“Spook Show 2018 – 10: Ghoulies” by Richard F. Yates

ghoulies (1985) - (peg)

So, Ghoulies… Let’s just get this part out of the way: GHOULIES is a BAD movie. It’s silly and poorly acted and absurd and juvenile—but it’s a pretty entertaining bad movie, if you can look at it from the right slant.

Ghoulies was released in 1985 and was directed by Luca Bercovici. The premise is pretty straight-forward and comes directly out of the SATANIC PANIC era of American pop culture. The film opens with a magical ritual in which a cult leader (played with gusto by Michael Des Barres) with glowing green eyes (and who suffers severely from “jazz hands”) is about to sacrifice his own son to Lucifer in order to gain eternal youth and great power. The boy’s mother, however, foils the evil magician’s plot by placing a protective necklace around the child’s neck, which makes it impossible for the father to touch him. (And, apparently, for any of the room full of cult members to walk over to the kid and take the necklace off of him.) One of the flock, Wolfgang, takes the boy away from the house where the ritual is taking place and says he’ll protect the child (even though Wolfgang, played by Jack Nance, is clearly insane, as we can see from his facial expressions throughout the film.)

Fast-forward a few decades, and the would-be sacrifice, Jonathan (played by Peter Liapis,) discovers that he has inherited his father’s mansion—even though he grew up, essentially, as an orphan watched over by Wolfgang. (His mother was sacrificed in his place—we assume. This scene isn’t shown.) Regardless, Jonathan and his girlfriend, Rebecca (played by Lisa Pelikan,) move into the house, and almost instantly, Jonathan starts reading his father’s books and becomes obsessed with ritual magic.

The “ghoulies” of the film’s title are actually these little, rubbery, puppet monsters that are summoned into existence by Jonathan’s rituals, and although they are nasty little beasties, they really don’t have a lot to do in this film. INSTEAD, we get a bunch semi-dramatic scenes in which Jonathan slips deeper and deeper into his magic obsession, as well as some lack-luster attempts at pathos, as Rebecca is saddened and then spooked by her boyfriend’s new hobby. And then there are the stupid party scenes, which seem to take up about half the movie and which seem to be inspired more by Bachelor Party or Revenge of the Nerds than by any kind of horror film—and THIS is one of the biggest issues that this movie struggles with: IS THIS A COMEDY OR A HORROR MOVIE? The comedy is ridiculously juvenile, and I mean REALLY stupid, with characters like “Dick” who is only interested in scoring with the ladies, and “Toad Boy” who is also only interested in scoring with the ladies, but who talks in a stupid falsetto voice in his attempts to GET the ladies. And then there are the two wasteoids, Mike and Eddie, who are NOT interested in scoring with the ladies, but instead just want to find a quiet room where they can snuggle up together, smoke some pot, and laugh. What do any of these characters have to do with “ghoulies?” Not much, until the creatures finally go on a rampage and start killing everyone—at that point, late in the film, the monsters need characters to knock off, so Jonathan and Rebecca throw another party, and the “partiers” become the required fodder.

The movie has one or two interesting, almost scary scenes in it (there is a clown puppet that is particularly creepy,) but for the most part the special effects are terrible, 80’s, low-budget cheese; the music sounds quite a lot like Danny Elfman, but also sounds WAY too cartoony to be the score for a horror film; the acting is somehow extremely goofy and wooden at the same time; the puppet monsters really don’t do much in the movie; and the tone is too melodramatic at times for the film to be a good comedy, but also too stupid to be a true horror story. It’s a serious train wreck…

And yet, I keep watching the movie over and over again. Part of my enjoyment of the film probably comes from nostalgia, having seen (and enjoyed) it when I was a teenager. I was a fan of magic and esotericism back in the 1980’s, and this film actually intrigued me with the whole “conjuring spirits” aspect. Now that I’m older (and I’ve read a LOT MORE about esoteric concepts AND become a skeptic of those beliefs) I find the film to be much sillier than I did when I was 14 or 15, BUT I still think the movie is fun.

I’m one of those guys who ENJOYS really bad movies, (like Frogs, or the ultimate BAD MOVIE: Forbidden Zone! If you’ve never seen Forbidden Zone, it’s the most mind-bogglingly awful film I’ve ever watched that still manages to keep my full attention—a truly awful masterpiece.) Ghoulies isn’t the WORST film ever made, and it’s not BORING, but it’s pretty bad. The puppets are a draw for me (I love puppets,) although they have that “dripping” thing that was popular in the 80’s, where they all seem to be oozing saliva or mucus or slime at all times. (The Gremlins did this, too. Actually, speaking of Gremlins, I should mention that Ghoulies was part of a whole SLEW of 80’s “little monsters” films, like Gremlins, Critters, Munchies, Hobgoblins, The Gate… There were a LOT of them—some better than others…) These are NOT the best monster puppets I’ve ever seen, but they’re fun, and there’s several different monsters / demons in the movie to keep the viewer interested. And, believe it or not, the bad acting and stupid characters ARE pretty funny, even though they’re also INCREDIBLY stupid. (Watching the stoner character, Mike, try to breakdance and FAIL miserably—his breakdancing is the WORST I’ve ever seen—is pretty hilarious.)

So, it’s a bad movie, but a pretty humorous bad movie. In addition, unlike some of the horror / comedies from that era, this one is pretty tame. There is some “Satanism” that will offend (and frighten) some folks, but there really isn’t much bad language; there isn’t much gore (a little bit of blood, but nothing as gross as you’d see in Friday the 13th😉 and despite the “horn-dog” characters, there’s really no nudity or explicit sex scenes—everything is far more tame than you’d see on your average daytime soap opera. The movie is straight-up PG-13, and that might point to the audience that this film was shooting for: young adults, and pretty specifically, young adult males, as the female characters don’t have much personality. (At one point, Rebecca is hypnotized by Jonathan and forced to help him put a spell on all of their friends—but because Rebecca is already pretty flat as a character, only one person even seems to notice that she’s acting like a robot…) Let’s just say, the “MALE” perspective seems to be in charge with this film.

To wrap up, if you’re looking for a bad, cheesy, Satanic Panic-era schlock fest, with some goofy monster puppets and a couple of quick, magical shout-outs (they mention the Abramelin ritual that Aleister Crowley attempted to perform at Boleskine House,) but a film that also isn’t TOO exploitative, then Ghoulies might be the movie for you. It’s not well written, it’s not hilarious, it’s not scary, and it’s not THE WORST, but it’s bad in a pretty good way. As for the other movie on this DVD, Ghoulies II—well, that’s a different story…

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)

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About richardfyates

Compulsive creator of the bizarre and absurd. (Artist, writer, poet, provocateur...)
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