Do not, under any circumstances, watch Bog Creatures by yourself. Not because it's scary. In fact, Bog Creatures is the most consistently un-scary horror movie I've seen in years. Like, not a single scare. Not even half a goosebump. No, the reason why you shouldn't watch Bog Creatures alone is because the only way you're going to squeeze even a modicum of entertainment value out of this stinker is to have a bunch of friends over, get them hopped up on sugar or caffeine or Doritos or booze, and have a Bad Movie Night.
In the world of independent horror, there are many different flavors. There are the movies that rely on nudity to bring in their core audience. There are ones that go for a joyful combination of gross-out and silliness (Troma). There are the ones that have surprisingly slick visuals and effects (Full Moon Entertainment's Dollman, Demonic Toys, and Puppetmaster movies). There are ones that go as twisted as possible, so that the nastiness combines with low production values to make it seem like you're watching a snuff film. There are ones that take parody of the horror genre to new levels of brilliance (Jack Frost). There are the ones that take themselves stone serious.
And then there are difficult-to-decipher clunkers like Bog Creatures. What were the film-makers going for? Are they trying to scare us? Maybe. They could be trying to make us laugh, but if that's the case, why spend so much time on horror movie setups and situations that are neither scary nor funny? They could be trying for screams of both types, fear and laughter, but in that area, these guys aren't fit to lick Sam Raimi's boots. Sam Raimi's boots? They aren't even fit to lick his boot-prints. Query: In a post-Mystery Science Theater 3000 age, are people setting out specifically to make god-awful movies for the college student Bad Movie Night market, or are they frustrated Carpenters and Cronenbergs, who are trying to make good movies, but find their efforts stymied by bad actors, or time constraints, or low production values, or lack of talent, or all of the above? Do the movie-makers themselves know the answer to this question?
It's a mystery. Based on the some of the lines, I think screenwriter Matthew Howe was going for camp. But the film isn't shot in a way that reinforces that (Matthew Howe was also the cinematographer, so the mystery deepens). The camera is mostly humorless. The action and horror and mystery is played straight and boring, except, occasionally, when it's not. A few of the actors seem to realize that they are in a bad movie, and they play it up. But the five twenty-something archaeologists who get trapped in the bog behave pretty much like runners-up for roles in I Know What Blair Witch Urban Legend You Did Last Summer on Friday the Thirteenth.
The action opens up as Vikings tear the clothes off of screaming large-breasted virgins. And that scene would be disturbing, except that it looks as though the film-makers hired the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism to play the Vikings. Then it turns out that the women weren't being chased down for savage ravagement, but instead to be sacrificed in an evil ritual. Which means that the necromantic sorceress instructed the Vikings, "We're going to sacrifice these virgins, fully clothed. But first, I want you to tear off their clothes for the requisite pre-credits nudity sequence. There will be no more nudity for the rest of the film. This was all the nudity we could afford. The producers spent all the nudity money on Bog People makeup. So, tear! Tear I say! And then put their clothes back on, so I can perform the highly unconvincing ritual sacrifice. I've got one of those knives with a tube hidden on one side, so when I pull it across the arm of this fully clothed woman, it'll look like I'm actually cutting her. That's all we've got. This knife that can also be used to make a ketchup smiley-face on your hamburger. All the rest of the money was spent on hamburgers. . . and Bog People makeup. Hello? Hello? Is anyone watching anymore? There'll be more nudity, I swear. And horror, oh the horror. Come on, at least stick around to see the Bog People as they lurk. They lurk marvelous!"
The one bright spot in this mess is Jeffrey Howard, who plays Professor Fenemen, an odd little man who sends the archaeologists to dig up the Bog Creatures. Jeffrey Howard is my hero, not because he was given the best lines in the movie (and he was), but because his delivery was the ham and cheese sandwich that kept me from attempting to slit my wrists with the sharp edge of the DVD case. His interpretation of the character was a cross between Van Helsing and Dwight Shultz and Bill Nye and every male science teacher you had in high school. At one point, Professor Fenemen is talking on the phone, trying to get the authorities to respond to the Bog People menace:
"People are being murdered! How do I know?! I know because I'm a scientist and it's my job to know!!"
Another gem from Professor Fenemen:
Prof. Fenemen (paraphrased): "[This ritual, yada yada yada. All the world's dead will rise and do her bidding.]"
Prof. Fenemen: "Yes, even your grandmother."
Which brings me to the single best line in the whole movie. Fenemen's younger sister is hiding from a Viking Bog Person, and the Bog Person easily finds her.
Prof. Fenemen: "They say that the Viking Berserker could smell the sweat of a virgin at thirty paces. I believe that bit of legend has just been borne out. Bravo to you, sis, for holding onto it, in Denmark of all places."
To a lesser extent, the girl who plays Fenemen's sister also gets an award for realizing that she's in a bad movie, and thus keeping me sane. When they're all hiding from the Bog People, someone's about to open the door to peek outside, and she says, "Wait. Be careful. Someone might stick a sword through your face or something."
But even when she doesn't have a meta-horror line, she and Prof. Fenemen play off each other well. It's almost as if they're in a separate movie from the rest of the cast. The last person who realizes that she's in a bad movie is the person who plays Tara -- Debbie Rochon, vet of many (presumably) bad movies, including one called Tales From the Crapper. But based on what I saw, Rochon is someone for whom bad acting is a genetic disposition rather than a conscious choice.
One last thing: a hilarious scene in which one of the male characters sneaks into the tent of one of the female characters. He picks up one of her unmentionables and begins sniffing at it like it's a scented magic-marker. Then, when she returns to her tent, he stuffs the item in his mouth to keep from getting caught, then plays it off like he's chewing on a granola bar.
You might ask, after I've mentioned several things in the movie that had me laughing out loud, why am I so intent on kicking Bog Creatures in the metaphorical crotch? Well, the thing is, I've just now listed virtually everything in the movie that's worth seeing. A collection of the good parts of this movie would take up, what, five minutes? Maybe ten.
Three previews. Probably all better than the movie I just watched. I tried to get someone to send me a review copy of The Phantom Rider, a supernatural western with Denise Crosby and Angus Scrimm, but, no, instead I wound up with Bog Creatures. Dirty stinkin' Bog Creatures.
Aside from that, there's a behind the scenes documentary. It's long enough that it overstays its welcome (I assume that most people won't feel compelled to watch the featurette if they didn't like the movie, but hell, I've already lost an hour and a half of my life to Bog Creatures. Why not make it an even two?). Nonetheless, it does give a pretty good picture of low-budget film-making, and I get to know the crew just well enough to feel sorry for trashing their movie, but not sorry enough to prevent me from pointing at the screen and laughing when Matthew Howe says, without apparent irony, "I think [Bog Creatures is] the best thing we've ever done."
The Movie Itself: 1 out of 10 (Add extra points if you're going to have a Bad Movie Night. But your friends better be mighty witty.)
The DVD Features: 3 out of 10