Wow. What a weird fucking movie. I don’t know whether to commend GHOULIES for being so bizarre, or absolutely hate on it for being the heaping pile of shit that it is. Regardless, they don’t make em’ like this anymore. This is vintage 1985. At a time where studios were scrambling to get anything out that resembled GREMLINS, this is a fascinating and extremely arduous look at how trying to cash-in can go wrong real fast.
So, if my trying to block this movie out of my memory serves correctly, GHOULIES begins with a really low budget human sacrifice scene. You’ve got all of the ingredients here: a ritual leader with a horned-hat, an alter to put babies on, and a bunch of followers in white robes chanting alongside some rubber muppets. Tis true, our “ghoulies” really have no air of mystery about them. There’s no build-up to their reveal, no feeding them after midnight, they’re just sort of already on the scene. You would think the little monsters would be the most ludicrous element of this opening sequence, but you would be wrong. That honor goes to the leader of this little wannabe-cult. In most movies you try to establish the ritual leader as a supreme badass—someone all of the followers don’t want to fuck with. A guy who pulls your still-beating heart from your chest before it bursts into flames. In GHOULIES we get Michael Des Barres—one of the former lead singers of 80’s band THE POWER STATION. His hair alone demands you laugh at him. This is the same fruit basket who crooned the awesomely bad song that plays over the end credits of COMMANDO. Thanks for that Michael. Anyway, Des Barres tries to sacrifice a baby, one of his followers stops him, and Jack Nance (ERASERHEAD) shows up to take the baby to safety.
Twenty years and one Jack Nance narration later, we’re back at the same estate where the limp opening sequence happened. College student Jonathan Graves (who looks like the offspring of Kyle MacLachlan and Eric Roberts) learns he has inherited the estate and is somehow going to manage this property while having no income and an ugly girlfriend. Jonathan wants to learn about his family’s shady past, so he cleans the house repeatedly, always stumbling upon devil-worshipping relics that never seem to freak him out. In fact, he instead pulls a Jack Torrance and starts getting obsessive about his roots, so much so that he starts dressing up in the same robes as Michael Des Barres and actually gets caught “ritual-ing with himself” by his girlfriend. It’s one of the best “I’m not doing anything” moments in film history. Eventually the couple’s annoying friends come over and they party like it’s 1985, thus providing the movie with a much needed body count. Jonathan, who is way the fuck out on possessed street by this point, summons the ghoulies to pick off the characters ultimately so Michael Des Barres can come back to life and prove he can maintain his blonde, feathered hair while his face resembles one of the zombies from THRILLER.
There are many things that piss me off about GHOULIES. The effects are bad, the story is weak-sauce, the characters are unbearable, and not a whole helluva lot makes sense. Unlike the far superior efforts of GREMLINS and CRITTERS, this one really doesn’t revolve around the film’s title characters. The creatures are very much an afterthought that pop-up once in awhile to mug at the camera or bite someone’s face. The movie is more about Jonathan Graves becoming possessed, learning silly rituals and killing off his friends—which is ultimately really boring. I shit you not, at one point the douche summons two midgets straight off the set of WILLOW who then run around the rest of the film doing absolutely nothing. FX man and hack-director John Carl Buechler created the ghoulies, and he really shit the bed on their design and execution. This is the man who’s only real good work was creating the look of Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD. The puppets are uninspired and provide some of the best unintentional laughs in the movie as they try to move about and attack characters. I don’t know if there’s anything funnier than seeing a puppet fly across a shot and start biting an actor’s face. Speaking of the actors, besides Michael Des Barres and Jack Nance, fans of LAW & ORDER SVU might recognize Mariska Hargitay in the role of “Donna”… and fans of the POLICE ACADEMY films will most definitely notice Sgt. Chad Copeland (Scott Thomsen) playing an unfunny stoner here who may or may not be queer for his best friend. I read that Jeffrey Combs of RE-ANIMATOR fame auditioned for the lead. Could that casting have saved this film? Absolutely not, but it might have made the proceedings more interesting.
GHOULIES is a solid gold 1980’s turd. This is a movie that ends on a freeze-frame. You might enjoy this more with copious amounts of stimulants and a sizeable group of friends to help endure its running time. GHOULIES has somehow spawned three sequels. This particular copy I watched was coupled on an MGM DVD with part 2. I remember seeing 1 & 2 on VHS when I was younger and I remember enjoying the second one better. We’ll see if that still stands. I understand that ghoulies go to college in part 3. Jesus Christ.