Ironically the down side to memory movies is sometimes the memories are fragmented, or in a weird little place best summed up by Peter Weller in Robocop (1987) when Nancy Allen asks him if he can remember his family. He says something to likes of “I can’t remember them but I can feel them.” The “memories” I have of Ghoulies kind of falls into a little bit of both of these categories.
IMDB states the release date was March ‘85, which would puts me slap dab in the middle of high school and 16 years old. Jesus, was I really ever that young? Doing some quick research I found out Fangoria covered Ghoulies in issue #36 which came out in July ’84, so I was obviously aware of the movie way before it hit theaters. I have this vague notion when I did learn of it I thought it was probably a rip-off of Gremlins (1984). I also have this “feeling” of how badly I wanted to see it after commercials started to roll out on the TV.
Now, the only concrete memory I have is actually being in the theater and watching the movie, but I have no memory whatsoever of whom I was. This was high school so every flick I saw was with someone, I didn’t start seeing movies by myself (not all but some) until after I graduated and most of my friends went off to college or the army in Gerry Lee’s case. But Ghoulies was ’85, and Gerry was my closest friend and I must have seen it with him. I’m still in contact with him too, mostly on Facebook, and before I wrote this review I asked if he had any memory of he and I seeing this flick. He didn’t. The only memory he had was of us renting it later on, a memory I don’t have at all, though there’s still a faint glimmer in my mind of recording it when it finally hit cable. But that moment of being hunkered down in a seat and looking up at the movie screen is vivid as all hell. All else is pretty much just like Peter Weller said in Robocop.
I have not seen Ghoulies since that time and I’m anxious to know if it still holds up. Regarding Ghoulies II, I absolutely have no memory at all of seeing it. I don’t even have any memories of what the plot is. I did put the disc on a little while ago, which I sometimes do before I review just to see how the menu is set-up and the quick montage of scenes kind of looked familiar.
Fangoria covered it in issue #68 and taking a look at the cover online I can tell you right off the bat that’s an issue I never bought, and IMDB says it premiered on cable in October of ’88, so I probably saw Ghoulies II for the first time on cable then. It obviously didn’t make an impression on me, which would obviously account for the zero memories I have.
The above paragraph and this one are separated by 24 hours, which means I have seen Ghoulies and I now deem it a flick that still holds up for me, but seeing it as an adult there are three things now I never fully realized back in the day: 1). Unlike Gremlins (1984) whose final act is covered wall-to-wall in the title critters, the actual ghoulies of Ghoulies are more of a “tool” created by the black magic ceremonies conducted in the film and never really take center stage. In fact calling the movie Ghoulies feels like a misrepresentation. The movie isn’t really about the ghoulies. I never had a problem with that nor do I now because Ghoulies has a pretty solid story at its core. Actually, I think it has more in common with Hellraiser (1987), a movie that kicked off the popularity of Clive Barker’s Cenobites, even though their role in the actual movie is very small. We tend to forget sometimes Hellraiser focused on two lovers, one recently back from Hell, as they tried to stay together and one step ahead of the hellbound sadomasochists who wanted Frank back. It’s a small part but an integral one nonetheless. Again I never had a problem with the lack of “Cenobite action” in Hellraiser, because they’re limited appearance was maximized to great effect, like the ghoulies were in Ghoulies. 2). Bobbie Bresee had a cameo in this? To be honest in 1985 I probably never knew who the hell Bobbie Bresee was or made the connection to her more infamous role in Mausoleum (1983), which I had indeed seen. 3). Before-she-was-famous Mariska Hargitay was in this, playing Donna, and IMDB says this was the first thing she ever did.
In the Ghoulies prologue we see the demons right away as they are attending a black magic ceremony in this basement. In charge is a dude we later come to realize is Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres), and he’s about to sacrifice a baby on the alter when he’s stopped by one of his attending cultists, a woman who states he promised he wouldn’t sacrifice any babies. She snatches the kid off and puts an amulet of protection around his neck. Sickened Malcolm insists the baby be taken out of his sight, this is when another compassionate cult member steps forward and takes the kid out of the house and far, far away.
While that’s happening Malcolm is using his telekinetic dark powers to reenact a scene from The Sword And The Sorcerer (1982) where evil wizard, Xusia, uses his own dark telekinetic gift to pluck the heart out of a woman at fifty paces. Malcolm does the same thing, but the money shot here is never shown, we fade to opening credits before the heart gets into his hands.
After the opening credits we’re introduced to Jonathon Graves (Peter Laipis), and his girlfriend, Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Johnny’s just inherited his father’s rather palatial digs and while on the property he introduces Rebecca to Wolfgang, the groundskeeper, but a long look at this aged bearded guy reveals he’s the cultist that took the baby out of the house in the prologue. With this realization we understand that baby was Jonathon.
