Ghoulies (1985)

Starring Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Michael Des Barres, Jack Nance, Peter Risch, Tamara de Treaux, Scott Thomson

Directed by Luca Bercovici

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Ghoulies… where do I begin? Uncle Jasper suggested that I continue in the 1980s “Little Monster” horror genre with this and I willingly agreed. I thought I was doomed. How can a movie with a poster of a Ghoulie (would that be Ghouly?) popping up out of a toilet with the tagline of “They’ll get you in the end!” possibly be any good? I am happy to report that the film is as awful as I suspected, but it is equally hilarious. This is by far one of my favorite B-horror comedies. Ghoulies is pure delinquent fun of the highest order.

This is an ’80s movie through and through, and lest you forget, it contains many things only present in films of this decade. Things such as a house party where someone starts breakdancing, dudes wearing sweater vests, and a guy looking over his sunglasses at stuff. It brings me back to my youth when the Big League Chew was plentiful and absolutely no one was cooler or more badass than Mr. T. Anyway, Ghoulies! The title is a bit of a misdirection as the Ghoulies are present, but not the main focus of the film. They aren’t even the main villain, but they are definitely the main source of enjoyment. This works to the film’s advantage because it takes on a different formula than the tired, typical horror movie structure where the Ghoulies might chase people around and kill them one-by-one. Instead, we are treated to a warlock summoning Ghoulies to hang out with him and laugh at the camera. I’m getting ahead of myself again though.

The film opens with some hyper close-ups of Ghoulie faces. Bam! Straight to the point. I like this movie already. A cult group, led by the warlock dude I mentioned above (in full, hooded regalia that includes a pair of horns and glowing green eyes), are going to sacrifice a baby. They get stopped because the baby’s mother chickens out and another dude joins her cause and leaves with the kid. The credits roll and we jump forward 20 or 30 years. The grounds of the mansion where the cult lived are now overgrown and foreboding, but our young hero Jonathan (Peter Liapis), has recently inherited it and he’s gonna fix up the joint! As you’d expect, his girlfriend warns him that she has a strange feeling about the place, but he soldiers on with his plans.

Snake Fetus!

He finds the cult leader’s clothes and pentagram floor painting, so he does what any normal person would: he starts performing the cult’s rituals. He manages to talk some of his drunken party guests into a summoning circle of power, but when it doesn’t produce immediate results, everyone leaves pissed off and bored. After they’ve all exited, the circle pulses with light and the first Ghoulie emerges! I rewound this scene several times as it is singlehandedly a great effect and massively hilarious. The little monster’s tiny roar as he solidifies will remain one of my favorite horror comedy movie moments of all time. The Ghoulie also bears a strong resemblance to Station from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, so I’ve taken to calling this one Station. (He’s to the left of the paragraph above this one.)

Even Ghoulies enjoy the finer things.

Even Ghoulies enjoy the finer things.

From here you get a generic story of one man following in another’s footsteps, only to fall into the same traps and ultimately doom himself. There’s a bit of a twist but that’s basically the story. The main Ghoulie summoning scene is an instant classic as well and the Ghoulies are one hell of a motley crew! Their designs were clearly based in part on animals so they are easily distinguished from one another. Even so, I gave them each an identifying name to make talking about them easier. First to emerge is the star of our show and the film’s poster, Snake Fetus. He rises out of the fog and murky water like a Creature from the Demonic Lagoon or a Supernatural Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Next, the Troll Mole busts loose from under the Earth. Hanging out in a tree we have the Abominable Monkey Ghoul, who never wipes the “What the fuck?” look off his face for the entire film.  Finally, also in a tree among a thick web cover, is the Batling Spider Ghoul who extends one webbed arm before folding it back to his chest like a miniature, grotesque Dracula. The continuity is odd with these Ghoulies though, as they clearly establish five Ghoulies but they usually only show four of them after this point. I’m left to imagine that Troll Mole decided the light was too harsh for his tender eyes and decided to burrow back underground.

The Abominable Monkey Ghoul in its natural habitat.

So the Ghoulies are summoned but until they are ordered to act by the master, they can’t do much but sit around and laugh at people or look confused. There are tons of great Ghoulie reaction shots without dialogue that are ripe for a good Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. These shots are some of the best, funniest moments in the film and a big reason why I enjoyed this so much. It’s not until the end when the Ghoulies are ordered to attack that some slight PG-13 killing happens.

One of my favorites is when this guy bends over the fountain and Snake Fetus emerges and attacks his face, with the entire Fetus clan providing moral support from the pond. I love how they calmly relax and watch their boy do what he does best, before one of them makes the leap to the next victim’s face. I wasn’t disappointed with the lack of gore here, the hilarity of the Ghoulies more than makes up for it.

The film lost me a bit during its final act containing the big villain confrontation, but despite that I had an absolute blast watching this horrid, wonderful film. It has left me with such a warm feeling, I’m actually gonna drink the Kool Aid and watch Ghoulies II. I don’t expect that one to be anywhere near this enjoyable, but hopefully it’ll prove me wrong.

Station Ghoulie doesn’t want to see the sequel.

4 comments to Ghoulies (1985)

  • Uncle Jasper

    Damn, I gotta see this. I remember back in the day always wanting to rent this movie because of the vhs cover. But my dad wouldn’t let me because it “looked stupid”. It looks like there is a lot of charm here. Nowadays the ghoulies would probably all be CG and they would probably lose a lot of the personality that made them so funny as a consequence.

    • Yeah man I think you would get a kick out of it. I can’t believe your Dad said it looked stupid! Never mind the fact that it does look stupid, he would watch any shitty horror movie! I’m so surprised, but I had the exact same experience when I was a kid.

      You’re right on with the personality of the Ghoulies. A lot of the charm springs directly from the fact that they are puppets. CG Ghoulies would be awful.

  • Wow, what a cover. Especially like the suspenders.

    • Hahaha, yes. This cover beckoned to me at the video store all throughout my childhood but I only just saw it. Snake Fetus only gets dressed up for the cover though, this is for the best really.

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