A fondly-remembered anomaly from the heyday of the slasher era, The Boogens stood out back in '81 thanks to its atmospheric recreation of '50s monster films, complete with a small town setting and a menace kept off the screen until the climax. A century after a devastating mine collapse, a conglomerate decides to blast the area back open and refurbish it for business again in quiet Silver City. Mark (McCarren) and Roger (Harlan) are hired on to help company reps with the project and take a nearby cabin, with demolition of the caves revealing a vast underwater lake... with something living inside it. A local woman falls prey to something in that cabin basement before they arrive, however, and soon more disappearances and macabre clues lead aspiring reporter Trish (Balding) to join up with Mark to find out why that lake is filled with human remains... and why one of the locals seems intent on keeping something in the mine from escaping again.
Modest but definitely effective in a popcorn-munching way, The Boogens features a cast primarily comprised of TV veterans but benefits from a solid lead performance by Balding, an appealing actress who had also gone through the scream queen paces one year earlier in Silent Scream. The setting is really the star here though; shot in Utah (posing well enough as Colorado for the story), its combination of bright, snowy exteriors, moody mine passages, and claustrophobic cabin interiors makes for a unique experience in which the sparse but punchy attack scenes can have a greater impact.
There actually isn't a whole lot of gore here (a few nasty claw scrapes and some splashes of fake blood here and there), but the fun "boogens cam" shots more than compensate along with setting up the audience for the final reveal of the beasties themselves. A bizarre combination of insect and reptilian features (with big, inky black eyes and scale-covered bodies), they're not your usual movie monsters and are used in just the right amount during the big finale while providing a few chuckles at their physical limitations. You also get some fun use of those two horror film staples, the cute pet (in this case a really talented poodle) and the obligatory female bath scene, both pulled off here with a few novel touches.
Several genre reviewers at the time had fun with the fact that this film was made by the same people behind the far more wholesome Sunn Classics, a company known to '70s moviegoers for religious and paranormal docs like In Search of Historic Jesus. Director James L. Conway (Balding's husband) was also one of their veterans, having helmed In Search of Noah's Ark, the drive-in conspiracy favorite Hangar 18, and a not-bad '79 TV version of The Fall of the House of Usher. (He even went on to helm a few good episodes of Supernatural, too.)
Though released theatrically by Taft International, The Boogens went through an odd series of distribution detours that found it being absorbed into Republic Pictures (who released it as a pretty shabby-looking budget VHS title several years after its theatrical release) and only playing on TV very rarely, with minimal international exposure as well. The Olive Films edition on both Blu-Ray and DVD (go for the former). It's good to keep in mind that this wasn't a big studio film; the film didn't look like a slick, premium product even in first run, but it's surprisingly robust here in HD. A few little specks pop up on the print but it's much, much better than the film has ever looked before (including an unlikely but welcome letterboxed airing on Turner Classic Movies in 2011!). Colors are excellent as is detail, and the darker scenes shot in low light have a substantial amount of grain just like it did in the theater. This is definitely a case where the absence of overzealous noise reduction is a welcome thing. There's only one extra, but it's a good one: a new audio commentary with Conway, Balding, and screenwriter David O'Malley, moderated by Jeff McKay. It's a fun track that should please fans, with topics including how the future spouses met on the film, the Sunn connections and significance of the shooting locations and sets, the volatility of the brief nudity in the film, and the strange distribution hassles that led to film popping in and out of circulation over the years as it passed from one hand to the next. There's also a fair bit of good-natured ribbing about the titular monsters, which may have been limited by budgetary constraints but certainly left a deep impression on a generation of horror fans.