31 Days of Hell: Mr. Boogedy/Bride of Boogedy (1986-1987) - Reviewed

Around 1954, the animation studio mogul Walt Disney in an effort to raise money for the impending development and opening of his original theme parks across the country such as Disneyland, set his sights on opening a series of programs for television broadcast.  After landing a deal with the ABC network, Walt Disney’s Disneyland was born with shows like Davy Crockett capturing national attention as well as securing the financing and promotion of his long gestating Disneyland theme park. 

Between the inception of Walt Disney’s Disneyland, the television program changed names from Walt Disney Presents to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color as well as hands from ABC to NBC and continued on well past Mr. Disney’s death in 1966 before becoming The Wonderful World of Disney.  Up until his death, Disney hosted most of the programming himself and it wasn’t until the mid-80s with the newly retitled The Disney Sunday Movie found a new host with then CEO Michael Eisner and the television series found a new home back on the ABC network from 1986 to 1988.

During this time, the Disney Company unveiled on their weekly Disney Sunday Movie a series of original television movies aired on both the ABC network and their own Disney Channel.  Much like Walt Disney’s Disneyland, the weekly program hosted by Eisner was intended to boost sales in the amusement parks and renew interest in original content after the failure of The Black Cauldron and their own attempts at horror with The Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes underperformed at the box office. 

Meanwhile, outside the Disney stratosphere, a screenwriter by the name of Michael Janover was busy shopping around a horror comedy called Cheap Thrills which would have predated things like the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie by almost twenty years.  Initially pitched to Columbia Pictures with Cheech and Chong in mind, this Airplane! styled comedy with jabs at Dracula and The Exorcist almost happened until a certain gag managed to offend the staunchly Catholic CEO of the studio and the project was scrapped altogether. 

Catching wind of the project’s demise, Disney approached Janover with the prospect of doing Cheap Thrills on a smaller scale for television with the screenplay’s subversive humor toned down considerably for family audiences.  With the little tweaking and some influences courtesy of Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye with the segment The Ledge involving a man clinging for his life to a high-rise skyscraper as the antagonist taunts him with ‘Boogey!  Boogey!  Boogey!’, The Disney Sunday Movie Mr. Boogedy was born.

Mr. Boogedy (1986)

Running a brisk forty-five minutes long for the Disney Sunday Movie television slot, the low-budgeted family horror-comedy Mr. Boogedy follows gag-gift salesman Carlton Davis (Richard Masur of The Thing and Stephen King’s It) and his wife Eloise (Mimi Kennedy) and their three children into the fictional New England town of Lucifer Falls as they attempt to set up shop and business in an abandoned home that turns out to be haunted by an evil spirit from the Colonial period by the name of Mr. Boogedy. 

Amid a mixture of goofy sight gags and PG rating level scares akin to Disney’s own Hocus Pocus, the quickly shot and assembled Mr. Boogedy prominently features a cackling glowing green ‘hamburger faced’ demon in a sparkling magic cloak that frankly feels like a poor man’s Emperor Palpatine but it manages to work anyway. Co-starring John Astin as the eccentric landlord/local historian, future Buffy the Vampire Slayer starlet Kristy Swanson and future Married with Children star David Faustino, the short film is a silly spooky family friendly endeavor which unlike the failed theatrical Disney horror outings proved to be a minor hit.  Spawning a cult following, this charming little Disney TV flick remains imperfect, gleefully silly and even annoying at times. 

Carlton Davis, for instance, lives, breathes, eats and shits out practical jokes and pranks for the entirety of the film when wife Eloise isn’t croaking out one of the most irritating nails-on-chalkboard cackles in movie history.  And yet characters like John Astin’s wonderfully expressive and hilarious Neil Witherspoon and the dated mid-80s Disney charm make it all worth the watch.  More than anything, Mr. Boogedy functions a time capsule of how family friendly Halloween oriented horror-comedies would or would not come to be in the ensuing years.

Sensing a hit on their hands, the Disney Company flirted with the idea of treating Mr. Boogedy as a pilot for a potential running television series at one point.  Deciding on testing the waters for such an endeavor, both screenwriter Janover and still active television director Oz Scott reunited with much of the cast for the film for a feature length sequel intended to follow the ongoing antics of the Davis family and the ghostly sorcerer. 

Had it worked, one can only speculate just what kind of television series this short film would have developed into.  Moreover, up to this point Mr. Boogedy proved to be far more successful than the previously mentioned theatrical feature family oriented horror films the Disney Company took a stab at.  Unfortunately, Disney and the Davis family would not strike gold with round two.

Bride of Boogedy (1987)

Only a year after the events of Mr. Boogedy, Disney’s longer, more expensive sequel catches up with the Davis family who have since landed a local gag-gifts shop and become increasingly involved with the residents of Lucifer Falls such as staging a town carnival and fending off an angry man-child (Eugene Levy) jealous of the Davis’ newfound financial success.  It would seem they’ve done away with the evil Mr. Boogedy and his magic cloak, or so they thought.  Gradually regaining his strength from beyond the grave, the titular supernatural villain is determined to retrieve his magic cloak and wreak havoc on the family which cast him out into the depths of Hell and manages to demonically possess more than a few characters to do his bidding.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the lovable John Astin and Kristy Swanson were unable to return and in their place are a cavalcade of truly annoying characters and, remarkably, a padded out running time with less than half of the meat and potatoes offered by the first film.  Instead of Astin’s eccentric Neil Witherspoon, we get Leonard Frey as his brother Walter and the overacting which Astin managed to make funny and engaging comes off as cloying and irritating with Frey. 

What’s more, if you were turned off by Carlton and Eloise Davis in the previous film, they all but double down on the very characteristics that made them so annoying in the first place.  Where Mimi Kennedy’s grating cackle in the original treaded a fine line between mildly amusing and irksome, she all but beats the “gag” so far into the ground here that the casual viewer in the midst of surfing nightly cable TV programming are inclined to change the channel.

Overqualified Ghost and Better Off Dead actor Vincent Schiavelli shows up in this too as an undertaker in an underutilized performance and we’re treated to a myriad of peculiar small town locals we could care less about as this thing bores on.  Some of the visual effects are indeed superior to the first film, as are the set pieces and production values, but in the end it hardly matters.  To say Bride of Boogedy is dead on arrival would be putting it too modestly.  Where the first film worked for having brevity, this sequel drags like a flea bitten dog trying to wipe the itching off its ass. 

A shame because for all the extra money and additional cast members and expanded running time, this one all but killed any notion of a Mr. Boogedy television series from ever happening.  Having grown up with the short TV film as a child, Mr. Boogedy still has a certain modicum of nostalgic value.  I’m glad to have seen Bride of Boogedy once if only to tell others with authority to avoid it like the plague.

- Andrew Kotwicki