Review: Ghoulies (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #685

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 8, 1984
Sub-Genre: Comedy/Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,000,000
Box Office: $35,000,000 (USA)
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Luca Bercovici
Producer: Jefery Levy
Screenplay: Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Special Effects: John Carl Buechler
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Score: Richard Band, Shirley Walker
Editing: Ted Nicolaou
Studios: Empire Pictures, Ghoulies Productions
Distributor: Empire Pictures, Vestron Video, Entertainment in Video
Stars: Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Michael Des Barres, Jack Nance, Peter Risch, Tamara De Treaux, Scott Thomson, Ralph Seymour, Mariska Hargitay, Keith Joe Dick, David Dayan, Victoria Catlin, Charene Cathleen, Bobbie Bresee, Jamie Bronow

♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Jerry Goldsmith Gremlins

[2] Richard Band & Shirley Walker Ghoulies

[3] Richard Band & Shirley Walker Clown Eyes

 

The next time I see Joe Dante, please remind me to give the old bean a dry face slap. You see, thanks to the worldwide success of Gremlins, every B-movie filmmaker on the planet got ideas above their station and attempted to ride to the bank on his coat-tails. Among the guilty parties were the Critters, the Trolls, the Munchies, and last and very much least, the Hobgoblins. Then we have the Ghoulies and we all know how things turned out for them by the time Jim Wynorski shat out the woeful third sequel. Indeed, things were already looking decidedly grim after John Carl Buechler (who really ought to have known better) took the little buggers to college when clearly these cantankerous little cretins weren’t cut out for further education.

To be fair, Ghoulies was already in development under the working title Beasties a full year prior to Stripe and his entourage assaulting our multiplexes, and was originally intended to be directed by Charles Band, with special effects provided by the great Stan Winston after the pair had collaborated on Band’s amiable low-fi oddity Parasite. Luca Bercovici wound up taking the helm and the results were totally unprecedented. While his film headed straight to video in every other region than its native country, it managed to procure $35 million in box-office receipts from the U.S. alone and went on to become a surprise VHS hit worldwide. When you consider that it was made for a humble $1 million, it’s not hard to see why Band made the decision to franchise this baby while the going was good. Indeed, Empire Pictures never had it so good as when that porcelain lid flipped open for the very first time.

Speaking of which, anyone with fond memories of browsing the dusty shelves of their local video store should be more than aware of Ghoulies. More than any other genre, horror often had to rely solely on shrewd marketing to make a strong first impression and Band was determined to conjure up a kick-ass campaign to help promote Bercovici’s movie. To his infinite credit, he came up with a real humdinger and I would imagine his enticing cover art likely accounted for well over half its rentals. Hilariously, the whole toilet gag wasn’t even supposed to be part of the movie and was only shoehorned in during post, something that Band had grave doubts about at the time. However, I’m sure he got over it once those green sheets began rolling in.

I hold my hands up to being hopelessly seduced by this particular ad campaign, and by the time Entertainment in Video got around to releasing it in the U.K., I must have viewed the trailer something like a hundred times. A movie like Ghoulies is ideally positioned for a two-minute teaser and all signs pointed to a bloody good time to be had by all. By the time my sweaty palms finally slid the cassette into my VHS toploader, it seemed inevitable that the first impression was to be of crushing disappointment and it would be fair to say that it fell some way short of my unrealistic projections. That said, compared to Ghoulies Go to College and Ghoulies IV, it was practically Merchant Ivory and much pleasure was gleaned from the experience, not all of which was guilty either I hasten to add.

After narrowly escaping ritual sacrifice at the hands of his very own warlock father as a child, twentysomething Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) inherits the old man’s mansion and moves in with his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) before the ashes can be scattered. His primary action as new homeowner is to make this dilapidated money pit a little more inhabitable, and while spring cleaning his palatial home, he happens across some of daddy dearest’s occult paraphernalia. Powerless to resist a quick dabble, Jonathan soon learns the art of ancient summoning, to the tune of a horde of tiny little meat puppets and a brace of demonic midgets. A chip off the old block our Johnny boy.

Of course, one wouldn’t dream of moving into a fresh abode without laying on some kind of housewarming party and he just so happens to have six good friends already lined up to assist in christening this hallowed ground. By that I mean that Graves intends on sacrificing every last one of them as he believes this will awaken his dead father from his eternal slumber. While Rebecca isn’t best pleased by his new obsession, his party animal buddies are totally oblivious to any incoming threat and egg him on enthusiastically. A few abracadabras later and the queue for the shitter starts to become a darn sight shorter, as one by one, his bone-headed pals are flushed from the guest list.

As a man with a healthy bowel, I’ve made many a withdrawal from the bank of brown in my lifetime, and if I’m honest, a fair few of them curiously resembled the headlining Ghoulie. However, while these rubberized green monstrosities are provided a fairly decent run-out (pun the happiest of all accidents), there’s a lot more to Ghoulies than the restroom ransacking rabble of the title art. We get fully functioning eye lasers, creepy-assed clowns, obedient dwarves, murderous lickers and even a dash of impromptu breakdancing to keep the party jumping; and after a slow and steady start, jump it bloody well does. Our game cast of rowdy revellers help endlessly and are eclectic, charismatic and ultimately disposable enough to make this whole gig possible.

It’s not high science, trust me on that, as I’m not entirely convinced that Bercovici would even know how to fire up a bunsen burner. But it is shameless with its entertainment value, and for a film that markets itself using a latrine and stool-sized goblin, what else could we possibly have been expecting? It may be inane, but at twelve-years-old I was more than goofy enough to appreciate the hell out of it, and though the tagline boasts “they’ll get you in the end”, the truth of the matter is that these green little bastards had me at “don’t forget to wipe”. That’s the thing about rose-tinted recollection, it knows no rhyme or reason, and is piloted only by our desire to be that age once more. As a result, I’ve been Ghoulied ever since, and this is another reason why that pesky Dante fellow has an open palm slap coming to him if I ever catch up with the blighter.

Ghoulies is something of a culpable white-knuckled blast if you possess a similar pair of rosy bifocals as I, and do you know what, the sequel by Band’s father Albert was every bit as embarrassingly enjoyable. It almost single-handedly allowed Band to construct his empire, and while his tools of the trade have somewhat blunted over the years, I’ve still had myself many a memory on account of his ludicrous imagination and tireless endeavor. So you see, I can’t be too hard on the Ghoulies, and I’m under no doubt whatsoever that they’re planting those high fives as I accept that bitter truth. Tell you what, I’ll wrap things up here and let’s just see what happens shall we? If I know the Ghoulies like I think I know the Ghoulies, they simply won’t be able to resist such an invitation. I don’t mind as it buys me the time to go take that dump I’ve been threatening since brunch. Take it away fellas.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Given that Ghoulies is such a tongue-in-cheek (and wrapped a little too snugly around Adam’s apple) affair, grue really couldn’t be less requisite and there’s only a nominal amount on the platter. That said, with FX mastermind Buechler pulling the strings on Band’s puppets, we are presented a smorgasbord of reasons to forgive any deficiency of grue. I don’t care how impenetrable your armor, the on-duty clown alone should be more than enough to get those buttocks clenching. You see, those pesky ghoulies get us in the end dagnabbit.

Read Gremlins Appraisal
Read Troll 2 Appraisal
Read Subspecies Appraisal
Read Class of Nuke ’em High Appraisal

 

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

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