Teeth and Tentacles: A B-Masters Roundtable

The Boogens / The Strangeness

I've been down a mine only once: a long time ago I took a tour of a disused salt mine deep under a mountain in Austria. I think I managed to keep up a brave front during the tour, but inside I was terrified. I was always acutely conscious of the tons upon tons of solid rock over our heads as we stood in the carved-out spaces. I could reach up and touch the plain rock ceiling, running my fingers over its cool, deceptively smooth surface... and I'd realize the tiniest geologic shrug would crush me, or worse: leave me entombed under an entire alp. A mine is no place for a claustrophobe.

This is a little embarrassing, because mines play a significant role in my family's history. My grandfather, Will Catesby Laughlin, owned a silver mine in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. He and his family and his handful of employees would make the trek back and forth from Arizona, through hostile terrain and even more hostile locals. According to the family history, my great aunt was taken hostage and scalped by the Yacqui. Robbers sometimes lightened the load of silver coming back across the border. And, of course, there was the little matter of actually doing the mining.

Then Mexico nationalized its mines. When it came to getting rid of the American miners, though, the Mexicans seemed to find the easiest method was simply to kill them. Grand-dad suddenly found himself and his mining operation under siege. He defended himself and his employees with guns and a cannon while they prepared to flee for home &mdas; I still have the leather holster he wore. On the way back to Arizona, he was surrounded by revolutionaries who really didn't need no steenkin' badges...

Nobody really knows very much about Will Catesby Laughlin. The records of his birth were all destroyed when a tiny town hall in rural Iowa burned to the ground. He seems to have taken advantage of the lack of records to lie about his age: the doctor who examined him after he died swore that he must have been at least ten years older than he claimed to be. There's even some controversy about whether the Laughlin ancestors came to the United States from Ireland or Scotland. I've seen my grandfather's photographs, and from those (as well as from the temperament both I and my father seem to have inherited from him), I'd have guessed he was a Scot. But when he was surrounded by angry Mexicans who wanted his blood (not to mention his silver) Will C. Laughlin talked his way out of certain death. He so charmed them — in Spanish — that they ended up letting the party go (they were not so generous about the silver, but under the circumstances I don't think grand-dad would have complained). Now if that doesn't sound like an Irishman...

That was the end of my grandfather's mining career. He went on to become a very successful engineer. Eventually he patented something called the Laughlin Tank. Yes, it sounds like some kind of armored vehicle, but it was really something much less dignified: a centrifugal filtration system for processing sewage1
1. As sifting through crap is pretty much what I do with this website, perhaps I haven't strayed so far from family tradition after all.
. The Laughlin Tank was apparently still in heavy use when my grandfather died in the mid-1950's, but it has been completely forgotten today.

My Dad, however, after an amazing wartime career building explosives, also ended up in mining. He became an electrical engineer for one of the major companies exploiting the hell out of South America. Dad loved the Andes — he spent a lot of time there during my childhood, and brought back wonderful stories and souvenirs. Where other kids heard the story of the Three Bears at bedtime, my Dad told me about los tres osos... or on other nights, perhaps, the tragic history of Atahualpa... or stories about fighting the dreaded soroche on the then-untouristed ascent to Macchu Picchu. Lots of kids in my neighborhood had teddy bears growing up, but only I had a stuffed llama (and what's more, I could pronounce it properly!). He'd planned to take me to visit Peru when I was old enough, and when he approached retirement... but the recession of the late 70's and the subsequent rise of Peru's Shining Path insurgency in the 80's spoiled that plan. Since I never went with him to Peru, and since I had no interest at all in engineering, I never felt any deep connection to the whole mining part of my father's life.

Which is just as well, because I am terrified of mines.

I suppose there are a lot of kids who grow up and actively avoid their parents' career choices. Hey — it's not as though Dad ever had the slightest sympathy for my main interest during my formative years: horror. He'd always grimace over the dreadful creature features I watched on TV. He considered himself a guardian of High Culture, which he seemed to think ended with the death of Richard Wagner (on the other hand, he was addicted to "Hee Haw" reruns, but adults are entitled to such inconsistencies).

