I was a teenager when ABC’s The Disney Sunday Movie aired Mr. Boogedy (1986), a haunted house tale, and I had no interest in seeing it. I was beyond such childish ventures; my horror was blood and guts and sex and probably more blood. But teenaged Scott didn’t bother to think that every horror fan starts somewhere, and at every age too – and some gateway horror is geared towards nudging the kid to the edge of the pool instead of throwing him in. If you’re looking for some fun horror water wings, Mr. Boogedy will do the trick.
Originally airing on April 20th, Mr. Boogedy did well enough against CBS’ 60 Minutes and NBC’s Punky Brewster/Silver Spoons lineups to garner a sequel the following year, Bride of Boogedy. As the ‘80s progressed, The Disney Sunday Movie didn’t quite have the same cache due to the rise of VCRs and video stores. But for those who stayed with Mickey and company, every once in a while they’d conjure up a treat for the ghoulish set.
Let’s throw on our mouse ears and open up our TV GUIDE:
MR. BOOGEDY (Sunday, 7pm, ABC)
A family moves into a house haunted by the ghost of a vengeful pilgrim. Richard Masur, Mimi Kennedy star.
The Davis clan – dad Carleton (Richard Masur – The Thing), mom Eloise (Mimi Kennedy – Erin Brockovich) and their three kids, including oldest Jennifer (Kristy Swanson – Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Corwin (David Faustino – Married with Children) – have landed in Lucifer Falls (!), New England to set up dad’s latest outlet of Gag City (a novelty store definitely from the ‘80s, as there isn’t a glow in the dark dildo to be found in his inventory) and move into their very first home. Said home, of course, is your standard decrepit, broken down “fixer upper” required for a tale of this sort, and upon entering the clan is mysteriously welcomed by Neil Witherspoon (John Astin – The Frighteners), head of the Lucifer Falls Chamber of Commerce. Altogether spooky, Witherspoon flat out tells them the house is haunted and that they should leave immediately.
He’s not wrong; before long, objects are levitating, pianos are playing by themselves, and Jennifer’s room is aglow in green as she gets a visit from our titular boogeyman, replete with post-haunting fluorescent footprints – on the wall. The kids visit Witherspoon who gives the whole backstory: 300 years prior, a group (or is it a Gaggle? Pod?) of pilgrims lived in the area, led by super cranky William Hanover, whom the kids dub “Mr. Boogedy”. Hanover has his eyes set on the widow Marian, who wants nothing to do with him (probably the lame nickname) – so he makes a pact with the Devil for an evil cloak (!) that will do his bidding. Things go awry when he kidnaps Marian’s son and blows them all up in his home – naturally set on the same land where the Davis’ now reside. As if dealing with Boogedy wasn’t enough, the Davis’ have to contend with a spectral Marian looking to reunite with her son, and the only way that happens is if Boogedy’s cloak is destroyed.
Mr. Boogedy only runs for 45 minutes; it was originally a pilot that never made it to series, and the show makes sense in this context. The “dilemma” facing the widow Marian feels very crisis-of-the-week, and one could imagine them helping a different friendly ghost every episode. But that’s just enough for youngsters to ingest anyway; nice ghost lady is in trouble, family saves the day. And in the fine tradition of “safe” horror, no one in the immediate family is harmed or killed (which isn’t always the case in TV horror), with Poltergeist acting as the yardstick by which most familial horror would attempt to be measured by. After all, this isn’t even prime time viewing, and it’s important that kids aren’t exposed to the full consequences of evil…
…And yet we’re dealing with three ghosts, all made possible by a disciple of the Devil who executes a nifty little double murder/suicide. (It may have been accidental, but the result’s the same.) In addition to being a very dark plot point, director Oz Scott (Bustin’ Loose) and screenwriter Michael Janover (The Philadelphia Experiment) stage a surreal live action pop up book for Witherspoons’s exposition during the Davis kids’ visit; billowing smoke, fake trees, and a grinning Satan himself adding a layer of creepy that Disney probably wasn’t counting on. Or maybe they were – they’ve been doling out nightmare candy to little ones since they started making cartoons.
Of course making the entire affair go down smooth is Masur as dad Davis, his goofy charms fully on display as he wheels out gag after gag, with Kennedy’s braying mom equally as engaged. Swanson is cute as the one terrorized by the Day-Glo villain, and Astin brings a joyful, delicious ham to every occasion. At the truncated running time it’s hard to single out any one performer over another; they were all hired to bring a particular skill set to what is essentially an extended sitcom, and they all deliver.
Mr. Boogedy is a fitting introduction to horror for those kids with maybe a gentler disposition, and those parents looking for a guilt free good time. Not all of us started out in the shallow end; but believe me there have been nights as I peeked behind a darkened door that I regret little Scotty not having his own set of water wings.Next: It Came From The Tube: THE BABYSITTER (1980)