Director: James L. Conway
Olive Films/Paramount

Olive Films have rescued THE BOOGENS – long unavailable since its VHS release (itself several years after its theatrical release and the opportunity to exploit it on the rental market) – from the Paramount vaults for their upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release, complete with filmmaker commentary!

Syndicated Mines has decided to reopen an abandoned Colorado silver mine, closed since the “Black Friday Mine Disaster” cave-in. Company representatives Brian (John Crawford, THE ENFORCER) and Dan (Med Flory, THE HEARSE) hire horndog Roger (Jeff Harlan, AUTO-FOCUS) and his friend Mark (Fred McCarren, XANADU) to blow a hole into the cave-in wall where they discover an underground lake. Unbeknownst to them, the lake is populated by something that – now freed – is very, very hungry. Roger and Mark have rented a cabin near the mine to share with Roger’s girlfriend Jessica (Anne-Marie Martin, PROM NIGHT) and her budding journalist friend Trish (Rebecca Balding, SILENT SCREAM) who has taken a job at the Silver City Gazette. When Mark tells Trish about the disarticulated human bones of at least thirty miners that they discovered in the caved-in portion of the mine, Trish starts doing research into the disaster. She discovers that the only survivor of the cave-in was suspected of having caused it, believing there to be something evil in the mine. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one, since a mysterious old man (Jon Lormer, CREEPSHOW) has boarded up the mine entrance and erected crosses outside (and is prepared to take even more drastic measures to keep it closed). Our four youngsters get to know each other intimately and remain ignorant of the threat – even though it makes periodic visits to their basement – until Roger never returns from a mine-related errand; as it turns out, he never left in the first place since his truck is still in the garage…

THE BOOGENS occupies a “mining horror” sub-genre shared with the better-known MY BLOODY VALENTINE (the original), but it shares more in common with the lower-budget THE STRANGENESS (which did not get a theatrical release and would eventually be released on tape by Trans World Entertainment, and is now available on special edition DVD through Code Red) with its lurking tentacle monster. On the commentary track, the filmmakers make the usual comments about how different the pacing is from modern horror films; while this is true (even in the case of much more recent supposed slow-burn throwbacks that are still highly dependent on jump-scares), the narrative of THE BOOGENS is oddly structured. In place of an opening flashback, we get a series of vintage newspaper headlines describing the mine disaster; however, the visual set-up of the sinister, disused mine location as it is during the story proper establishes an appropriate degree of menace that keeps the audience’s sense of anticipation up for the film’s horror teaser ten minutes later. Trish and Jessica do not show up until twenty minutes into the film, but Roger has assured Mark (and the audience) that there are going to be two more hot girls (since at this point, we’ve only been introduced to the two young guys, four older guys, and the only female introduced thus far has already been yanked off camera by the unseen horror). Trish does not start researching the cave-in until more than an hour has passed; but, by this point, we’ve seen all of the bones, glimpsed something moving in the lake, and seen the sort of damage the menace’s tentacles and claws can do before anyone has even uttered “Boogens!” The plotting is fairly conventional as far as slashers go – horny youngsters, “don’t go in the basement”, pets noticing strange presences, hands on shoulder scares – but the characters are likable (as are the actors), the location is creepy (all the more convincing because the cabin and most of the cave interiors are actually fabricated sets), and the monster is cheesy (while that is not what filmmakers intended, it still adds highly to the film’s entertainment value). The performance of the pet dog “Tiger” is also worth mentioning because the well-trained animal is amazingly expressive during the comic and horror scenes.

Although it mentions it nowhere in the film’s credits, THE BOOGENS is virtually a Sunn Classics production. Sunn Classics was a Utah-based production/four-wall distribution company focusing mainly on G-rated family fare (including the film and TV spin-off THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS) as well as family-friendly documentaries (IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK, IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS, THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY). Sunn had experimented with pseudo-horror projects before like the mind-numbing Rod Serling-hosted ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN, BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR and THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (a TV production starring Jeff Goldblum) and THE BOOGENS director James L. Conway helmed THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (with Martin Landau, Robert Hays and Charlene Tilton) and the PG-rated sci-fi film HANGER 18 for Sunn. In 1980, Sunn was purchased by Taft International who would handle distribution (at a time when competing Hollywood studios made four-walling more difficult), and it was under Taft that lifelong horror fan Conway mounted THE BOOGENS as a breakout R-rated theatrical feature. He became involved with Balding on the set of THE BOOGENS and they married four weeks later (according to the commentary, she proposed). Since Balding had a Hollywood career, Conway left Sunn and followed her to Hollywood. He developed the two hour pilot for a sci-fi TV series called EARTHBOUND with Michael Fisher, who had written for the Aaron Spelling series STARSKY AND HUTCH and FANTASY ISLAND. EARTHBOUND failed to make it as a TV show, but the pilot was released as a feature. Fisher became a producer on Spellings’ MATT HOUSTON and hired Conway to direct a number of episodes (and produce some others). He continued working with Spelling on HOTEL and later CHARMED – and several short-lived Spelling shows like TITANS and UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL – and would eventually become executive VP of Spelling Entertainment (although he did not direct any episodes of the original series, Conway has recently directed episodes of the 90210 reboot). Conway became executive VP of Spelling Entertainment before Spelling’s death.

