With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Raise your hand if you ever rented and watched Ghoulies based solely on the cover box that featured a little green goblin-like creature sporting suspenders and hanging out in a toilet. I did. Growing up, I accompanied my dad every week to the video rental store and hung out in the horror aisle while he perused the new release wall, and my child brain made selections entirely based on the cover box. There was really only one major criterion in my choices; did it have monsters? That little green monster with pointy teeth clearly indicated there would be monsters, and I really needed to know why it inhabited toilets.
Watching the film meant the first real lesson that cover boxes could be deceiving, even if that little monster did make a toilet appearance at some point in the movie (which was only added in during reshoots). More disappointing was that the little ghoulies were second fiddle to the cult plot involving lead protagonist Jonathan Graves and his seduction to the dark side by his Satanic dead father Malcolm. Even still, they were in it enough to keep me entertained and on board for the much better sequel that followed.
Released in 1985 under Charles Band’s distribution company Empire Pictures, the company’s first box office success, it was initially intended to be filmed in 3D. The complexities of dealing with 3D proved to be more difficult than anticipated, so after only two days of filming in 3D it was switched back to a 2D film. It’s a fun tidbit that explains why the characters in the movie like wearing sunglasses at night.
Ghoulies was also initially conceived as a project titled Beasties, which Band himself would have directed and the creatures to be created by Stan Winston. As things shifted, including the plot, the directorial reins were handed over to Luca Bercovici and special effects makeup and ghoulies design by John Carl Buechler. Thanks to those little monstrous puppets, Buechler deserves a lot of credit for shaping the series.
The sequel, directed by Band’s father Albert Band, and starring Royal Dano fresh off his run as Gramps in House II: The Second Story and Farmer Gene in Killer Klowns from Outer Space, placed the eponymous ghoulies as the central focus. The tone shifted firmly into humor and camp; these little demons from hell have escaped their cult masters to hang out in a carnival haunt house aptly named Satan’s Den. They high five, play carnival games, and terrorize the paying patrons until the big finale the introduces a monstrous sized demon with a voracious ghoulie appetite (a clear rubber suit, but still).
It’s fitting that the guy who created the ghoulies would return for part three, Ghoulies Go to College, to direct. Because ghoulies need a higher education too, of course. The puppets we grew to love wouldn’t return for the final sequel, Ghoulies 4, though, in a move that likely doomed future sequel potential. Between Empire Pictures distributing the earlier films, and Buechler’s aspirations to direct, there’s a fun connection between Ghoulies, Troll, and The Dungeonmaster, the latter two of which Buechler helmed. As Torok the Troll slowly takes over the apartment building young Harry Potter’s family has just moved into in Troll, a lot of the creatures appear to be recycled puppets from Ghoulies and The Dungeonmaster. Actor Phil Fondacaro is the other link between the films, too.
Ghoulies is the perfect example of how creature design and effects can transcend a film beyond its silly concept and transform it into a multi-sequel series. Clever marketing certainly helped. By critical standards, they’re not great films. But then again, they’re not meant to be taken seriously, either. We don’t really care about the humans in this series, we just want to see the ghoulies run amok.