Anyway, as I grew older, he became more vocal about his disapproval of my movie choices. So whenever it was possible, I took to reading my horror movies... which was a slightly more private activity. There was a second-hand bookstore a few miles from my house, and I used to save up my allowance and summer work money to spend on lurid paperbacks. In addition to original horror novels, I'd load up on movie tie-ins, and that's how I first experienced The Omen, Halloween I through III, Prophecy, The Legacy, It's Alive I and II, Videodrome, and so on.

The bookstore was a seasonal operation, and it shut down a few weeks after Labor Day. During the off-season my options were more limited. My closest source for horror novels and movie tie-ins was the little department store about a mile south. They had only two wall-shelves for books, but they did stock occasional treasures: that's where I picked up my copy of Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" and Michael McDowell's "The Elementals" when they were first released. One grey autumn Sunday afternoon, when I was really bored, fourteen-year-old me got on my bike and pedaled down to the store to look over their paperbacks. They had nothing interesting that day — nothing at all. The closest thing I could find to a decent horror novel was a tie-in for a movie I'd never heard of. It had a ridiculous name: The Boogens. What kind of monsters were "boogens"? In the script on the cover, the word looked an awful lot like "boogers". The cover illustration promised some kind of haunted-house story, which seemed intriguing... but on the other hand, it was a very thin book for $2.50. Did I really want to spend that much money on something I really wasn't interested in?

I made up my mind when I realized the weekend was very nearly over. I had only a few hours left of this miserable, overcast Sunday to get some enjoyment — do you remember those dreary Sundays from your childhood, when everything seemed to go by to quickly and too slowly at the same time? I might as well end the day reading a horror book of manageable length. After all, it was less than 200 pages... I could finish it by bedtime. Even though it was a good 55 cents more expensive than I'd budgeted to spend, I bought the paperback and pedaled home.

That book scared the living shit out of me.

I'm sure if I read it today, I'd be disgusted with myself for reacting as I did. After all, the book wasn't particularly suspenseful or spooky. True, the monsters were gross, all gelatinous and tentacly, and their unlikely name made them seem even creepier; but that wasn't what affected me so strongly. Perhaps "scared" isn't quite the right word: I was disturbed by what I saw as the overall grimness of the story. The tone of it got under my skin and stayed there. By the time the novel came to its abrupt end, everybody'd been killed horribly, and the hungry Boogens scuttled off looking for more prey. On that dismal Sunday evening, in the kind of mood I was in, it seemed reasonable to think they were crawling down from the mountains, across a thousand miles of country, straight to my house... where they'd have to join the queue of monsters from zombies to the Blob waiting to leap on me out of the dark.

At the bottom of the book's thoroughly misleading cover were the words: A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. I had no immediate desire to see The Boogens on screen. But I couldn't help but wonder why I never thereafter heard anything about the movie. It certainly didn't play my local theater... or if it did, it came and went with no fanfare. Even years later, when VHS brought even the cheesiest 80's monster flicks back from oblivion, I never ran into The Boogens. If I ever thought of it at all, I figured that the story's relentlessly downbeat nature had turned viewers off, and that it had vanished without trace.

Years later, when I started actively pursuing forgotten horror movies, I managed to catch up with The Boogens. The actual movie came as a huge surprise — and a bit of a disappointment. As it turns out, the film version of The Boogens is completely different from my memories of the book. In fact, The Boogens is a typical, perfectly generic monster movie: you know from its opening moments exactly how it's going to play out. You know who's going to live and who's going to die... you can even guess the order of the scenes as they all go to meet their fates. The monsters themselves are fine, as monsters go in these kinds of films; but by comparison to loathsome, slimy things in the novel they're a horrible compromise.

