The early 1980s was as interesting time for horror fans. True, the dawn of the slasher film isn’t all that wonderful of a historical footnote, but just as Michael and Jason were getting started, there were still several genre films that tried to combine “old-fashioned” chills with “new-fangled” splatter. John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing is probably the best example of this hybrid, but there were lots of indie productions that also held on to the quaint stuff while dipping a toe into the modern gore craze.
Jim Conway’s The Boogens (1981) is a perfectly serviceable example of the “old & new” mixture, and while the movie will seem quaint, tame, and possibly even goofy to modern viewers, there’s always something to be said for an earnestly-produced monster movie that tries to build a little bit of character before diving head-first into a parade of creatures and carnage -- which is a nice way of saying that the flick A) take its time getting started, and B) delivers a fair amount of jolts, scares, and grossness once the pace picks up a bit.
The plot is simple stuff: four young adults and a few older fellas run afoul of some subterranean monsters who have huge teeth and whizzy tentacles and love to attack humans or dogs or whatever else they can find. That’s literally the entire plot. Fortunately, three of the four main characters are pleasant and amusing, and their plight is laid down in relatively smooth fashion -- but once the “boring stuff” is over with, Mr. Conway finds some novel ways to stage some creative killing. While the “gooey puppet” special effects are not all that dazzling, they still offer enough of a threat to evoke a few squeals here and there.
Not much more than a ‘50s style drive-in-friendly creature feature, with a few welcome touches of early ‘80s gore and brief nudity, The Boogens isn’t exactly a “cult classic” among the older horror freaks, but there’s always room for a simple, straightforward monster movie that displays some actual talent before and behind the camera. At its worst moments it has two lovely leading ladies and a cute dog. At its best, slimy tentacles that try to drag a half-naked lady into an air vent. Hey, we weren't all that demanding of our low-budget monster movies in 1981.
Plus I like what the head Boogen looks like. I used to have nightmares about that thing!
Also, kudos to distributor Olive Films for releasing The Boogens in a rather fine digital transfer. I wouldn’t have said that The Boogens “demands” a blu-ray release, but I bet the film looks better today than it did back in 1981. A final bonus comes in the form of an audio commentary between director James Conway, screenwriter David O’Malley, and leading lady Rebecca Balding. A chat-track like this is geared only for the die-hardiest of early ‘80s horror fanatics, and speaking as only one of those people, I appreciate the extra effort.