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Hey, let's all spend Halloween night in that
abandoned, haunted hospital!
A UK region 2 DVD review of BOO by Slarek
 

Having seen Boo described in the pre-publicity as "a richly atmospheric 'old-school' style shocker," I was both apprehensive and intrigued in equal measures. Obviously, we all have different reactions to any film, and it could be said that as a long-standing horror fan I might look upon this one with more favourable eyes than someone who is not. But there are horror fans and horror fans. There are those, for instance, who will happily swallow horror cinema in all its forms and get genuinely excited when a movie follows the rules and delivers what they expect, whereas there are others who are thoroughly bored of the recycling process and yearn for works that innovate and take the genre into new areas. I hail from the latter school. So if we're going to be subjective, and I see no other way to approach this, then I might as well cut to the chase – I was genuinely startled by how pissed off I was by Boo, the debut feature of make-up and effects man Anthony C. Ferrante.

So where do I start? OK, see if the plot excites you. A group of teenagers decide to spend Halloween night in an abandoned hospital which is reputed to be haunted. One of them has gone ahead to rig up a few surprises for his friends, but guess what, it really is haunted and... oh you can write the rest yourself. Meanwhile, a concerned father enlists the help of his cop friend and enters the hospital by an alternative route in search of his daughter, who went up there a few days earlier with some of her chums and hasn't been seen since. Will the two groups meet up, do you think? The hospital also has a history that one of girls is psychically tuned to, something she is able to tap into at the climax to confront the evil that lurks within the hospital corridors.

The characters are the usual collection of undeveloped stock teenagers who've undergone a collective personality bypass, making it impossible to care a hoot about any of them as they get scared, possessed, and blown to bits by their former friends. A supremely duff script gives the performers nothing to work with and adheres so closely to hoary genre cliché that it offers not a single significant surprise. The dwindling party soon turn on each other, sex leads to death, false alarms are used to set up later would-be scares, worms fall out of the sleeves and trouser legs of the undead, people stick their hands and even bodies into places that just ask for something to happen... the list goes on and on. A huge range of cinematic horror notables are repeatedly and ineffectually referenced, and following an unfunny and predictable riff on the opening of Scream, we trot through borrowings from Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, Session 9, Prom Night, The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, Ghost Story, The Changeling, Jacob's Ladder, The Evil Dead and a whole slew of other, sometimes lesser titles that still manage to tower over this tension-free nonsense.

Original ideas are conspicuously absent and situations too frequently develop due to character stupidity, with a potentially life-saving mobile phone smashed when the token party jock gets angry, guns flying from hands and under heavy objects just when they are needed, and an entire party unable to bypass a barrier of stacked furniture that five minutes later takes them just seconds to dismantle. Not that I cared by then whether they lived or died, I just wanted them to do it quickly.

In the end, Boo neatly illustrates just why the American horror film is in such creative freefall, all second-hand ideas, recycled material, winking cliché and post-modernist referencing, with not even a hint of originality or an understanding of just what it is that makes great horror films actually work. But my final complaint lies with the title – although obviously trading on Scream (there's little in the film that isn't trading on something), I'd have hoped that a work entitled Boo would have come close to making me jump just once.

sound and vision

Framed 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, the transfer here is for the most part very good, with colour, definition and contrast all pleasing and grain only jumping into frame when the light levels really drop. Light and dark are both well reproduced, with black levels just how they should be.

The 5.1 soundtrack is good but not great, the inevitable blasts of noise to accompany shock moments not hitting as hard as they should, and opportunities are missed to freak out the viewer from behind. American horror still has a lot to learn from its Asian cousins about using sound to really creep an audience out. Dolby 2.0 stereo is also available, but loses out to the surround track.

extra features

Having disliked their film so much, I have to admit to being less than enthusiastic about the notion of a Commentary by director Anthony C. Ferrante, producer David Alan, editor Chris Conlee and co-producer Sheri Bryant (who curiously is never formally identified). It is, however, a very lively track that provides plenty of detail on specific sequences, but suffers from a wearily familiar commentary curse that has the filmmakers fawning over every detail and repeatedly saying "I love that... [shot, line, effect, etc. etc.]." It can become hard work for us non-fans, but is almost worth sticking with for the genuinely funny couple of minutes when the producers give the director a hard time about his obsession with location geography.

The Making of Boo (16:14) is an in-house produced featurette, a combination of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that plays like an EPK and occasionally descends into backslapping. We are also assured that the script was "very ambitious." So what happened, then?

Inside the Special Effects of Boo (10:08) is produced in exactly the same style as the making-of featurette, a mixture of interview and behind-the-scenes footage. It doesn't give a whole lot away, but is of interest.

Intensive Scare: Tales of the Linda Vista Hospital (6:04) continues the multi-part featurette theme with a series of spooky tales of working in the Hospital location told by the cast and crew. One to be taken with a pinch of salt, though it has to be said not all of the participants were sucked in by the atmosphere of the place.

Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes (approx. 17 mins total) features 10 such sequences that can be played with or without a commentary by the director. These are low resolution Avid outputs with timecode, and the commentary here is useful for establishing why they were cut.

The Boo Trailer (2:36) plays pretty much how you'd expect.

summary

I'm aware that this film has its fans, those who hail from the first school detailed at the top of this review. I, as you may have gathered, am not one of them, and make no apologies for that. For me this is a ghost train of a movie, randomly hurling too-familiar horror imagery at the audience in the mistaken belief that it will automatically be scary or atmospheric. For an undemanding teen audience that may be enough, but seasoned horror fans in search of new thrills will find little if anything to excite them here.

If by chance this is your cup of tea then Momentum's DVD delivers the goods, with a solid transfer and a decent spattering of extra features, including a lively if self-appreciative commentary.

Boo

USA 2005
86 mins
director
Anthony C. Ferrante
starring
Trish Coren
Rachel Harland
Jilon Ghai
Happy Mehaney
Shirlene Quigley
Algie Hamilton
Dig Wayne

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
English for the hard of hearing
extras
Filmmakers' commentary
Making-of featurette
Make-up featurette
Location featurette
Deleted and extended scenes
Trailer
distributor
Momentum
release date
22 October 2006
review posted
23 October 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews