Review: Spookies (1986)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #754

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 14, 1986
Sub-Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Country of Origin: United States, Netherlands
Box Office: $17,785 
Running Time: 85 minutes
Directors: Brendan Faulkner, Thomas Doran, Eugenie Joseph
Producers: Brendan Faulkner, Thomas Doran, Frank Farel, Genie Joseph
Screenplay: Brendan Faulkner, Thomas Doran, Frank Farel, Ann Burgund
Special Effects: Jennifer Aspinall, Gabriel Bartalos, Arnold Gargiulo, Vincent J. Guastini
Cinematography: Ken Kelsch, Robert Chappel
Score: James Calabrese, Kenneth Higgins
Editing: Eugenie Joseph
Studios: Twisted Souls Inc., Miggles Corporation N.V., Safir Films
Distributor: Sony Video Software Company, Palace Home Video
Stars: Peter Dain, Peter Iasillo, Joan Ellen Delaney, Soo Paek, Nick Gionta, Anthony J Valbiro, Lisa Friede, Kim Merrill, Charlotte Alexandra, Al Magliochetti, Felix Ward, Alec Nemser, Maria Pechukas

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Alien Ant Farm “Movies”

[2] Frank De Vol “House on Haunted Hill”

[3] James Calabrese & Kenneth Higgins “Isabelle’s Escape”

Anyone who believes making movies to be easy really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take it from me, I spent seven weeks on a film set back in 2014 and every day of shooting presents a fresh set of challenges to overcome. That said, it’s one thing working on an indie flick where the entire cast and crew are working together as was the case for me, and entirely another when studio executives are breathing down your shirt collar every step of the way. Given that they have likely been responsible for financing the whole project, you can understand why they’d wish to be a little “hands on” I suppose. But it’s one thing requesting the odd tweak here and there and entirely another firing the directors just as things are about to wrap.

Two such fall guys are lifetime friends and budding horror aficionados Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran, whose 1984 film Twisted Souls was already in post-production when the financial backers decided they weren’t satisfied with their efforts and cut both them and co-producer/screenwriter Frank Farel loose on the spot. The project was then placed on the back-burner until two years later when the studio hired Eugenie Joseph to deliver it to completion under the new title Spookies.

Some of the footage was recycled, while Joseph shot a whole heap more unrelated stuff, and the result was a bizarre hybrid that was essentially two entirely different movies rolled into one. Did their audacious plan come off? Well, the film secured a limited theatrical release in the United States so that would suggest a resounding yes right?

Alas, even the cozy economic climate of 1986, twenty grand didn’t stretch that far and I’d imagine Faulkner and Doran chuckled hard as Spookies vaporized faster than one of the Muck Men’s fart clouds. Desperate to rescue the situation, well-regarded underground comic artist Richard Corben was commissioned to design the cover art for its upcoming VHS release. It’s a good job he did as they may not have secured this twelve-year-old’s rental for one had the visual seduction not been so all-encompassing. I mean, how on Earth can any pre-teen boy be expected not to jizz a little in his denims when he walks into the video store and sees this little beauty staring back at him.

I wasn’t alone and $3m in worldwide video rentals likely make the pill a tad easier for the studio to swallow. But now they’d managed to piss off a whole lot of other folk too. You see, Twisted Souls promised much whereby Spookies paid out precious little. It appeared a shoe-in cult classic in the making and the superb creature effects were plastered all over the back of the sleeve as an additional sweetener. However, once I scuttled off home like hemophiliac with a blood bag and slid the cassette excitedly into my top-loader, the deception became painfully clear. To be fair, the horde of headlining nasties were very much present and correct, albeit resigned to shuffle-on cameos for the most part. But it just hung together all wrong.

Predictably, the footage shot by Faulkner and Doran floated to the top of this bizarre broth, while Joseph’s filler stood out like a Hare Krishna in a whorehouse. The amalgamation of both was reasonably hideous and the whole thing seemed cobbled together higgledy-piggledy leaving precious little narrative sense to cling onto. If I’m sounding harsh then let me make this abundantly clear – there is far worse eighties genre fodder out there than Spookies. What truly pains me is that this could have been something special, had the original directors been allowed to carry on with their business uninterrupted. Let it be known that I begrudge wishing failure on anyone. That said, this one has “told you so” written all over it.

