Ladies and gentlemen, boils and ghouls, fiends of all ages, it’s time once again for another Nightmare on Film Street trip to the Almost Horror files. It’s Reaper Madness month here at the podcast and we have once again scoured the interwebs in search of horror films in all the wrong places featuring Death himself, the Grim Reaper.
While there were a few non-horror classics that met the criteria, one jumped right off the old computer screen so fast that I actually cried out a bewildered, “Whoa.” So without further ado, dudes, sit back, relax, and brace yourself while I explain why Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) is totally more terrifying than you dudes and dudettes may think.
HOW’S IT HANGIN’ DEATH?
Strip away the stoner humor, the silly time-traveling premise, and the goofy two-slackers-unite-the-world theme and you’re left with some pretty stark, scary elements. Death alone could scythe this comedy into the horror books. Just look at the nuanced performance by William Sadler (VFW, 2019). While his dialogue is peppered with wisecracks which make him the heel of the film, he carries the character with an underlying malevolence that only Death should have.
Even the character design is on par for a good old-fashioned spooky Grim Reaper. Sure, the cartoony painted out face with panda bear eyes is easier to gaze upon than the traditional hooded, faceless Reaper, but behind the greasepaint there lies the proper menace that is befitting of the Angel of Death. A long flowing black robe, the iconic scythe, and a deep, dark, creepy hood, and Sadler’s gaunt visage complete this classic design. Let’s just ignore the fact that he gets Melvined by the two souls he’s in charge of collecting.
In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Ted Theodore Logan, played by Keanu Reeves (Knock Knock, 2015), and Bill S. Preston, Esquire, played by Alex Winter (Lost Boys, 1987) face off against not one, but two of horror’s most excellent villains. These villains are the purest of evil, unlike most horror baddies. Many traditional horror villains have tragic backstories that actually allowing audiences to sympathize with them but Evil Bill & Evil Ted are absolute and utter evil incarnate. They are so inherently bad that they actually call Satan himself a derogatory name… twice!
You see the Evil Usses kill the real Bill & Ted expecting to take over their lives and ruin any chances of them saving humanity. Their sole purpose is to kill Bill & Ted and destroy everything they care about and these usurpers commit some most heinous acts. Vandalism, incrimination, kidnapping, identity theft, and perhaps the most heinous of all, murder is in their evil arsenal proving that these “evil metal dickweeds” are just as evil, if not more, than most horror movie villains.
BILL & TED GO TO HELL
Bill & Ted go through a lot in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey with a heavy emphasis on the Bogus. They die, they get their babes stolen by the Evil Usses and they even find themselves in Hell. Yep, this movie even takes place in Hell. After plunging down a “totally deep hole,” one long enough for a short game of twenty questions, the Wyld Stallyns find themselves in the nightmarish purgatory of the netherworld, Beelzebub’s personal domain.
There, the slackers are met with the sights and sounds of suffering, chains, and rock litter the landscape, and a giant iron demon feeds on the souls of the damned, proving to the duo that they got “totally lied to by [their] album covers.” From here they are met with the mighty and terrifying visage of Satan, towering over his domain. This is where he vanquishes them to a labyrinth of prison cells full of their greatest fear.
What follows is perhaps the creepiest part of the movie. The boys are separated into their own personal hells where Ted faces his fear of a truly terrifying Easter Bunny and Bill is met with the horrifying sight of his dear old Granny. The Easter Bunny, who seemingly never forgets a child’s transgression, interrogates Bill over a basket of chocolate he stole from his little brother in a creepy cartoony nightmare while Granny S. Preston, Esquire just wants a birthday kiss from her grandson Ted. Only thing is, Granny’s sinner pucker, complete with whiskered mustache, is a phantasmic horror show reminiscent of any early German expressionist film.
THE EXORCISM OF MISSY PRESTON-LOGAN
In order to get back from the afterlife and save the princesses, Bill & Ted devise a plan by utilizing the services of their step-mom/high school classmate Missy. You see Missy fancies herself a medium of sorts and she holds seances with a club of paranormal enthusiasts. On this particular night, while trying to reach the spirits of such historical figures as Gandhi, Anne Boleyn, Aristotle, President Chester A. Arthur, Clark Gable, Charlemagne, and Missy’s choice, baseball great Ty Cobb, they summon the ghosts of Bill & Ted instead.
Unfortunately for the Wyld Stallyns, their plan goes sideways when Missy senses evil while communicating with the dead stoners. The paranormal activity that follows, complete with swirling winds and a dazzling energy dancing above the group, is enough for Missy to send the totally dead duo straight to hell. Missy the clairvoyant reads from a book titled “The Riddance of Evil” which, ironically enough, is a disguised copy of Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight, and the words she uses to banish the ghostly beings of Bill & Ted to hell, “D’lrow eht elur sirhc dna de” is actually “Ed and Chris rule the world.” This is in reference to Ed Soloman (Men in Black, 1997) and Chris Matheson (A Goofy Movie, 1995), the writers and creators of the Bill & Ted trilogy. The pair are also in the scene as the two male participants in the seance.
FACE THE MUSIC
For a movie more renowned for its laughs rather than its scares, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey plays more like a misunderstood demonic possession film than a stoner comedy. Just the elements of Hell alone should be enough to slide this one into the horror books but let’s also look at a pair of ultimately evil villains, the multiple possessions, creepy, trippy seance, various murders, and copious amounts of mayhem. These are all aspects that nearly every horror movie uses, yet everyone revels in B&T’s laugh count instead of its body count. There are much darker forces at work here and if you read between the air guitar strings, you’ll see that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey belongs in the hallowed halls of Almost Horrordom.
What say you, dear reader? Are we completely off in our assessment or do you agree with our prognosis? Be sure to let us know on our official Nightmare of Film Street Twitter, Facebook, Subreddit, and Discord accounts. Oh, and if you find the whole social media thing to be totally bogus, be sure to sign up for our Neighborhood Watch newsletter to get all things horror delivered directly to your inbox. That’s it for now fellow fiends. Until next time doesn’t get your battleship sunk and… catch you later!