During a cursory exploration of the house Johnny stumbles upon the basement. Sure there are a lot of cobwebs and obvious signs of time’s sordid effect but we can still recognize it as the same location from the prologue. He even finds Malcolm’s ceremonial wardrobe and his many books detailing the types of rituals he used to practice and how to set them up.
But it’s during a house warming party that the darkside really pulls him in. During a lull in the night’s festivities he invites seven of their friends down to the basement to partake in a ritual designed to conjure up a ghoulie. The ghoulie never appears so we think it was a failure, but once they all head back up to the party the little bastard materializes.
The more he gets pulled into the books the more we see how he’s becoming just like Malcolm, glowing green eyes and all.. One day he hits Rebecca with the bombshell he’s dropping out of college so he can spend more time restoring the house, which he does but it also gives him more time to become some kind of “grand black wizard,” like Malcolm. Did I mention he’s also buried on the property?
Strange compulsions make Johnny visit this grave, and when he finally conjures up all the ghoulies he can one night we realize this evil, dead guy we saw in the opening is really pulling the strings. Things take another monumental turn for the premeditated worst when he conjures up two more denizens of the underworld, one called, Grizzel (Peter Risch), and the other called, Greedigut (Tamara De Treaux), who tell him if he wants more power and knowledge he’s going to have to perform this ceremony that’ll require those same seven friends he invited down during that “exploratory ceremony.”
During this new ceremony he drugs his friends so they have no clue what their being a part of, and during it a major plot is revealed, but one we already knew, Malcolm’s gravestone rises up out of the ground just enough so we can read his full name, but that’s not the only thing rising up. Dear Dead Dad puppeteered events perfectly so his son would bring him back to the land of the living just so he can sacrifice his kid to the dark gods like he planned decades before.
My only complaint about Ghoulies is Michael Des Barres’ acting. I know he’s playing evil and later on an evil just back from the dead, but in that final act I kept thinking, ‘Jesus, man, can you tone it down a couple of notches there? Shit, talk about overacting. Holy Christ.’
I remember now how I disliked the ending. It’s got one similar to The Gate (1987) where characters are killed off but once the evil is vanquished they suddenly come back to life. That kind of ending doesn’t bother me anymore, at least it no longer does with both of those movies.
Now comes the inevitable sequel—Ghoulies II! The final scene in Ghoulies showed they were quite alive and well and ready to menace again. Nothing but the circus setting and the giant ghoulie at the end were familiar to me, and after having just revisited it last night nothing else rang a bell either. It was almost like watching it for the first time. I guess I really didn’t care much for it back in ’88. I will say, though, I did enjoy it last night and it is on some level a better flick than the first one, at least this time out the ghoulies are the direct focus of the story, but I think I’m more partial to the first one. One of the many things I did enjoy was The Funhouse (1981) vibe since the entire movie takes place within a circus. A vibe I couldn’t appreciate back in ’88 since I didn’t end up seeing The Funhouse until the winter of 2008.
And, if you’re a genre fan, this movie comes with a bloody handful of faces that have graced other popular genre flicks back in the day as well, more so than the first one. Ghoulies (1986) has Michael Des Barres (Nightflyers) and a before-they-were-famous actress but Ghoulies II shows off the talents of Royal Dano (House II: The Second Story, Killer Klowns From Outer Space), Phil Fondacaro (Troll), Kerry Remsen (Pumpkinhead), Sasha Jenson (Monsters episode “The Match Game”), Starr Andreeff (The Terror Within), William Butler (Night Of The Living Dead ’90), and Donnie Jeffcoat (Night Of The Demons ’88).
I wish there had been some linking to the first Ghoulies other than the actual demons themselves, without it this could almost be looked as a tenuous remake, but all we see of their “origin” is in the very beginning when this priest is carrying them in a sack and being chased by Satanists. Based on that we can naturally presume they were just conjured up in a ceremony, but we never learn the details of any of that. After they dispatch the priest in a gas station they hop about the Satan’s Den truck. The Satan’s Den is a funhouse, an integral part of this circus, but as of late their financial intake has been in the red. The owner’s son, Phillip Hardin (J. Downing), proving once again that corporations are not people, shows up and threatens to fire anyone who’s show isn’t a financial success over that week’s period. The movie focuses on Larry (Damon Martin), his Uncle Ned (Dano), Sir Nigel Pennyweight (Fondacaro) and belly dancer, Nicole (Kerry Remsen). Larry, Ned and Nigel run Satan’s Den and this is where the ghoulies have decided to secret themselves away and kill anyone who wonders in, be it during off hours or while it’s taking in visitors, they don’t care.
Ned being the aged magician of the group is the first to see them and thinks he accidentally conjured them up; he’s killed later when he tries to send them back to hell. The ghoulies in this one are decidedly more dangerous than they were in the first, probably because they don’t have a human master telling them what they can and cannot do.
Eventually the visitors going through the funhouse see them and for that night anyway Satan’s Den pulls in a lot of money, but it’s after Ned is killed and the bodies from the others they’ve taken out are found that Larry, Nigel, Nicole and the other circus performers take matters into their own hands and try to kill the little, demonic shits themselves, but nothing short of a ritual is going to accomplish that. This, as we know, is a double edge sword. Larry finds Ned’s grimoirs and tries a ritual. A huge, 6-foot tall ghoulie surfaces from the ground and goes on a ghoulie-eating rampage. The downside, Nigel being a little person gets targeted, so now they have to come up with a plan to send it back. Blowing it up seems to work nicely.
Corporate dick Hardin gets his comeuppance thanks to the toilet gag featured on the Ghoulies (1985) poster and as a cameo in the first film. Here the gag is fully realized as he sits down to take a shit. His gutwrenching scream clearing indicating he was taken out in the worst way possible. Shiver. And this death comes after all the smaller ghoulies where supposedly eaten up by the big one, leaving yet another possibility for yet another sequel.
John Buechler’s practical ghoulies got a bit of an augmentation in this flick when the late stop motion FX master, David Allen, was brought on board to add some stop motion critters and as usual they’re expertly animated.
After this one two more Ghoulies were made: Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College (1991) and Ghoulies IV (1994). I lost interest in the movies when I learned of III’s subtitle so I’ve never seen III and IV. With Gremlins poised to make a big screen comeback as a remake, and Critters being bandied about as another possible resurrection, I wonder now how close we are to getting either another entry in the Ghoulies franchise or an all new remake?
Oddly it seems Ghoulies II got the DVD treatment first in 2000, then came a double feature of the first two through MGM in 2003. On April 21st Shout! Factory releases Ghoulies and Ghoulies II through their horror sub-label, Scream Factory, in a double feature blu-ray edition. This marks the first time either one has gotten the blu-ray treatment.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Ghoulies II): 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—English subs only
Transfers on both looked good to me, with Ghoulies II looking the best. Audio didn’t pose any kind of problem, but I typically listen to all my movies on a pair of cordless Pioneer SE-DIR800C Wireless Headphones.
Ghoulies extras include…
- Audio commentary with Director Luca Bercovici
- From Toilets To Terror: The Making Of Ghoulies (29:48)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery (41 photos)
Ghoulies II extras include…
- More Toilets More Terror: The Making Of Ghoulies I (16:50)
- Alternate Scenes (2:43)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery (26 photos)
Thankfully I have not been subject to too many bad commentaries. Off hand I can think of only two or three I have listened to, unfortunately I have to now add the Ghoulies one to that list. Someone should have stressed to Luca Bercovici the objective to doing a commentary is to comment on the movie, which he starts off doing brilliantly but then about the 10-15 minute mark he just shuts up and watches the flick with only the briefest of interjections. I’d say about 95% of his “talk” is dead air, then he chimes in during the end credits like a chatty cathy ending it like he started.
At any rate what we learn is Ghoulies and Gremlins were in production at the same time and both films were aware of each other completely destroying the theory I always had, and previously mentioned, that Ghoulies was Bands cash-in response. Band even held off releasing it for almost a year and Warner even briefly sued the production claiming the title sounded too close to Gremlins.
In the first doc, ‘From Toilets To Terror,’ we get actor Michael Des Barres, Charles and Richard Band and FX artist John Vulich talking at length about the film. One gripe I have is when actors or directors or anyone related to a movie I’m a fan of denounces it, or apologizes for making it. Bercovici at one point briefly apologizes for making it in his commentary and Des Barres calls it a throwaway B movie in the doc. Hey, guys, you know there are actually fans out here and I’m one of them. Okay with that minor rant behind us both this and the second part, ‘More Toilets More Terror,’ is what I would call the end all and be all to everything you ever wanted to know about these two flicks.
I especially liked Band in the first one recounting how he got a ton of hate mail over the trailer for the first movie. Mostly from parents who were trying to potty train their kids, kids saw this trailer and freaked out over seeing a monster pop out of a toilet. He even committed one to memory and it started off with “Dear Motherfucker…”
In the second doc we get Charles Band again, Donnie Jeffcoat, Kerry Remsen and FX artist Gino Crognale talking about the film. I remember Jeffcoat mostly from his role as the little wiseass brother of Cathy Podewell in Night Of The Demons (1988) and until I revisited Ghoulies II I had no idea he had even done any more films. Furthermore I had no idea Remsen was in this too. For me the role I will forever equate her with is her traumatized Maggie character from Pumpkinhead (1988).
The Alternate Scenes on Ghoulies II shows you the R-rated material that was cut to get it’s PG-13 rating. It’s rather minimal stuff which looks tame nowadays but was probably a big deal back then. The most “shocking” scene is a chewed off arm floating in a pool.
I highly recommend this blu-ray if you’re a fan of either of these flicks.