Starring Trish Coren, Jilon Ghai, Josh Holt, Michael Samluk, Dig Wayne, Dee Wallace-Stone
Written and Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante
Released by Ventura Distribution
In this new era of overly abundant direct-to-video films (most of which are pretty awful), reviewers like myself often struggle with the question of whether to review these films in terms of how they stack up against their theatrically released counterparts or just how they compare to their DTV brethren. In the case of Boo!, a haunted hospital tale written and directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, who is best known as a journalist and special makeup effects supervisor and is making his feature film debut with this film, the debate is moot. Boo! stands tall as one of the better American ghost stories to come down the pike in recent years and is certainly more deserving of a theatrical release than most of the films we horror fans were subjected to during the wasteland known as the summer of 2005.
Boo! is basically two stories in one. First, we are introduced to a group of friends – two couples and their fifth wheel friend Emmett. While our couples, Jessie & Kevin (girlfriend and boyfriend who seem at first to really care for each other) and Freddy & Marie (nice guy and slutty girl who is just using him for his car), are hanging out doing the Halloween thing, Emmett is off on his own at Santa Mira, an abandoned, supposedly haunted hospital, getting it ready for his friends' arrival later that night. What better way to celebrate Halloween than traipsing through an old haunted hospital, right? Immediately we are treated to some unnerving chills and thrills as Emmett works his way up to the third floor, home of J-Ward, where the hospital's mental patients were kept. It isn't long before his four friends show up, and in typical fashion, the tricks Emmett set up are soon replaced by real disasters perpetuated by the ghosts of patients who didn't quite manage to check out of Santa Mira alive. Oh yeah, did I mention that Jessie is psychic? Upon arriving at the hospital, one of the ghosts throws her a set of keys from a third floor window. You can be sure both the keys – and the ghost – play an important part in the unfolding tale.
The second storyline involves Allan, son of a deceased police officer, who is looking for his sister and her friends, another group that thought rummaging around an old abandoned hospital was a good idea. Allan approaches Arlo Ray Baines, his father's former partner who also happens to be an ex-Blaxploitation TV show action hero named Dynamite Jones (one of the best ideas I've seen in a film in a long time), for help. Arlo turns him down but of course follows him to the hospital anyway – just to keep an eye on him. Allan does eventually find his sister along with the gang from Storyline #1, but as is usually the case in films of this type, nothing is quite as it seems, and soon our cast of lovelies begins falling apart at the seams . . . both figuratively and literally.
It's easy to pick apart a movie like Boo! due to its mostly unknown, unproven actors and its obviously small budget. But I prefer to focus on the positives like its noteworthy special effects, genuinely spooky atmosphere, and effective guest appearance by perennial genre favorite Dee Wallace-Stone. Not since Session 9 have I seen a location become such a key player in a film. The Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles is beyond the ideal setting for this film; it is the glue that holds it together. The elevator scenes – while obviously "borrowed" from several recent J-Horror entries – are quite creepy as well. Every time one of the cast members enters that damn thing, you can be sure something unnatural is about to happen! With Ferrante's background, it's no surprise that the effects are as first-rate as they are, but still, one never knows what to expect from an indie film like Boo! Take it from me, you can expect the goods here – the real deal, too, not the CGI variety. As for Wallace-Stone, despite her limited screen time, she proves yet again that she's one of the best in the business.
There is one nitpick that I am compelled to mention, however, and that is the overuse of musical stingers. A few here and there are fine, but when they come with every single ghost sighting or other scary effect, it becomes overkill. Other than that, the score and overall sound design of the film are quite good and complement the setting perfectly.
When it comes to extras on the DVD, the producers didn't skimp one bit. Along with a very entertaining and informative commentary and deleted, alternate, and extended scenes are three featurettes, the best of which is "Intensive Scare: Tales of the Linda Vista Hospital," in which cast and crew members discuss their own experiences while filming Boo!
I first saw Boo! as a rental, but it's already on my DVD shopping list for the month. And if Ferrante can do this much with a group of anonymous actors and a next-to-nothing budget, I definitely can't wait to see what he does with CandyAppleBlack, his next film that is currently in pre-production. I predict good things for us all!
Audio commentary by Ferrante, producer David E. Allen, co-producer Sheri Bryant, and editor Chris Conlee
"The Making of Boo!" featurette
"Intensive Scare: Tales of the Linda Vista Hospital" featurette
"The Special Effects of Boo!" featurette
Deleted, alternate, and extended scenes with optional commentary
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