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.
The phrase, “the truth is stranger than fiction,” very much applies to this obscure cult film made in 1984 but released in January 1988 stateside. At least, it explains why it’s such an endearing mess. On paper, the plot seems very straightforward; an evil sorcerer sacrifices all trespassers inside his sprawling estate to keep his wife alive and youthful. What transpires on screen, however, is much more confusing. There’s a random 13-year old boy on the run, bummed that his friends and family may have forgotten his birthday. There are two cars full of people in search of party headquarters (unrelated to the birthday boy) that don’t seem to belong in the same social circles whatsoever, and then there’s the evil sorcerer pining over his dead/sleeping wife in some nondescript separate area from the main house.
Still sounds pretty clear, right? Throw in seductive spider monsters, farting Muck Men, a grim reaper, zombies, pygmy mermaid monsters, electrocuting slimy monsters, possessed witches with glowing skulls, a blue cat boy with a terrible fashion sense, and so much more and Spookies is guaranteed to make you unsure of what you’re watching. It feels like two main, unrelated plots mashed together, tethered by a horde of rubber monsters. Frankly, it is two different plots smashed together.
Initially conceived and shot as Twisted Souls, by Frank Farel, Brendan Faulkner, and Thomas Doran, with the latter two of which serving as directors, the film was meant to be a group of partygoers turned victims to an onslaught of various monsters. But it all fell apart during the editing process due to an antsy financial backer with zero film experience. Tensions between Doran, Faulkner, and their financial backer eventually ruptured over and resulted in their parting ways from their own project. The backer then hired Genie Joseph, an adult-film star and creator, to complete the film.
Joseph then added the plot with the sorcerer, his unwilling bride, a weird cat boy and blue vampire boy, and the 13-year old boy with the birthday party. It made an already kooky movie even weirder, creating a disjointed plot no matter how hard they tried to shoehorn in the sorcerer. Yet, it also made it even more memorable at the same time, because it’s so nonsensical.
The true reason Spookies has built a cult following, though, is for the monsters. So many different monsters crammed into the same film. Initially, makeup artist Arnold Gargiulo (Eaten Alive, Frankenhooker) was hired to handle makeup effects, but left only a few weeks into production. Other major players involved in the makeup and special effects team were Jennifer Aspinall (Westworld tv series, Madtv) and Gabriel Bartalos (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, From Beyond, the Leprechaun series). Bartalos work is especially impressive considering he was only around 16 years old at the time. With so many floor and creature effects, puppet work and stop-motion animation, you can bet this was a grueling shoot for the effects team, even more so considering the low budget. The seams sometimes show; you can see hands in frames maneuvering the monsters on screen and sometimes the Styrofoam tombstones are glaringly obvious, but it manages to charm anyway.
As much blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into Spookies creation, there’s a lot of bad feelings still lingering behind the scenes. That the financial backer ripped away Twisted Souls from its creators and handed over to another, who quickly made it her own, remains a point of contention. The two different production teams, and the likely legal mess created during production from this, is probably why Spookies hasn’t really gotten a proper release. It’s a shame, really, since there’s a lot of stories behind the scenes worth telling. More so, there aren’t a lot of horror films so daring as to cram as many weird rubber-suited monsters into one movie, even if it’s not great.