The Boogens opens with a montage of stills: atmospheric sepia photographs of real turn-of-the-century mining operations alternate with old-timey newspaper headlines. A closer look with the Pause button tells us that old-timey newspapers changed their headlines more frequently than their actual stories... but what the headlines tell us is that one of the country's most productive silver mines was shut down when strange things started to happen to the miners. In 1912 a particularly disastrous cave-in resulted in the loss of 27 miners, and after that the other workers refused to go back into the mines2
2. If you look even closer, it seems as though the body of the newspaper blames the collapse on the Jews:


Oh, and by the way: on close inspection, you'll also see that the original name of the mine was the Glory Hole. Really.

The Glory Hole, the very queen of Colorado mines...

Before we've even started, I feel there's something I have to mention about this setup. There was a word for the kind of terrible mining disaster that would claim dozens of lives at the turn of the century, and that word was: Thursday. A look at the history of mining in the United States (really, a look at mining anywhere) is a glimpse into the entire history of labor injustice. Child labor... hideous working conditions... long hours for pay in worthless company scrip... life-long indentured servitude... the ever-present risk of dismemberment or death... face it: mining was (and continues to be) a dangerous, thankless job. And there's never been anything worth less to the big mining concerns, then or now, than the lives of the miners. Throughout history, any time a group of miners got together and demanded better working conditions, the response was always brutal, often leading to armed rebellion and dreadful violence: think of Paint Creek... Ludlow... Matewan... or Blair Mountain, where the US Government intervened to drop bombs on its own citizens. These rebellions did eventually help lead to major labor reforms, but they did so over the broken bodies of the men, women and children who fought for the most basic human rights in the mining towns. If miners in Colorado ca. 1912 decided they wouldn't go back into the mines — for any reason, even in a less-productive mine — the response of the mine company would more likely have been to call in the Baldwin-Felts "detective agency" (for which read: "mini-militia") and start shooting the recalcitrant workers... then to find another group of workers hungry enough and desperate enough to put up with the dangers for a little while longer.

But OK: let's just assume that this was some strange anomaly in the history of labor relations. A handful of miners dies; the rest got seriously spooked by something, and the mine — even though it was supposed to have been the RICHEST VEIN IN HISTORY, according to the newspaper — was subsequently closed and forgotten. If you can suspend your disbelief over that, the monsters are going to be extremely credible by comparison.

Fast forward to 1980, to the snowy mountains of "Colorado" (actually Park City, Utah). Two seasoned engineers from the Tampering With the Unknown Company have just arrived at the abandoned Silver City mine. Their job is to prepare the old shaft for re-opening after nearly 70 years of neglect. They've hired two young kids just out of college to be their general dogsbodies. One of these we'll refer to as the Horny Guy Who Will Be The First Major Character to Die, because, well... that's obviously what he is. He's excited because his girlfriend is on her way out to "Colorado" to join him, which means his weeks of abstinence are about to end. Oh — and she's bringing along a friend, which means his friend has a chance of getting lucky, too.

The second college kid is the Designated Hero: he's less obviously obnoxious than his friend... and since he's unattached at the beginning of the film, the audience is expected to identify with him as he Finds True Love. Really, he's every bit as obnoxious as the Horny Guy Who Will Be Etc. Etc., but he's quieter about it. His pick-up lines are also terrible, but apparently they're bad enough to be endearing.

The girls, in case you hadn't guessed, are the Tall, Conventionally Beautiful Long-Haired Girl (the Horny Guy's girlfriend) and the Petite Short-Haired Cute One who will meet the unattached boy in an awkward way, yet grow closer and closer to him as the movie goes on. As usual, the Cute One is so cute that nobody in their right minds, seeing her with the Conventionally Beautiful Girl, would give the long-haired one a second glance3
3. The Boogens's director, James L. Conway, evidently felt the same way about Rebecca Balding: for one thing, her nude scenes in the movie fairly glow with appreciation for her naked form... and for another thing, he married her.

If this is Balding, who needs Rogaine?

Also along for the ride is The Dog. I usually cringe when dogs are included in horror movies... or actually, when any animals are included, because it usually means they're going to be butchered. It's not that I have any objection to animals-as-characters suffering the same fates as human characters; it's just that they're usually included in the stories only to be butchered. It's a cheap way of generating horror without reducing the human cast, and it's usually pretty offensive to anybody who thinks animals in the movies deserve better representation. To make matters worse, at least on the surface, this dog — Tiger — is a bichon frisé. I've known a few bichons, and I did not like any of them: they are to me the quintessential yappy little dogs... which is less an indictment of the bichons themselves than it is of their owners. Bichons are compact and white and poodly, so their owners tend to spoil them, and primp them, and make demanding little monsters out of them. This dog, however, is incredible. He's probably the best canine actor I've ever seen. If only there was an OscarTM made out of nice chewy rawhide... he deserves it. It's not just that he hits his mark. It's not just that he plays a real dog — doing real-doggy things in a genre that doesn't usually acknowledge real dogs — and is convincing at it. More than that: the little guy can act! You can see what's going on in that doggy little head of his: when he's afraid... when he's intrigued... when he's excited... when he's changing his mind. He's much more talented than the usual human actors in movies like this. Both his handler and the editor also deserve high praise for shaping his performance.

But let's go back to the Designated Hero for a minute. As he opens up to the Cute One, he starts telling her about his background. It turns out he's an electrical engineer who found his way into mining more or less by accident.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the hero: my Dad.

As the action begins, Horny Guy is excited because girlfriend is about to arrive. He and Designated Hero are going to move into their new house the next day. They can barely keep their minds on their first day of work, as their bosses start blasting open the long-sealed tunnels.

Unfortunately, there's more than just rock that's loosened in the old tunnels once the dynamite blows up. When the guys' landlady ends up stuck at the cabin for the night, she's awakened by noises in the basement. It seems that the whole area is laced with underground tunnels, and whatever was sealed in the mine 70 years ago is now free to wander through them. And it's hungry. The landlady will not be around to welcome them in the morning.

The next day, when the mining team goes back to investigate the tunnel they unblocked the day before, they find the bones of more than twenty miners lying in a heap on the cave floor. It take them a while to realize that if the miners had died there of starvation of suffocation, their remains wouldn't be piled up like that. It looks more like they've stumbled into the larder of some man-eating creatures. It's a shame they don't stop to think a little more carefully about all of this...

Actually, for the audience, it doesn't pay to try to think too carefully about all this. After all, if these "boogens" were really trapped in a small subset of underground passages that had no connection to the outside world... what did they eat all this time? Twenty-seven miners wouldn't last very long, with creatures as large as the Boogens turn out to be. Then, too, the Boogens don't seem terribly well adapted for living in caves: they seem to hunt visually, and when they chase the humans through the tunnels they're remarkably slower than their prey.

It also turns out that they don't really eat their victims. Instead, they just sort-of nibble them a bit, and hide them in clever places where the surviving cast members will be surprised by them.

But the rubbery monsters themselves are pretty memorable. The resemble giant turtles, with tentacles in place of legs or fins. They're resilient (except when they aren't, e.g., when they're fighting the hero), and they are experts at the old "play dead until the minor character comes with striking distance" trick. The Boogens of the book, blind gelatinous things like underground cousins of Dogora the Space Monster, were more effective and disturbing; but the movie Boogens aren't all that bad. It helps that we don't ever get a good look at them until the last ten minutes of the film.

Meet the Boogens.

It would probably have been better if there were more of them. Also, it might have been better if the movie's conclusion had dealt with them in a more convincing manner. Designated Hero and Final Girl manage to end the story by blowing up the entrance to the mine; but if you stop to think about it, the real problem was an unblocked cavern much further in. Sealing the entrance only blocks the creatures' least-important way out. They can still move freely through the caves that lead to the town. If you stop to think about it, this non-conclusion seems to tie back into the downbeat ending of the book... but then again, if you stop to think about the end, you're probably going to stop to think about the rest of it, too... and then the whole plot will come tumbling down faster that a collapsing mine shaft.


At the same time The Boogens was being made, another movie about mine monsters was being made in Burbank, California. If the shot-in-Utah Boogens was, as the book claimed, A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, then the Hollywood production was a home movie by comparison. The Boogens cost about $600,000 to make; the second film cost one twenty-fourth of that. In other words, not only was this second mine-related monster movie completely coincidental to the making of The Boogens... it was also a labor of love. As strange as all this sounds, it's probably no wonder the second film was called... The Strangeness.