Here’s an interesting tidbit for you – Spookies takes place within the colonial estate of one of America’s founding fathers, John Jay. Granted, he’s been dead for over 300 years now but that’s still quite something. I’m not altogether sure he’d approve of the current tenant; an ancient warlock named Kreon (Felix Ward) who resides in this mansion with his sleeping bride Isabelle (Maria Pechukas) and faithful werecat assistant. Someone has evidently been dropping some Klonopin in Isabelle’s soda pop as she has been out for the count for the best part of a century and is showing no signs of coming to any time soon. However, Kreon has it all worked out as all he needs to stir his true love from her perpetual slumber are a few uninvited guests willing to be sacrificed for the cause. 

As luck would have it, two carloads of uninvited guests have just turned up right on cue and, while they may have something to say about being made unwilling pawns in Kreon’s dastardly game, he’s very kindly left a dusty old spirit board in plain sight as an additional bargaining tool. Bearing in mind that this is the eighties, here’s how a ouija board introduces itself to a group of disposable nondescripts.

Was there ever any doubt? Naturally, it isn’t long before they begin to regret their dimwitted actions as, after possessing one of these walking meatbags, Kreon unleashes the “spookies” and it’s well and truly game on. Every room presents a fresh challenge and among those in attendance are a number of small reptilian creatures, an arachnid posing as a Bangkok call girl, a vampiric ankle-biter in a monk’s habit, an oversized calamari with electrifying tentacles, a skeletal witch, a scythe-wielding Grim Reaper statue, a ton of famished zombies, and last but by no means least, the dreaded Muck Men.

Lurking down in the basement levels, the Muck Men pose potentially the greatest threat to our lambs for the slaughtering and that has nothing to do with the pick axes they’re clutching either. You see, another work for muck is garbage and that’s essentially what they are – inhuman waste. The thing about refuse is that it tends to kick up something of a stench when not disposed of in the appropriate manner and the Muck Men have their own unique way of stinging those nostrils.

Flatulence is their most potent tool and, just like the elderly, not a solitary shuffling step is taken without an accompanying gastric emission. It was executive producer Michael Lee who had the bright idea of making them fart and it must have seemed a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. You see, breaking wind is at its funniest when unexpected and, about three farts in, the Muck Men no longer seem quite as dominant a force as previously.

Mercifully, not all of Kreon’s troops have been overdoing the broccoli stems and there’s plentiful fun to be had observing our survivors whittled down by all manner of skirmish primed chess pieces. Spookies rattles along at a fair old clip through an eventful second act until human resources dry up and it is left to our reluctant bride to wake up and smell the vapors. While Faulkner and Doran have been responsible for pretty much everything worth sticking around for up to this point, I have to give credit to Joseph where it’s due as the last five minutes almost make up for the fact that the cart has long since vacated its tracks. Almost.

Spookies is a fucking mess of a movie; let’s not gloss over the plainly obvious. That said, it’s something of a loveable mess, once you accept the fact that you’ll be spending a fair wedge of your time utterly stupified by its laundry list of flaws and schizophrenic narrative. Unfathomably, it has since gone on to amass something of a minor cult following and still occasionally plays to packed audiences over thirty years later. Time appears to have healed old wounds as we’re some way past the point of feeling diddled by the cheapskate nature in which it does what is stated on the tin. 

However, no amount of blind eyes turned can change the fact that its history is ultimately way more memorable than the end product itself. I’d imagine John Jay is turning in his grave right now and it may not be a good time to inform him that the Muck Men are on their way to pay their respects. My advice to him would therefore be this – take big sniffs and it clears quicker.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: What SFX sorcerer Jennifer Aspinell (The Toxic Avenger, Street Trash) and her team achieve here is downright startling. Using a flavorsome blend of stop-motion, animatronics and prosthetics to animate the titular terrors, no expense is spared in making this rowdy rabble stand out from the usual suspects. Regrettably, this doesn’t translate to grue and there is scant splatter on the platter here to quench our thirst upon. Speaking of which, if you ever wondered how the kiss of a spiderwoman would play out, then you may wish to get those vacuum cleaners at the ready. Pucker up buttercups.

Read Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things Appraisal
Read Neon Maniacs Appraisal
Read Ghoulies Appraisal
Read Night of the Demons (1988) Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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