|"He had a grilled-cheese sandwich kinda face."|
The movie opens with the Davis family moving into a new house in Lucifer Falls, New England (hoo boy). It's not long before the kids notice some spooky shenanigans going on, but Mom and Dad are preoccupied with unpacking. A strange old man (John "Gomez" Astin) informs them that the house is haunted by the ghost of William Hanover, a cruel pilgrim who loved a widow named Marion. She didn't return his feelings, so Hanover agreed to give the Devil his soul in exchange for a cloak that granted him incredible powers. However, his first spell doesn't work out just right, and he destroys his own home, simultaneously killing himself, Marion, and Marion's son Jonathan. As a result, Hanover and the widow's little boy are confined to the house that currently occupies the land, and Marion is unable to enter and retrieve Jonathan, being forever separated from her son. Once all this becomes clear to the Davis family, they reason that Hanover (who they call "the boogedy man") is powerless without his hell-spawned cloak, and devise a plan to take it away. This will prove easier said than done, of course. Boogedy Boogedy BOO!
Released 25 years ago this week, Mr. Boogedy is the quintessential nostalgic horror film for 80s kids. It's got cheesy effects, likable characters, spooky settings, and a formidable villain. You have to wonder how much this script got looked over back in the day. After all, there aren't many baddies from the House of Mouse who've called upon Satan in exchange for a favor. Maleficent, sure, and Chernabog from Fantasia kind of is the Devil, but that's the most of it. (Editor's Note: I say "most" because as commenter Otto Baron pointed out to me, the Sanderson sisters in 1993's Hocus Pocus obviously came from the bowels of Hell, and had no problem pointing that out. Although, if Garry Marshall in a costume fooled them, one gets the idea that Satan didn't give them much attention.) You can't really count the shadowy figures that Dr. Facilier partners with in The Princess and the Frog, simply because the movie deftly avoids using words like "Satan" or "demon" throughout. Nope, Boogedy was a rare beast.
It's great how this movie escalates. At the start, Boogedy's antics seem harmless, even fun: moving furniture, creepy disembodied voices, the typical poltergeist bit. By the end of the story, Boogedy is actually trying to kill the Davis family. He's gone from a cranky old man with a broken heart to a vengeful demon. Not to mention that the make-up work was more than decent, giving the sour ghost a fearsome appearance. The other special effects may not seem so special by today's standards, but I saw Boogedy's face behind my eyelids more than once when I was younger.
The cast, which includes Kristy Swanson, is game for the whole affair, and you have to love the joke shop-owning dad, who supplies the movie with some of its biggest laughs. The real draw though was getting John Astin to portray Mr. Witherspoon. The man was a pro, and whatever he thought about the script or the characterization, he gave this made-for-TV flick everything he had. A truly wonderful piece of work.
Disney was quick to capitalize on Boogedy's success, and made a sequel entitled Bride of Boogedy in 1987. It was worth watching, but pales in comparison to the original. Unfortunately, most horror fans are unlikely to ever see this mini-masterpiece, or its follow-up. Disney refuses to give it a proper home release, the list of reasons considerable, although mostly nonsensical. One could take a chance and buy DVD copies of fuzzy VHS rips off ebay, but this is a risky and costly move.
Mr. Boogedy is a movie that transports me back to age 7 whenever I hear its name, and my first real horror-comedy. If you ever get the chance to see it, don't hesitate. "Old grilled-cheese face" wouldn't like that.