The Boogens featured a solid B-movie cast, including plenty of faces you're sure you'd seen before... even if you couldn't quite remember where. The Strangeness starred nobody you'd ever heard of, or were likely to see again. The interior mine sets for The Boogens were built inside a disused supermarket... and they looked like good-quality mine sets built in a disused supermarket. The interior mine sets of The Strangeness were either miniatures, or full-size sets built in the family garage... and they look great. Sure, you can sometimes tell that the walls are either plaster or pressed canvas, like the caverns of Forbidden Zone (also 1980 — what was in the air in 1980?); but much of the time The Strangeness feels like it was shot in the claustrophobic depths of a real mineshaft. Lighting is usually a problem in ultra-low-budget movies, but in this case the dimness of the mis-en-scène adds to the realistic feel.

The Strangeness begins as two climbers attempt to open up a mountainside mine shaft in the middle of the night. They're not supposed to be there — a fact that will make us very uneasy later on. The man goes to plant some explosives in the blocked-up entrance of the mine, while the woman stands guard just outside. As the man goes to set the charges, he notices something odd: the shaft seems to be sealed not just by a pile of rock, but by a hastily-constructed wooden cross. He pulls the cross out of the rubble... never a good idea... and suddenly he doesn't need the dynamite any more: a tremor shakes the mine and opens up the way in front of him. He stares into the darkness for a moment, thinking he hears something moving. Then all at once he shouts for his companion to run, run! Get away as fast as she can! Naturally, this just brings her closer to the opening... and both of them end up being sucked into the mine by something that squelches when it moves.

After the credits, we're introduced to a group that's preparing to go down into the abandoned mine. The group consist of Morgan, a guide; two miners named Geoff and Tony; Angela, a geologist; Cindy, a photographer; and Dan — Dan Flanders — a writer who's researching the legends surrounding the old mine. OK, the writer seems a little superfluous... but since he's married to the photographer, he's been grudgingly allowed to come along. In charge of the expedition (and acting like a sociopathic school bus driver with a bunch of unruly kids) is a mining company representative named Hemmings4
4. I spent a long time trying to figure out what the Chinese characters were on Hemmings's helmet (and why Hemmings had Chinese characters on his helmet). Then I figured out they were just quasi-Gothic script initials: M.H., for Myron Hemmings. I guess I need to clean my TV screen.

Morgan (just "Morgan", by the way) is a peculiar Englishman, a jack-of-all-trades who's kicked around the world doing odd jobs. He tells lousy jokes, and he's just idiosyncratic enough to qualify as the Odious Comic Relief... but then there's Dan Flanders, the real OCR. We can tell from his constant narration into a hand-held tape recorder that Flanders is a terrible writer: his style is ludicrously florid, and he's prone to exaggerating even the baldest and most straightforward facts.

Flanders's wife Cindy is the Hot Chick of the movie. Thus she stands a better chance than anybody else of surviving until the end. Angela the geologist — not a pretty blonde, but the one member of the team with the strongest reason for being there at all — has MONSTER BAIT written all over her and is given rather short shrift by comparison.

Geoff is our Designated Hero this time — and he isn't heroic in the least. In fact, he's genuinely obnoxious... but this time, for a change, the screenplay knows it. Almost immediately, we get a raw feeling from him, as he starts putting the moves on Cindy, the photographer — with her husband standing a few feet away. After the team descends into the mine, and things start going awry, our Designated Hero starts losing his shit. At first, he merely gets tetchy and truculent... but as things really get bad, he collapses in a mess of self-recrimination and despair. Even Flanders is so annoyed with him that he stands up to him and tells him to get his act together. At several points Geoff just stands by and watches helplessly as the others in his team meet messy ends. Admittedly, there isn't much he could do even if he were the typical square-jawed hero, but that's not the point. Geoff survives as long as he does thanks to pure blind chance, not his own inherent heroic qualities.

