It's over 30 years since the fiendishly enjoyable Gremlins, one of the best-loved creature features of all time, was unleashed on the cinema-going public. As directed by Joe Dante, it took a fortune at the box office, spawning an ever-decreasing return of imitations and rip offs. Dante himself hit the big time with his Jaws rip off, Piranha, so fair dos.
Ghoulies was actually in production at the same time as Gremlins but only got the money to complete the film from its backers once Gizmo and pals turned into a massive hit, with the consequence that this low budget horror comedy made an unexpected small fortune, even spawning several sequels. But with a new release on Blu-ray, is it actually any good all these years on?
When a Satanic ritual in which the occult leader tries to sacrifice his own baby son goes wrong, baby Jonathan is rescued by Wolfgang (Erasherhead's Jack Nance) and raised knowing nothing of his late father and his supernatural leanings. But when he inherits the very mansion this all happened in, and uncovers his late father's box of occult belongings, he gets more and more obsessed with demonic activity, until he not only summons the beastly little ghoulies of the title, but the corpse of Dad too... All of this on the night you throw your housewarming party! Can his girlfriend and sundry young stoned and horny teen guests get through the night without getting grabbed by the ghoulies, and save their friend?
It wasn't until the director of Ghoulies, Luca Bercovici, first laid eyes on the puppets that would be his monsters a few weeks before the start of the shoot that he realised they'd never get away with the original intention of making this a full on terror fest, so decided to inject the whole enterprise with some comedy. Good job too, as the best thing about the film is the sometimes intended, sometimes not, laughs. However, such changes so close to the shoot also means that the film feels unbalanced, with tonal shifts in plot and performances. The cast do a decent job, some hamming it up gloriously, (there's a massively camp fight scene between burly bearded Jack Nance and mincing corpse Michael Des Barres, which looks like a gay bear and drag queen brawl in a revue show gone wrong), whilst others take things more seriously. The script sticks to its central premise quite tightly but fails to provide the kind of filler content which allows the plot and characters to feel real and, therefore, empathetic.
The creatures themselves are of the 'so bad it's good' variety, clearly hand puppet creations but nicely animated, with quirky design and enjoyable mischievousness. Lovely also to see the late Tamara De Treaux getting some on screen time just a few years after having worked on, or more accurately inside, E.T.
The film gathered much of its cult following via VHS sales in the mid 80s, but what was fun as a teen then doesn't necessarily make for great viewing now. There's a reason we still enjoy watching Gremlins, and that's a quality script and great direction amongst other things, whereas Ghoulies only just avoids being bollocks.
GHOULIES (1984) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: LUCA BERCOVICI / SCREENPLAY: LUCA BERCOVICI, JEFERY LEVY / STARRING: LISA PELIKAN, PETER LIAPIS, MICHAEL DES BARRES, JACK NANCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW