"Boo" follows the 'throw-every-good-idea-you've-ever-seen-at-the-screen-and-hope-something-good-sticks' mode of film-making. Often, this only results in a horrible mess; in the hands of Cinescape editor and Fangoria writer, Anthony C. Ferrante though, all the pieces seem to have landed in exactly the right order, resulting in one of the most formidable little scare factories to hit the screens in some time. I had my doubts about the film before popping it into the player: it looked like just another low budget, stupid-teens-get-themselves slaughtered, slasher flick; but Ferrante is a knowledgeable fan of the genre and has brought his experience as a reviewer and interviewer in the world of horror to bear on this loving homage to the classic horror flicks of the '70s and '80s. Having worked his way up from high school film courses to assistant-director posts on such minor fare as "Progeny", Ferrante also comes armed with formidable film-making skills. A great advantage on this, his debut as a writer and director.
As I mentioned, I wasn't that enthusiastic as the film started. The first scene looks like an out-take from "Halloween". It might even have been filmed in the same LA suburb as the one that stood-in for Haddonfield in the original. The theme music sounds ominously Halloween-esque. And yes, it's the eve of Halloween in this film as well! An exterior shot of the teen heroine (played by newcomer Trish Coren), Jessie Holden's house, reveals that her address incorporates the numbers '1978' (the year Halloween was released!). The film then cuts to the interior — and we appear to be in the opening sequence of "Scream"! For a start, Jessie looks exactly like Drew Barrymore: all blonde hair and cute puppy-fat, wrapped-up in cuddle-some, fluffy woollen jumper. She gets a phone call — and, guess what! — it's a weird one, with creepy muffled breathing! Then we see a black, coweled figure in a white mask darting behind her; and then she discovers the patio door has mysteriously opened, and someone has finished-off the pumpkin she'd been carving before she answered the phone, by pinning a note to the front with the word "DIE!" scrawled on it.
And now I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to stay awake for the next ninety-minutes!
Of course, it turns out that the maniac who appears to creep up behind her and slash her throat with a knife, is really her boyfriend, Kevin (Jilon Ghai) indulging in his warped idea of a practical joke. Any normal girl would dump the twat on the spot after that (in one of the deleted scenes, Jessie gets her own back by pretending to be pregnant!), but instead, she agrees to spend Halloween night with him and two other friends in an abandoned hospital with a ghostly reputation.
My eyes are beginning to droop — how much more of this is there?
The teens seem to comprise the usual suspects: the quasi-psycho jock boyfriend (Kevin); the slutty, unfaithful-but-sexy-as-hell girl (Marie, played by Nicole Rayburn); the nerdy guy who everyone makes fun of (Freddie, played by Josh Holt). A fifth friend, Emmett (Happy Mahaney), who is already at the hospital, preparing some ghostly scares with the help of some fishing wire. Also joining the gang at the haunted site is the brother of a missing girl, Allen (Michael Samluk), who persuades an old friend, Arlo Ray Baines (Dig Wayne) to join him in a search of the hospital grounds where the girl, Caitlan (J.D. Decker) is supposed to have been camping with friends before she vanished.
There is a quirky piece of characterisation involving Baines here, that reveals that there may be a flicker of creativity in this film after all: he's a cop whose colleagues mock him for his past career as the hero of a series of '70s Blacksploitation flicks: The Dynamite Jones series. On the TV set of a crummy bar, we see him starring in the fourth instalment of the series, in which Dynamite Jones faces off against Count Pimpula!
This is quite amusing; maybe there is something here after all.
It doesn't take long for the missing Emmett's supply of practical jokes to become exhausted, but the strange occurrences continue. After sightings of a pale, ghostly girl with a bouncing ball (when it starts combining references from both "The Ring " and Bava's "Kill Baby ... Kill", we know this is the work of a dedicated horror fan), it becomes apparent that they cannot even leave the third floor of the hospital — no matter how many flights of stairs or lift floors they descend or ascend. The group realise that genuine, malevolent supernatural forces are assailing them, refusing to let them out. Allen enters the building on his own while Baines waits outside; his search for his sister soon brings him into contact with strange apparitions: a bloody, flayed dog still attempts to bite him in a dank corridor, despite the fact that its internal organs are flopping around on the wet floor! He finds his sister — pale, emaciated and half-starved — who proceeds to inform him that her former friends had become possessed by an evil sprit that caused everyone to kill each-other, and it will not let anyone leave alive! Soon Baines, Allen and Caitlan join up with Jessie and her friends but, after an unnerving series of apparitions result in two of their number dying horribly, they realise that they cannot even trust each-other. The evil spirit of a former child abuser called Jacob (a great performance by M. Steven Felty) is trying to gain use of a human body in order to escape the confines of the hospital. Soon, the gang find themselves pitted against all manner of surreal, ghostly, gory monstrosities — they're desperate to leave the place, but also battling to keep the evil safely locked up in the dilapidated ruin of the Santa Mira Community Hospital.