And frankly? That's refreshing. It's also risky, making the hero — the Audience Surrogate — flawed and unlikeable. But the gesture really does give The Strangeness am edge that's lacking from other low-low-budget monster flicks. You'll still be rooting for the Monster to come devour everyone; but this time, the screenplay's halfway on your side.

None of this party, not even Hemmings, knows exactly why the Golden Spike mine was shut down. Like the mine in The Boogens, it was abandoned after the miners refused to go back into it. But what scared the miners away has never been documented. Flanders knows the local legend: the Red Man was furious at the White Man for throwing him off the land, so he put a curse on it. The curse took the form of a guardian spirit that would stalk the White Man and bring vengeance. Nobody listens to Flanders's story, though, because hey: it's Flanders. Flanders couldn't report the tide table without lapsing into prose so lurid it would outdo the worst Lovecraft. Who's listening to him?

Hemmings insists that the mine isn't really played out. He claims that his company is interested in assessing the condition of the shafts prior to restarting the operation. Of course, the audience knows that the people who were sent to re-open the shaft had to do it under cover of darkness. There's something wrong with Hemmings, and there's something wrong with his story.

But there's something wrong with the mine, too, and that's what concerns the explorers. First, the rope they've been using to lower themselves into the shaft gets neatly severed, just as the last of them descends. Then a peculiar wind begins to blow through the old tunnels. Next, deep in the mine, they find a battered backpack... all that remains of the pair from the opening. Inside is their bag of unused plastic explosives (I'll bet that's going to come in handy at the and of the movie...).

The real disasters begin when Angela goes off on her own to take some rock samples. As soon as she's well-separated from the others, a slithering something comes up from behind her. At the same time, there's a rock slide, which is probably not a coincidence. Geoff and the others find Angela's feet sticking out from beneath the rocks; however, the rubble is too deep and unstable for Geoff to retrieve her body... or to find out how little is left of it.

One of the best moments in the movie comes when the surviving team members find the shaft that was sealed off by the miners back in the 1880's. In front of the barricade is the skeleton of a surface animal — an animal that has no business being there, so deep in a mine shaft. The barricade itself has been broken out, suggesting that whatever was inside — whatever the miners thought was dragging them off, one by one, into the darkness — has escaped. And inside the sealed-off portion of the tunnels, they find...

... they find...

You know... it's funny: I don't think revealing the plot of this movie spoils it, particularly; and neither does discussing the intimate details of its monster (which turn out to be very intimate indeed). But I do think that this eerie, atmospheric scene — in which the explorers find something the miners built to protect themselves — really needs to be experienced first-hand. I guess it's enough for me to point out that what they find is both creepy and practical. The scene is also very imaginatively shot.

If I'm hesitant to spoil that single, extremely effective scene, it's probably because I feel the movie's high points need to be defended from its far more frequent low points. There are certainly plenty of inanities in the screenplay: working electric lights in a mine that's been shut since the mid-1880's, for example... or the ever-shifting layout of the mine: when one of his team-mates gets dragged off by a tentacle, Geoff runs away in the opposite direction — and later stumbles over the body (I'm also not sure how many deep mine shafts are sunk only a few feet above sea level, right next to the Pacific Ocean; but this may be my ignorance). Then there's Flanders's baffling (and fatal) decision to go off on his own, looking for a way out, while everyone else is asleep. That's dumb enough, even though we expect it from horror movies featuring young people trapped in spooky corridors. But the truly dumb thing about it is that the team has allowed themselves to go to sleep all at the same time. For heaven's sake: mines are dangerous! Even if they haven't figured out about the lurking monster, they're all well aware of the threat of seeping gases. Futile though it may be, keeping someone on watch is the only defense they have against potential suffocation. And that's only one of the (non-monster-related) hazards... Considering they've just found the other half of Angela dissolving in a pool of some kind of acid — with no explanation of where the acid came from, or even how the body got there — you'd think they'd be taking more precautions.

But I don't want to concentrate on the weaknesses of The Strangeness. I'd rather jump right to its principal strength: its monster.

