At times visually impressive, if overly familiar, Anthony Ferrante’s “Boo!” had potential to be a really good horror movie. Alas, one too many derivative moments, not to mention stale, genre-confirming characterization dooms it to mediocrity. Nevertheless, a film like “Boo!” (exclamation point optional, apparently) gives you hope that Mr. Ferrante can improve upon story, while maintaining the current level of visual ability. If nothing else, his debut film is oftentimes fantastic to look at, with impressive atmosphere and more than a few effective scare moments before it all turns into a series of gags about halfway through.
The film opens the way most horror movies made on a budget does, with teens visiting an old, dilapidated building (in this case, a hospital) that has reputations of being haunted. Predictably, it’s also Halloween, and our young lovers (two couples, one more coupling than the other, though loyalties eventually change due to lust) have need for fright this night. Except perhaps for young Jessie (Trish Coren), who proves to be psychic, a gift that has resulted in strange, voiceless annual phone calls from her deceased mother. To no one’s surprise the hospital proves to host undead spirits, in particular the hospital’s old patients and a ghostly little girl, setting the stage for supernatural terror. And evil clowns. Don’t forget about the evil clowns.
There is a great scene in “Boo!” when, upon meeting up in a hallway, the kids are greeted by a clown costume hanging on the wall. When one half of the group notices that the clown, which should not be moving, is turning its head to look at their friend, whose back is to the clown, they immediately take off for the door without a single word of warning. It’s a hilarious moment, but unfortunately it also ushers in the film’s sillier second half. Of particular note is a 10-minute sequence in the lobby that has the characters engage in one of those paranoid moments ala a series of Mexican standoffs. The problem, of course, is that the actors are simply not up to the task; although to be fair to the young lads and ladies, the dialogue and motivations assigned their characters by Ferrante is simply atrocious.
That’s the problem with much of “Boo!”. It has potential, but most of that is done away with by the halfway mark. Atmospheric dread gives way to exploding bodies, creepy sudden glimpses of apparitions in the background becomes possessed teens armed with wry one-liners. The worst offender is the script, which can’t decide if it’s working under the rules of camp (the reactions of the characters are wholly unbelievable) or playing it straight. It’s also no surprise that our Fair Hair Lead is traumatized by the past and not up to the spirit of the occasion; also not a shock is that our lead has a Slutty Best Friend who proves to be, well, slutty at the first given opportunity. Alas, for the male in the audience, while the lovely Ms. Nicole Rayburn does tease, she doesn’t deliver. Sorry, boys.
On the other hand, the gore is plentiful, with the aforementioned exploding bodies, barrels of oozing fake blood, and appendages with the nasty habit of falling off or turning into bloody mush. Canine can also find themselves possessed, and although it makes not a lick of sense, it’s nevertheless quite enjoyable to watch, even if you know in your heart of hearts that Ferrante is simply mimicking Carpenter’s “The Thing”. Most of “Boo!” is like that — little bits and pieces of scenes taken from other, better (and sometimes worst) movies within the genre. Brad Anderson’s creepy as hell “Session 9” also gets a nod, as does every horror movie about stupid teens who decide to spend a night in a haunted locale for kicks.
The film’s overall familiarity seems a given considering writer/director Anthony Ferrante’s background in horror, having contributed to horror magazine Fangoria as well as working on the set of horror movies in various capacities. Making his film debut with “Boo!”, Ferrante has elected to make a movie based on what he’s seen over the years, and it certainly shows. While he’s not done anything so offensive as to deserve a severe whipping, there’s still that nagging feel that he’s dangerously close to abandoning homage territory in favor of rip-off land.
Still, when it works, “Boo!” works well enough to warrant a recommendation. When it’s bad, the film is unintentionally humorous. There’s also the character of a former Blaxploitation actor turned small town cop thrown into the mix, although why is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps Ferrante just has an affinity for “Shaft” and company, and wanted to prove his devotion to the dead genre. Either way, the character really serves no purpose, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not appreciated, as he definitely brings some color (pardon the pun) to the proceedings.
Anthony C. Ferrante (director) / Anthony C. Ferrante (screenplay)
CAST: Trish Coren …. Jessie
M. Steven Felty …. Jacob
Jilon Ghai …. Kevin
Josh Holt …. Freddy
Nicole Rayburn …. Marie
Happy Mahaney …. Emmett
Rachel Melvin …. Meg
Shirlene Quigley …. Honey