Executive producer Charles Sellier Jr. had started working with Sunn in the mid-1970s and, shortly thereafter, created the aforementioned highly successful THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS (and developed its TV offshoot). He later directed the tame SNOWBALLING (written by Tom Chapman) – as part of the tiresome eighties ski sex comedy genre – but, according to the commentary track, Sellier had little interest in directing. He reportedly only took on SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT as a work-for-hire favor (Marcia Reider, who played the first victim here, was the dialogue coach on that film). Whether he was dismayed by the media backlash (including Siskel and Ebert’s sanctimonious shaming of the cast and crew during their review) or not, he directed only one feature after that: THE ANNIHILATORS but would continue producing under his post-Sunn company Grizzly Adams Productions. Sellier, a survivalist fully stocked up for the end of the world, died in 2011. Co-writer David O’Malley had also worked with Sunn Classics as a writer and producer on the TV version of GRIZZLY ADAMS, but his first feature was the low-budget anthology ALIEN ZONE (aka HOUSE OF THE DEAD). O’Malley’s last theatrical feature writing credit was Carl Reiner’s parody FATAL INSTINCT (with Armand Assante playing a combination of the Michael Douglas characters from BASIC INSTINCT and FATAL ATTRACTION), but he has continued working in film and TV as a producer (including THE DREAD, directed by THE BOOGENS editor Michael Spence). He wrote and directed the direct-to-video Darryl Hannah vehicle DARK HONEYMOON, but disavowed it after it was reshot and re-edited without his involvement. Tom Chapman, who co-wrote the original story with O’Malley, wrote a handful of Sunn Classics titles around this period including Conway’s HANGER 18 and THE NASHVILLE GRAB, a Taft title that premiered on NBC (the original title was THE NASHVILLE SNATCH but NBC objected). After writing SNOWBALLING and producing THE ANNIHILATORS for Sellier, Chapman headed to Hollywood and worked solely in television (including the Conway-produced Spelling drama UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL). He later wrote THE INCREDIBLE DISCOVERY OF NOAH’S ARK for Sellier (directed by veteran Sunn director/cinematographer Henning Schellerup, who had a number of past sexploitation and horror films in his CV before starting with Sunn). O’Malley’s co-scripter Bob Hunt is actually Jim Kouf, who went on to mainstream Hollywood with scripts for STAKEOUT, THE HIDDEN, RUSH HOUR, NATIONAL TREASURE, and TAXI (the terrible Queen Latifah/Jimmy Fallon of the Luc Besson-produced action comedy). Kouf is currently a writer and producer on NBC’s GRIMM.

Although Balding is best remembered by horror fans for her final girl role in 1980’s SILENT SCREAM – available on special edition DVD through Scorpion Releasing – she had been working in television since the mid-1970s with guest shots in LOU GRANT, THE BIONIC WOMAN, and BARNABY JONES, and she was a regular on the short-lived sitcom MAKIN’ IT (mostly remembered for its theme song by star David Naughton), as well as SOAP. Apart from the 2006 drama YESTERDAY’S DREAMS, she has worked solely in television (including guest shots on a number of Spelling series, some Conway-directed episodes of various series, as well as a lengthy stint on the Spelling series CHARMED) since THE BOOGENS. Before THE BOOGENS, McCarren had a small role in THE GOODBYE GIRL and a larger supporting role in the Razzie favorite XANADU. Besides a steady stream of TV drama and sitcom guest roles, McCarren also appeared in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CLASSS REUNION and Peter Hyams’ thriller THE STAR CHAMBER. He retired from acting in the early 1990s and died in 2006 (reportedly from cancer). Martin had already been put through the slasher film paces in the previous year’s PROM NIGHT and before that in the Ted Bundy-inspired KILLER’S DELIGHT (1978). The same year that she appeared in THE BOOGENS, she also had a small role in HALLOWEEN II and the Nairobi-set thriller SAVAGE HARVEST. After a three-year stint on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, she co-starred on the TV series SLEDGEHAMMER. In 1987, she married author Michael Crichton, with whom she co-wrote TWISTER (they divorced in 2002). THE BOOGENS is one of the few features in Harlan’s filmography, although he has had plenty of TV guest shots and as well as voice work on animated series like BATMAN AND BEYOND.