To go into too much more detail would run the risk of spoiling the ride for viewers; for this is indeed, the proverbial rollercoaster ride. Ferrante has constructed a plot entirely out of the best bits of late-'70s and early-80s horror classics: "John Carpenter's The Thing", "The Evil Dead" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street", with the surrealistic, playful, anything-could-happen atmosphere of the "Phantasm" series forming the primary framework around which the rest of the crazy and macabre events are successfully made to hang.
This could have still ended-up looking like a pale shadow of these fondly remembered classics though, if it were not for Ferrante's inventiveness and the relentless energy of the film. One simply doesn't have time to dwell on the vast thicket of influences and references (there are far more than I've mentioned here) because one is far too busy enjoying the cavalcade of well-timed shock "stings" and gory set-pieces. Special effects wizard Kevin Wasner, conjures some amazing-looking sequences that combine puppetry, appliance effects and CGI more effectively than I've seen for some time. There is plenty of blood and gore on display, but Ferrante doesn't rely on grossing-out the audience — he goes for genuine scares as well. A fantastically creepy sound design helps considerably with this, and the aforementioned ghost girl is one of the most unsettling I've ever seen. There are also little touches of back-story that help an uneasy atmosphere to pervade the flick — the phone call received by Jessie at the beginning of the film is put in a completely different light when it is revealed that, before her mother died, she had arranged a code in which her mother would ring a certain number of times when she was out, so that her daughter would know it was her. Now, every year on the anniversary of her mother's death from cancer, Jessie receives a ghostly phone call that rings exactly the same amount of times as her mother used to — and Halloween is that anniversary!
The cast of unknowns do a very good job, and Ferrante furnishes most of them with little snippets of characterisation (aware, perhaps, of how unusual this is in a film of this nature) which adds some believability to a film of fantastical events. Dig Wayne's middle-aged black cop lead provides some much needed grit ,and takes the film out of the provence of countles other teens-in-peril fare. There is also a great little guest role for genre stalwart, Dee Wallace ("ET", "The Hills Have Eyes", "The Howling").
By the midway point I had gone from bored cynicism to cheer-leading enthusiast: the pace is relentless and the film delivers that enjoyable mix of thrills and scares that made its influences so successful all those years ago.
If there is one criticism that can be made, it must be that we really have seen all this before (at least if you are over thirty you will have, younger fans will no doubt be blown away by it all) — but this is a general problem that the horror genre is facing at the moment. How to reinvent it in a way that reflects these times, rather than 1978. Horror directors have become expert in adding the visceral filmmaking techniques that modern technology affords to the subject matter and plot patterns of the old classics, and "Boo" passes the test with flying colours (in fact, it must be said, it's a far more effective old-school shocker than anything the directors of the original inspirations for this film have managed recently — see the "Masters of Horror" series as evidence). But it can only recast old ideas in a louder, brasher and bloodier new guise — it feels too comfortable, and that's not what modern horror should be about, should it?
The disc from Momentum Pictures is crammed with great extras: three featurettes consisting of a standard "making of" (behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews etc.); "Inside the Special effects of Boo" (covering both appliance, puppet effects and CGI) and "Tales of Linda Vista Hospital", a creepy film in which the cast and crew relate their ghostly experiences while on the haunted hospital set (a real derelict hospital with a real reputation for hauntings). A trailer and some deleted scenes with optional commentary are included (although there is nothing much here of great importance) and a filmmakers audio commentary which features writer-director Anthony C. Ferrante, producer David E. Allen, co-producer Sheri Bryant and editor Chris Conlee. They have good repartee and relate some nice anecdotes.
The film comes with a nice 5.1 Surround Sound audio track and also a 2.0 Stereo track. An extensive hoard for an unexpectedly great little flick. This is well worth a look.