The Boogens (1981)

All of the deaths caused by those grody cave creatures, the Boogens, can be laid directly at the feet of that crazy old man Greenwalt. If he had properly done his job as the town kook, maybe everybody wouldn’t have been so surprised when a scaly tentacle wrapped around their leg or a bony claw slashed their throat leading them to bleed out all over the floor.

It’s common knowledge that whenever a town has a dark past that there is at least one old timer who knows all about it and just can’t wait to scowl at young folks with feathered hair and wearing tight jeans and attempt to warn them away from whatever “ground zero of horror” they are currently traipsing around on. Most of the time he gets ignored and the monsters kill everyone anyway, but damn old man, you have a moral obligation to give these kids a chance to make fun of you and pooh pooh everything you just old them!

Greenwalt though is completely derelict in his duty here. Instead of confronting the miners working on opening up the old silver mine with what he knows, he inexplicably lurks around leaving obtuse messages such as spraying painting “death” on some boards covering the mine and leaving little wooden crosses in the ground at the mine. How am I supposed to figure out bloodthirsty monsters are skulking about inside based on something that could just as easily being local kids playing a joke based on the mine’s ancient history? You’re basically the Boogens’ MVP, you worthless old fart!

Silver City, Colorado is not surprisingly the site of some silver mines that once upon a time was the center of business in the area. Until disaster struck! A cave in trapped the miners and all were feared dead. Eventually the government decides to abandon rescue attempts and the mine is sealed off. Greenwalt’s father was the only survivor and he said the miners were attacked but he was confined to an asylum the rest of his life. We learn all this from a combination of the opening credits (a nicely done montage of old newspaper headlines) and the expected exposition scene at the local newspaper.

Roger and Mark are two guys just out of college who decide to take a job at the mining company instead of working in an office. They’re in Silver City to assist two crusty old mining hands in reopening the long closed silver mine. But something else is lurking in Silver City with designs on our heroes! Their girlfriends! And their dog Tiger!

Jessica is Roger’s girlfriend and while Trish has never met Mark, they hit it off not too long after they meet. In stereotypical to the point of unintentional parody fashion, Roger can only think and talk about sex. He is far and away the most irritating character in the film so you appreciate it when he is sent to Denver to pick up some maps since it’s obvious he’s not even going to make it out of the garage alive. (I thought I was supposed to be rooting against the Boogens!)

While working in the mine and clearing rockslides, an underground lake is discovered along with a large pile of human bones. The miners surmise these were the men trapped by the cave in, but wonder why the remains are sitting in a big heap like so many devoured chicken wings. But it isn’t until Roger’s mutilated body is found floating in the lake and Greenwalt suddenly appears brandishing sticks of dynamite to seal the mine that anyone thinks something is seriously amiss

For being a low budget monster movie (with a slasher movie’s sensibility) The Boogens is a decent looking film with appropriately snowy locations, the nice looking mine sets and the monster POV shots. But while it is technically a very solid job by director James L. Conway (Hangar 18), the pedestrian script keeps this from being a truly hidden gem.

For starters, the pacing is so slow, you’ll wonder if you somehow got trapped in that mine for a hundred years, too. So much time is spent on establishing characters you will never care about like Roger and the mining bosses (do I really need to see them get hustled at pool by Jessica?) and with the film rationing out the monster action like they’re handing out Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, instead of any mounting dread, it becomes a tedious slog.

The single worst offender in all this is the dog, Tiger. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Tiger. Frankly, he was as good a performer as anyone in the movie, but the amount is screen time he got was unreal. It’s like they didn’t have enough money to hire an actor to be menaced by the monsters so they just had the dog stalked by the Boogens over the course of multiple scenes.

Also, the way the girls were put into jeopardy felt forced. Obviously there was no reason for them to be in the mine, so how to get the mine dwelling creatures to go after them? Tunnels from the mine to the basements of the houses in town! I suppose it could be argued that the Boogens somehow dug those tunnels themselves, but since they’ve been trapped for almost a hundred years, it could only be in the town’s oldest houses. But even so, the house everyone was staying in had a tunnel entrance in the basement that was clearly constructed by humans, despite it making zero sense to take the time and expense to construct it.

There also wasn’t much effort expended in making the Boogens that interesting either. Nothing is explained about them. No speculation about what they are, why they are there or how they survived trapped in the mine for so long. We are supposed to guess that they kill and eat people, but none of the modern day victims were actually eaten. There tentacles are strong enough to pull people and tear through metal grates, but can’t clear away a rockslide? And once you see them attack the first few times, there isn’t that much more to see from them that surprises. The Boogens is a creepy concept that feels like it’s going somewhere interesting and spooky for the longest time, but just never gets there.

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