Fans of B horror movies will know Charles Band. He’s directed, written, and/or produced many films during the 1980s and after that have transcended production limitations and gained critical respect, not to mention profits and cult followings, including Re-Animator, Trancers, and Subspecies.
Ooga Booga is not one of these transcendent films. Directed by Band and released through his Full Moon Features’ Grindhouseflix imprint, it does have ingredients of the “so bad it’s funny” subgenre of movies that fans give a pass because they are “supposed to be bad.” The characters are caricatures, the dialogue is over the top, and the so-called plot is a series of contrived and mostly disconnected sight gags.
With all this not going for it, Ooga Booga promises to go “Beyond Django,” targeting Quentin Tarantino’s fan base with plenty of bloody violence and sex, as well as attempted comedy and horror. The problem is that there is very little funny about Ooga Booga. It’s just bad, derivative, poorly acted, and hardly scary.
The film — released on the new Grindhouse Flix aoo on 12 March and by Redbox 26 March — tells a twisted revenge horror story that could have even been an entertaining genre piece had it not already been done in the Puppet Master series, the Demonic Toys series, the Dollman movies, the Gingerdead Man films, and Doll Graveyard, all produced by Charles Band.
The only thing vaguely new here is the effort to exploit racism as a topic. Promoted with the phrase, “Racists beware,” the film takes another page from Tarantino, Band offers up many extreme examples, from a brutal cop to a biased judicial system, with the n-word uttered in almost every scene. The difference here is that Tarantino’s films often work as critiques of racism while Ooga Booga does not.
The plot is simple enough: a recent med school graduate named Devin (Wade Forrest Wilson) is murdered by Officer White (Gregory Niebel). This occurs just after Devin pays a visit to his favorite children’s show host Hambo (Chance A Rearden), who gives him one of an entire line of socially insensitive “Bad Ass Dolls.” Because Devin happens to have “Ooga Booga” (a tribal African stereotype doll, complete with a spear and a bone in his nose) with him when he dies, his soul goes into the doll, like Chucky. Ooga Booga in turn teams up with Devin’s girlfriend Donna (Ciarra Carter) to take violent revenge on an ever-growing racist conspiracy. This conspiracy includes a sinister judge (Stacy Keach), more bad cops, and a seedy underworld full of crooks. Virtually every white person in this film is a caricature as exaggerated and distorted as the doll’s physical features.
All these stereotypes are more overbearing than effective (even Donna wonders why Ooga Booga constantly smokes marijuana when Devin never did). Band is no Jonathan Swift and he’s no Tarantino. The film feels a lot like a long, feeble racist joke with an animated puppet at the center of it.
The puppet is a hallmark of Full Moon, known for a long string of living toy horror films offering vague social “commentary.” But Ooga Booga isn’t just a bad horror movie. It’s also boring as hell. Long stretches of the film involve Officer White cruising through the crime-filled streets of Los Angeles, sharing his racist and misogynist diatribes to white drug dealers, white prostitutes, and hapless white citizens. In one instance, an overlong cameo by Karen Black serves little purpose apart from padding the film with more crazy tirades. White seduces Black’s Mrs. Allardyce in part by appealing to her own racist inclinations (lawn jockey-style statues adorn her trailer home).
From its premise to its ridiculous Smokey and the Bandit-style credit sequence outtakes (seemingly tacked on to disturb anyone who hasn’t been offended yet), the film piles on all manner of insults. In keeping with its pride in bad taste, Ooga Booga trumpets its intent to cash in on the success of Django Unchained. But sometimes, bad is just bad. For all the serious subject matter shoved into this film, Band sure seems to be doing little more than playing with dolls once again.