Co-stars Crawford and Flory were prolific TV and film actors, the former a favorite of Irwin Allen (appearing in THE TOWERING INFERNO and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, as well as guest shots on a number of his TV series). Lormer was also a veteran TV actor, and he is perhaps best remembered as the Viveca Lindfors’ father in the “Father’s Day” episode of CREEPSHOW (although the living dead version of his character was played by John Amplas). Utah actor Scott Wilkinson, who plays the town sheriff, had appeared in THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH and an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE as well as HANGER 18. With the exception of occasional trips to Hollywood for TV guest shots, Wilkinson has continued acting in movies and TV movies shot in Utah. Composer Bob Summers, another Sunn Classics veteran, had scored several of Conway’s Sunn TV and film work as well as his EARTHBOUND pilot (Summers had also scored Rene Cardona’s GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED and would later score ONE DARK NIGHT). THE BOOGENS was one of the last feature credits for cinematographer Paul Hipp (although he would continue working on TV until 1987). Hipp worked on a handful of Sunn Classics productions in the mid-to-late 1970s, but his earlier 1960s and 1970s works include DREAM NO EVIL, BLOOD AND LACE, GARDEN OF THE DEAD, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE, THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT, SUPERCHICK, POLICEWOMEN, and DEVIL TIMES FIVE among others (an impressive CV even if the cinematography itself was not always that impressive). Effects artists Ken Horn – HILLS HAVE EYES, TOURIST TRAP, DEMONOID, and HELL NIGHT – and William Munns (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) designed the animatronic creature, but even the filmmakers agree that the budget did not allow for the original concept.

Olive Films’ Region “A” BD25 features an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that opens with both the classic Gult+Western Paramount and Taft International logos. It has not been as meticulously restored as some other Paramount HD masters. White specs are occasional, but the picture is stable and colorful. The heavier grain and occasional grayish blacks of some dark scenes seems to be a fault of the cinematography (especially when you take into account the look of other Sunn Classics films as well as some of Hipp’s other cinematography credits) since other scenes have a fuller range of highlights and shadows. The snow is white without being blown out and the blood leaps out of the restrained color palette, particularly when one of the boogens latches on to a guy’s face (the scare was predictable but sudden gush of red is jolting). The DTS Master Audio 1.0 mono is not pristine but dialogue, music and effects are well-rendered.

Olive Films’ DVDs and Blu-Rays have tend to be barebones; THE BOOGENS isn’t exactly loaded, but it does feature a brand new audio commentary (also in DTS-MA 1.0) with director Conway, writer O’Malley, and actress Balding, moderated by Jeff McKay. Although the film was set in Colorado, it is revealed that the film was shot in Park City, Utah, and the mine interiors were built in a disused grocery store (flames from the climax’s explosion engulfed the cave set and burned down the building, requiring the cast and crew to go into the actual mine to shoot scenes for the ending). O’Malley reveals that, like several of the Sunn Classics tie-ins, the novelization is credited to Sellier but was actually ghost-written (although not by O’Malley). McKay mentions that Crawford had previously appeared in another mining horror movie: THE SEVERED ARM (out now on DVD from Code Red). Conway reveals that his association with Spelling allowed him to approach Republic Pictures Home Video about releasing THE BOOGENS and HANGER 18 on VHS. Having learned that Spelling’s company had absorbed the company that bought Taft International’s assets, he approached Republic Pictures Home Video (owned by Spelling Entertainment Group between 1994 and 1999, after which it was purchased by Paramount’s parent company Viacom) and suggested it for release. On the commentary track for SILENT SCREAM, Balding – sharing the track with authors/reshoot directors Jim and Ken Wheat – discussed the disagreement the cast members had over doing nudity on this film. Here, she goes into more detail: she did the nudity required of her, but Martin refused to do her contracted nude scene and garnered the support of the other two main actors (the commentators agree in retrospect that it would have been excessive in context). The participants groan at the shots of the monster, but Conway relates his excitement at seeing the film broadcast on IFC and Turner Move Classics. Balding humorously describes her trepidation about showing the film to her kids because of the gore and her nudity (and then her kids showed it to their friends). It’s an informative yet breezy track, and the rapport between Balding and Conway is entertaining. While the trailer and some TV spots would have been nice, the commentary track alone is more than we would expect from Olive (or Paramount) and would have been equally welcome from any of the smaller cult labels who pursued the title earlier on. (Eric Cotenas)