca Balding, who plays Trish, and Anne-Marie Martin, who plays Jessica.  Balding played Elise Rothman in umpteen episodes of CHARMED, which may be connected to the fact that James L. Conway directed some of those.  Martin played the foil to David Rasche in SLEDGE HAMMER! the fondly recalled spoof cop show from the late 80s. She is also notable for being the ex-wife of the late Michael Crichton; I understand she did quite well out of the divorce settlement and that almost certainly explains why she quit acting barely into her 30s.

Anne-Marie Martin as Jessica

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