by Don Stradley
Nothing helps celebrate the holidays like a good batch of horror movies. It just so happens a frightening number of them is now available on physical media. So let’s get on with it.
We’ll start with a story about a small town near Denver, where two young men are exploring a long-abandoned mine. Of course, their meddling will unleash an evil that is soon snatching up the local citizens. That is the story of The Boogens (1981), a film that emerged during one of the most fertile periods for horror in cinema history. This was after the arrivals of Friday the 13th and Halloween — each had a sequel in theaters at the time of The Boogens — but the genre wasn’t quite overrun by splatter films just yet. Makers of horror films were still relying on the old tropes: haunted houses, sea-dwelling humanoids, and unfriendly spirits. This made for a rich era; the lumbering goofs with butcher knives were still sharing screens with werewolves and evil kids. The Boogens made a minor impact at the local multi-screen cinemas, and was later a staple of late night cable-television and the blossoming home video market, but it was eventually lost to history. It was just one of a few hundred cheaply made horror films produced at the dawn of the Reagen era.
The movie has threatened to become a cult favorite from the period, though that distinction went more readily to such titles as Motel Hell (1980), C.H.U.D. (1984), and The Stuff (1985). Still, The Boogens had admirers. Stephen King, reviewing it for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine, praised the film for having “a Roger Corman simplicity,” and heralded the monsters with their “nasty, whiplike tentacles.” It was, he wrote, a “wildly energetic, often comic monster movie, complete with secret passages, an underground lake, piles of bones…and the Boogens themselves.”
What were the Boogens? Well, they’re a cross between a turtle, a giant crab, and a piranha fish. In fact, it might be the silly appearance of the little beasties that kept the film from developing an audience. Director, James L. Conway, screenwriter David O’Malley, and star Rebecca Balding, said as much in their audio commentary for the recent 4K Blu-ray release of The Boogens from Olive Films. Even they seem incredulous when discussing the critters these many years later.
The Olive release is a two-disc set that comes with a good amount of extras and a 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Along with theatrical trailers and a few TV spots, the package includes a featurette called “William Munns: The Man Who Made The Boogens.” That’s in case you were wondering who was responsible.
On a sad note, Olive Films went out of business in July. They’d released Blu-rays of classic and forgotten films for many years. It’s a shame to see them go, but at least they didn’t depart before putting out The Boogens. Check out the new release and see if it’s as good as Stephen King said it was. (Color, 95 min, rated R, multi-format, available Jan 30, 2024)
In The Psychic (1977), a clairvoyant woman has a vision of murder that inspires her to break open a wall in her husband's home. When she finds a skeleton in the rubble, she enlists her psychiatrist to help her find the truth behind this macabre mystery. Directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci, The Psychic was probably meant to exploit the mid-70s craze for psychic phenomena, a topic that fit in with the other weird stuff of the era: Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, etc. But even if lots of people were talking about ESP and mental telepathy, there wasn’t much proof at the box office that the public clamored for films about psychics. It was a subject that worked better in a documentary format than a feature, but that didn’t stop Fulci and his friends.
The Psychic crept into U.S. theaters back in 1979 with an undeserved R rating. It drew reviewers largely because Jennifer O’Neill, a popular actress who had recently returned to America after a long stint in European films, played the title role. Yet reactions were split. Some felt O’Neill had hit rock bottom by acting in a horror film. Many were in line with a Cincinnati Post critic who called the movie an “awkward, often odious tale,” marked by “cheap violence.” Others applauded Fulci’s attempt at a complicated thriller with a few surprising twists. One reviewer dared to call it “Hitchockian,” though that’s probably an exaggeration. Still, Quentin Tarantino has named The Psychic as a favorite. Tarantino was purportedly set to remake it in the 1990s but the project never happened, though he used some of the music for Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003). Thanks to Severin Films, a new 4K Blu-ray will let viewers revisit The Psychic and decide whether it was the bomb that ruined Jennifer O’Neill’s career, or a sly murder saga with a paranormal slant.
Spread out across four discs are a few dozen extras that will amuse Fulci fans, including an 82-minute documentary from 2021 called “Fulci Talks.” Other extras include interviews and commentary from actors, actresses, composers, costume designers and cinematographers. Disc four is a CD soundtrack. This Severin release is literally a feast of Fulci. (97 min, not rated, available Jan 30, 2024.)
Nightmare (1981) concerns an unbalanced mental patient stalking New York’s sleazy 42nd Street during the era of peep shows, garbage strikes, and X-rated tourism. Not getting his fill of sex and violence from Times Square, this ambitious axe murderer travels to Florida to terrorize an unsuspecting family. Director Romano Scavolini respected no boundaries in this feature, which eventually became a touchstone for fans of Italian splatter flicks. In fact, the level of violence was so high in Nightmare, that in 1983 it appeared on the infamous U.K. list of “video nasties,” along with 38 other films deemed obscene. It was banned for a time in England, with a complete version unavailable for decades. In 1984 the film’s U.K. distributor, former porn producer David Hamilton Grant, served six months in prison for offering an uncut version of Nightmare on video.
When Nightmare debuted in America in 1981-82, the Los Angeles Times called it “a gruesome and vicious movie.” By then, however, the film had already received its ultimate review, a two paragraph blast from the New York Daily News: “This is the most repulsive, offensive, degrading, gory, depraved and horrifying movie ever made.” Ironically, it was playing at The Embassy II 24 hours a day, just blocks away from the 42nd Street milieu where some of the story took place. No matter. The Daily News gave it zero stars. Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedia of Horror, for many years the go-to source for capsule critiques of genre films, felt the movie got off to a strong start but was ultimately “routine and derivative.”
What many critics harped on was that the movie depicted the murder of children, previously a taboo subject in even the goriest of 1980s splatter fare. Still, even if it was too repulsive for some critics, a handful of reviewers complimented Nightmare solely for its unbridled attitude. “Nightmare is gory, gut-wrenching, nihilistic filmmaking,” reported the Morning Call of Allentown PA, giving the film a sort of begrudging kudos. Others did the same, but were always sure to disparage the carnage and excessive blood. It seemed critics couldn’t like the movie without warning readers that this was disgusting material.
Thanks to Severin Films, a new 4K Blu-ray of Nightmare will soon be available, “scanned from the internegative and various foreign print sources to create the most complete version ever assembled.” As is usually the case with Severin, the package will include a windfall of extras, including several short films from Hamilton Grant, a 71-minute interview with Scavolini, interviews with the cast and crew, plus trailers and deleted scenes. Of special interest to horror buffs will be an interview with Tom Savini, who was credited for the film’s special effects but has since distanced himself from the production. In all, there are five hours of special features on three discs. (97 min, rated R, available Jan 30, 2024)
For the reading room: Granted, we shouldn’t be thinking about the Devil at holiday time, but I love the sound of this book — Satanic Shadows: Depictions Of Hell And The Devil In Classic Cinema. It comes from G.H. Janus, who was formerly lead singer and lyricist of the underground rock group Captain Coffin. Janus lives in Wales, UK, and, much like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, is a lifelong collector of classic film posters. He has published several books on movie art, and is editor of the popular Voluptuous Terrors book series. Janus’ latest features more than 100 “production photographs — many assembled from global film archives and seldom, if ever, previously published.” It is a slim volume at
a bit over 100 pages, but that might be enough. You don’t want too many Satanic images in your house. (From Deicide Press, 104 pages, available Dec. 15)