Mr. Boogedy, which aired as part of Wednesday’s Treasures From the Disney Vault series on TCM, isn’t actually a full-fledged film. Clocking in at about 45-minutes this was aired as part of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (IMDb lists it as such but timewise it would have been the Disney Sunday Night Movie), a precursor to the better known Wonderful World of Disney series in the 1990s. Essentially this was a made-for-television film and has all the markings of a 1980s TV movie, factors which are mitigated by decent acting and an engaging, if completely bizarre and nonsensical, plot.
The Davis family moves to Lucifer Falls, into a house presumably haunted by a Pilgrim with the nickname of Mr. Boogedy. When the children start investigating the house’s bizarre goings-on it becomes a family effort to rid their house of Boogedy’s spirit.
Before discussing the film proper, I’m bummed they didn’t air the introduction accompanying the film’s debut in 1986. Disney’s then-CEO, Michael Eisner, fashioned himself a Walt Disney clone and decided that, much like Uncle Walt, he should do fun introductions to all the movies. Watching his cold introduction, sitting at a cluttered desk in what is presumably his office, shows that warm, accessible Uncle Walt he was not.
So, Eisner wasn’t what we wanted but Mr. Boogedy maintains the themes of what aired on Wonderful World of Disney, short, quickly made quasi-feature films, usually populated with semi-recognizable faces from television of past and present. Many of these films were either failed pilots or were testing grounds for potentially new television series. I’m unsure if any of these movies ever made the transition to full-fledged television show. I grew up on several of these films in the 1990s, but being born in 1988 with limited replay on these, I missed this one.
Screenwriter Michael Janover originally conceived this as an Airplane! (1980)-esque takeoff on horror movies starring the 1970s equivalent of Laurel and Hardy, Cheech and Chong. Suffice it to say, once Disney got a hold of it, things were watered down. What’s left is a family film that’s cute and slightly spooky if you exert your brain capacity as far as making a scrambled egg. Little about the plot makes sense, and there’s no believability in the family because no family would act this way.
Davis patriarch Carleton (Richard Masur) buys a house advertised as a “fixer-upper.” There’s a fun smash cut to the house, in the midst of a dark and stormy night, looking in need of fixing but providing no “upper.” Carleton runs a gag shop – I doubt the 1990s treated him well – and treats everything as a bad joke. When obviously supernatural things happen, Carleton assumes the kids, who would have little rhyme or reason for pulling these pranks, are behind it. When daughter Jennifer (a pre-Buffy Kristy Swanson) claims she’s seen Boogedy, complete with footprints going up the wall, Carleton doesn’t stop to deal with his obviously disturbed child, but treats everything like a big joke. And let’s not forget the obvious….he moved his family to a town called Lucifer Falls! I did expect him to have a few Jack Torrance tendencies, possibly remnants of that original spoof film, but he’s too hokey to take seriously.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is John Astin, probably the one with the most nostalgia value, completely with immense eyebrows and mustache. (Think he found the musty eyebrows Peter Cushing used in Dr. Terror?) Astin’s character, Neil Witherspoon, acts as a harbinger of doom and town historian…at least he (and the audience assumes so). When Jennifer asks him what he’s doing there, Astin genuinely looks confused. I assume he asked himself that question when he took the role. The problem is, a talent like that is literally reduced to two scenes. Why he is ominously waiting inside their house, simply to warn them off. Why does he mention his “unusual” son to Jennifer? We never meet him so maybe it’s what passes for characterization.
I will say the entire movie isn’t bad. It isn’t poorly constructed, and the backstory involving pilgrims is interesting. However, there’s little reason to fear Boogedy short of he’s a ghost. The historical context presents a man in league with Satan, who’s sold his soul for a cloak that…..gives him powers? Really, there’s little logic to what he’s supposedly to be able to do, but to the Davises he’s mildly annoying. In fact, it’s the imprisoned woman and her child that manifest worse than Boogedy. Maybe a longer movie or a more clearly defined reason for why Boogedy is a threat would help. By the end, the Davises’ removal of him is more a means of reuniting the woman with her child.
You might call me hypocritical, because the movie I’m referencing isn’t perfect and is very much like this, but the 2001 ride adaptation of Tower of Terror does a better job of building on the blocks Mr. Boogedy lays down. It has intriguing characters, a serious backstory, and a reason to be scared of the threatening entity.
All of the actors, though, are good and take their characters seriously. Masur, Swanson, and Mimi Kennedy are great. They anchor the film in some type of reality, particularly Swanson and Kennedy (even if Swanson shrieks her lines). Astin gives us a dose of the “creepy and kooky” that we’ve come to expect from him.
Nostalgia is a powerful aphrodisiac and Mr. Boogedy has its fans, generally those creeped out by it as children. Had I seen this as a kid, I might have been able to appreciate it more. I know I hold great admiration for some of the original films that aired on Sundays on ABC. Mr. Boogedy just isn’t one of them.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.