Even the most ambitious low-budget monster movie needs to cut corners somewhere, and I'm very glad The Strangeness limited its corner-cutting to a few minor plot holes. It would have been easy to use the dimness of the old mines as an excuse to skimp on the monster design — maybe give us an extra in a rubber mask, or fall back on the ol' Faux Val Lewton Excuse and not show the monster at all. Fortunately, the film-makers decided to make the monster the centerpiece of their movie.

To begin with, the monster is not a guy in a costume. It's brought to life via stop-motion animation. Stop-motion — even fairly crude stop-motion of the kind found here — is a labor-intensive process, and for such a limited production to make use of it is really pretty remarkable. By 1980 there weren't many other productions of any kind using the technique. One exception is the troubled and never-finished Winterbeast (started some time in the mid-1970's and released as a curiosity in 2006), which threw even more of its limited resources into the animation and ended up with no plot at all to speak of (not that it mattered).

Winterbeast featured a whole menagerie of stop-motion creatures, all of which were bizarre to the point of comedy. But none of them were quite as memorable or disturbing as the title beast from The Strangeness. At its base is a mass of squirming tentacles — tentacles, yes; but no teeth. For on top of the tentacles, just over what might possibly be a face, is... there's no other way to put it... an enormous vulva.

The Strangeness, living up to its name.

The Strangeness grasps its prey with its arms and raises it to its maw. But since it's unable to chew its food, what it does instead is smother it between its drooling labia.

The Strangeness, paging Doctor Freud.

Its, erm, effusions are a digestive acid, and this acid gradually — very, very gradually — dissolves the flesh of the still-living prey. The acid's also viscous enough to stick the melting meat to the cave walls, floor or ceiling while it struggles. After a while, when the prey has been reduced to a thick gooey paste, the Strangeness comes back and slurps it up... either through that enormous dripping aperture, or through the things that look vaguely like straws that protrude from its "face".

The Strangeness.

So what on earth (or under it) is up with this creature? Is this the beast that haunts Bob "Gov. Ultrasound" McDonnell's nightmares? Does it represent a fear of women's sexuality so powerful, so overt that even H.P. Lovecraft would have found it excessive? Well... no. At least the screenplay doesn't support that conclusion: in Geoff, it does a pretty good job of showing what a typical male horror hero would sound like and act like in the real world; and every time Geoff tries to treat Cindy like a typical horror heroine, she puts him in his place. As for the director, David Hillman... you can't accuse him of misogyny, since he later underwent gender reassignment and became Melanie Anne Phillips. No: the monster was designed independently by Chris Huntley (who co-wrote the screenplay, and also took the thankless role of Tony the miner) and animated by Mark Sawicki (who played Flanders). They just seem to have decided to come up with something nasty. They succeeded.

The Boogens was released to cinemas in 1980, and as a mid-budget film with mid-grade stars and middling monsters, it did medium-well. Steven King called it one of his guilty pleasures, which awakened some moderate interest for a while... and then it sank into obscurity. Today it's more readily available; as I write this in mid-2012, it's coming out on Blu-Ray. It's enjoyable, but I'm afraid the most memorable thing about it is how many people have forgotten it ever existed.

The Strangeness, on the other hand, was never seen in theaters. It had to wait until 1985 before it got distributed on video, and it showed up occasionally on late night television. More recently it was fully restored and re-released on DVD by Code Red. I suspect it cost Code Red more, even in adjusted dollars, to restore and release The Strangeness than it did for Phillips and Huntley to film it. It was well worth the investment, in both cases — even without doing a cost-to-benefit analysis, and not allowing for budget restrictions as much as you might think, it's clear that The Strangeness is a much more effective Mine Monster Movie than The Boogens. Unfortunately, the strangeness about The Strangeness persisted into the DVD age: at the time of its release, copies were mysteriously difficult to come by.

Neither movie is a neglected classic, even though both of them are well worth watching once. One thing is certain, though... and it's not something you can say very often about low-budget horror flicks: at least they both live up to their names.

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