Franchise Corner Entry: GHOULIES
GHOULIES ** USA 1985 Dir: Luca Bercovici. 81 mins
The first movie in the unending cycle of mini-monster movies from the Charles Band factory, this was one of the odder low-budget spawn from the previous year’s GREMLINS. David Lynch regular Jack Nance narrates and, at the outset, rescues a baby from a sacrificial ritual; it grows up to be the strangely unlikeable Peter Liapis, who inherits his lush parental home with giant-permed girlfriend Lisa Pelikan. After a spell of laughing insanely during spontaneous thunderstorms, the unbalanced Liapis summons the grotesque muppety “Ghoulies”, including the slimy green bald one who became the poster-boy for the franchise. Cluttered with dull PG-13 love scenes and silly supporting characters (notably Liapis’ blue-faced zombie Dad), this is slower and more self-serious than you might remember, with the ghoulies reduced to supporting players in their own movie: it takes an hour before they start biting the faces of party guests and emerging from toilets. It does have a fun 1980’s nostalgia factor, courtesy of the decade’s popular horror movie “Extend O’Tongue” moment, crazy breakdancing (“I think I busted my head!”), a self-styled bequiffed lady-killer (“They call me Dick, but you can call me…Dick”) and one of the strangest characters of 80’s horror : a weird voiced virgin with the alter-ego of “Toadboy”. The movie also sees composer Richard Band warming up for his sprightly RE-ANIMATOR score and talented cinematographer Mac Ahlberg surpassing the budgetary restrictions with an impressive array of primary colours and atmospheric interiors.
GHOULIES II *** USA 1988 Dir: Albert Band. 83 mins
Beautifully shot in vivid horror-comic colour by Lucio Fulci’s regular cinematographer Sergio Salvati (he lensed THE BEYOND and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), this is a vastly superior sequel that makes amends for the Ghoulie-light original by showcasing the chattering, Gremlin-inspired critters from the very start and unleashing much more vicious mayhem. Old-timer Royal Dano and nephew Damon Martin find their old-school travelling carnival horror attraction has started to bore modern 80’s kids accustomed to laughing at beheadings in slasher movies. Yuppie bastard J Downing – all James Spader attitude and hard-as-rock hair – is in town to threaten their livelihood with a plan to replace “Satan’s Den” with mud wrestling, but the Ghoulies thwart his plans by invading the carnival. This has much fun expanding upon the grossest gags from GREMLINS, notably the rat-like ghoulie that hawks up a gluey green loogie which grotesquely sticks together the heads of two snogging young lovers. There is a cute, surprisingly poignant underlying theme of the cynicism of modern teenagers and the anachronistic Satan’s Den, and a lively interlude featuring a bunch of familiar disposable teens played by regular 80’s victim William Butler, HALLOWEEN 4’s Sasha Jenson and lovely minor-league scream queen Starr Andreeff. It’s far funnier than GHOULIES: top-marks to the dim blonde searching for a cat and sincerely asking “You seen my little Muffy?” (the reply: “Who hasn’t?”). It also has lots of top-flight creature work, combining puppetry with stop-motion, and peaking with a GREMLINS-inspired climax of Ghoulie-engineered destruction as they gate-crash various rides in the final 20 minutes. Part II features the signature GHOULIES moment of the bald creature rising up from a toilet bowl (this time with a much crunchier pay off) and a giant-Ghoulie finale with the very-80’s kiss-off line “Bon Appetit, motherfucker!”
GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE ** USA 1990 Dir: John Carl Buechler. 92 mins
The third of the GHOULIES series – and the only one directed by Ghoulie-designer Buechler – features two toilet scenes in the first five minutes, and pretty much stays at that level for the rest of the movie…yes, there is a scene in which a jock gets flushed down the shitter. Via endearingly mugging college professor Kevin McCarthy, and a copy of the EC Comics-inspired “Ghoulish Tales”, the rubbery monsters are summoned at a campus during Prank Week, which means lots of annoying student gags involving collapsing benches and topless girls with deer heads. The Ghoulies have been transformed into much goofier, chattier comic-antagonists who talk like early 90’s pre-BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD adolescents (“bodacious babe”), fart, belch, drink beer and attack victims with toilet brushes. A typical scene involves them perving over girls in the shower (“I’m sporting half a chubbie!”) before the scene, out of desperation, turns into a plunger-based PSYCHO spoof (“Wanna suck face?”). The inevitable culmination of the 80’s teen sex comedy and the descent of 80’s horror into cheap one-liners, this is virtually beyond redemption, despite a surprisingly good cast: comedy cop Stephen Lee is joined by familiar faces like Matthew Lillard and Jason Scott Lee, while the beautiful Eva La Rue is a genuinely appealing heroine. Despite tonnes of boobs, however, it largely plays out as an unfunny, lowest common denominator extension of the bar scene from GREMLINS, executed by idiots.
GHOULIES IV * USA 1994 Dir: Jim Wynorski. 84 mins
A truly embarrassing and belated attempt to continue the moribund GHOULIES franchise by replacing John Carl Buechler’s slimy puppets (who had already jumped the shark with GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE) with a pair of horribly unfunny little people in cheap monster masks boasting the names “Ghoulie Dark” and “Ghoulie Light”. Barbara Alyn Woods, clad in boob-tastic PVC body suit and with early 90’s fire-hazard hair, gets hold of an amulet that sets a demon-masked Faust free during the opening museum shootout. Subsequently, GHOULIES’ Peter Liapis is now an alcoholic, womanising L.A. cop whose dialogue consists of one-liners presumably rejected by Steven Seagal for being too shite. In between the kind of convenience-store shoot-outs found in every other 1994 American movie, Liapis’ character arc miserably unfolds alongside tediously mirthless scenes of the mugging Ghoulies eating fried chicken and reading “Playpen” magazine. Churned out minus enthusiasm or even much in the way of exploitative ingredients by workaholic Wynorski, this swipes scenes from the original GHOULIES, plus exploding-car stock footage, but totally neglects to carry over any of the remotely engaging elements from the earlier films. It also has the worst possible promise / threat of a further sequel at the very end, when the rubbish new Ghoulies talk straight to the audience. If they’d have just entered our homes, robbed us blind and pissed on our children, it would have felt more honest.
Reviews by Steven West