Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Boogens (1981)

A cable mainstay in the early 1980s, James Conway's THE BOOGENS left a favorable impression on horror fans of a certain age who were lucky enough to stumble across it while channel surfing. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the film became very tough to see, vanishing until its belated VHS release in the dying days of that format. Since a large part of the film takes place underground, that that transfer was dark and details were often hard to make out. Luckily, the film has now been reissued on Blu-ray, giving audiences the chance to see THE BOOGENS the way it was meant to be seen for the first time since 1981.

There's not much to the plot. Mark and Roger (Fred McCarren and Jeff Harlan) are hired to help reopen the local mine in snowy Silver City, Colorado, the site of a tragic accident that has kept the mine in disuse for sixty years. Joined by their girlfriends (Anne-Marie Martin and Rebecca Balding) and toy poodle (who's probably brighter than all four put together), everything goes swimmingly until the miners awaken the boogens, a race of subterranean critters with fangs and tentacles who are not too pleased by having their sleeping place disturbed. They use the mine's tunnels (which conveniently connect to the neighboring town) to start bumping off the human population, thereby making Silver City safe for boogens once again. 

The best thing about THE BOOGENS is its complete lack of pretension. Obviously made on a shoestring budget (the entire cast consists of only ten people), it never tries to be anything but an old fashioned creature feature. Conway wisely keeps the boogens hidden for most of the film but when we finally do see them, they're obviously hand puppets.This is one of the few films whose pleasures derive almost entirely of knowing exactly what is going to happen next. After all, THE BOOGENS wasn't even the first horror film from 1981 to revolve around a mining accident - that honor goes to MY BLOODY VALENTINE. It's a credit to the film that it never seems boring as it hits the obligatory tropes, ranging from the old timer who leaves cryptic messages about the menace to the film's fiery finale. Where the film does manage to depart from most of the horror films made at that time is in the depiction of its characters. In most films of this type the characters exist basically as target practice for the monster. While they serve the same basic purpose here, at least some attempt is made to create likeable characters that the audience will actually miss once they get killed.

THE BOOGENS  was shot in Park City, Utah, the future home of the Sundance Film Festival. I have to hope that some local entrepreneur is giving BOOGENS location tours to jaded cinefiles, reminding them of the pleasures of a familiar story well told. It may not change your life (in fact it's pretty much guaranteed not to) but I can't imagine anyone with any affection towards horror films not having fun with THE BOOGENS.

For more overlooked films and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Popatopolis (2009)

Proof that not every graduate of Roger Corman's filmmaking factory goes on to multi-million dollar budgets and critical acclaim, Jim Wynorski has been churning out low budget exploitation for close to thirty years. Some are fun (DEATHSTALKER II) but none are, in the traditional sense, good. However, Wynorski has developed a reputation as a director who knows his audience and is able to deliver the goods on a tight budget which is how he's been able to make 90 films in a  27 year career using a variety of clever pseudonyms (including but not limited to Jay Andrews, H.R. Blueberry, Salvadore Ross and of course Tom Popatopolous).  Clay Westervelt's documentary POPATOPOLIS is a portrait of the master at work making his 2005 film THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK. 

Accepting a bet that he can make his film with only a three day shooting schedule, Wynorski heads to his remote shooting location (the better to not have cell phone reception) with his actors and a skeleton crew.  It is here that Westervelt and Wynorski provide the audience with the harsh realities of micro budget filmmaking including working with an inexperienced crew, communication breakdowns and learning to deal with some less than convincing line readings. Along the way we get interviews with Wynorski and his cast exploring such topics as Wynorski's behavior on set (he yells a lot), the shrinking market for exploitation films and the resentment felt when adult film actress Stormy Daniels is added to the cast for "marquee value." There's also a hilarious interview with Wynorski's mother who seems quite proud of her son while remaining blissfully ignorant of the content of most of his films.

Through it all, Wynorski comes across as an amiable enough guy, at least when he's not on the set. He's obviously in love with the idea of filmmaking (a tour of his house reveals that his kitchen cabinets are full of old DVDs and VHS tapes) but he seems completely stressed by the actual act of making a movie. Of course most of the stress is brought on by himself by always opting for the cheap solution to every problem. However, even though Wynorski and his actresses readily admit that they're making a product and not art, they all seem dedicated to at least making the best product they can under the circumstances. POPATOPOLIS manages to straddle a fine line between making fun of its subject and admiration for the work involved in making even the cheapest throwaway movie. It's recommended to anyone interested in the subject of filmmaking as well as anyone thinking about it as a career.

For more overlooked films and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog.