December 28, 2010

It didn’t take long for the first Gremlins rip-off to appear. A scant seven months after the big summer hit opened, we have Ghoulies on our hands (and other places too, if you believe the ad campaign).

Weird thing is, Ghoulies doesn’t have too much to do with those ghoulies, who are creepy little gremlinesque creatures. They seem to have been added as an afterthought. The film is primarily a witchcraft story, and the ghoulies are conjured up in the process.

It begins with a satanic ceremony in which a dude with green eyes tries to kill a baby on a black-magic altar. A woman interferes, and breaks the spell. So she takes the place of the baby, and the guy with green eyes makes her blow up. (Don’t worry—they don’t show it. I don’t think the special-effects budget was that high.)

The baby is whisked away and cared for by the groundskeeper of this evil mansion. Cut to 20 years hence, as two young people walk around the grounds of the same mansion.

“I still can’t believe you inherited this place,” says the woman to the man. How’s that for graceful exposition, folks? Yes, the man is the same kid who was almost killed. When the pair moves into the mansion, he becomes obsessed with recreating witchcraft rituals. He even starts whispering Latin chants while he’s making love to his girlfriend.

Which is, understandably, too much for her. She checks out, but he beckons a batch of ghoulies (and a pair of dwarves) from the dark world to keep him company. His eyes turn green, too, so he starts wearing dark glasses when company comes over.

His friends don’t really notice any difference. But then, they’re just around to provide comforting stereotypes: two cute gals, dumb slab of beefcake, nerdy brooder and two dopeheads. With best friends like this, who can blame the guy for turning to witchcraft?

Ghoulies is boring, boring, boring. Although it clocks in at just 75 minutes, it seems to take forever to get going. The movie is already dead and buried by the time the ghoulies arrive, halfway through.

Granted, they’re not half bad. They’re ugly and noisy and they have a lot of drool hanging from their mouths. (The term “not half bad” is of course relative here. One does not apply quite the same standards as one would with A Passage to India or The Killing Fields, in which a yardstick other than the drool quotient is employed.)

But the ghoulies are secondary to the story of the dull hero. Lisa Pelikan, who plays the girlfriend, may have the prettiest shoulders in Hollywood, but she doesn’t really get to contribute very much.

The only historical footnote of interest is the presence of Jack Nance, who played the main character so memorably in David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Here, he plays the groundskeeper who hustles the little kid away. He also does battle with the Evil One late in the film—down in the basement of the mansion, where much of the action takes place. His name is—what else?—Wolfgang.

First published in the Herald, January 22, 1985

The ad (see above) had a ghoulie popping out of a toilet—a promise of unsavory hijinks that might explain how the movie came to be a modest independent hit. (Even more unsavory: the font choice on that poster.) I don’t recall a single image or event from this movie, so that’s all I can say. However, it did spawn, as they say, three sequels, as halfway-successful horror films will tend to do, but the subterranean world that would contain Ghoulies sequels is not a place I can be.