Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ghoulies (1985)

We open in the midst of a Satanic mass being conducted by Michael Des Barres (minor rock star, recurring MacGyver villain and ex-husband of famous groupie Pamela Des Barres), who's wearing an impressive set of horns. The mass is attended by white-robed cultists and small snot-encrusted puppet creatures. Des Barres is about to sacrifice his own baby when the mother comes forward to object, placing a protective talisman on it. He is so pissed he takes off his horns and tells cultist and David Lynch regular Jack Nance to take the baby away. He then uses his magic powers to rip the mother's heart from her chest while the puppets (known as Ghoulies) pin her down; unfortunately we don't see the end result but we do hear an amusing "Splut!" sound.

Then we get by far the creepiest moment of the entire movie, when a white-robed Jack Nance tells the baby that it is going to be safe. Cue the credits...

Charles Band is the undisputed king of the Small Creatures Attack subgenre of the horror movie. As producer and/or director of such movies as Puppet Master (which spawned nine sequels), Troll and Demonic Toys, Band's response to an idea like "Dirty Harry in space" would be to say, "Wouldn't it be better if he was six inches tall?" Band's dollmania peaked in the late '80s and early '90s, which I consider to be one of the worst times for horror movies as the genre was dominated by jokey bullshit, and his tiny terrors certainly contributed to the appalling state of the genre. He's still actively cranking out these things, with relatively recent effors like The Gingerdead Man and Evil Bong leading to sequels and crossovers with each other.

Even the stupidest obsessions have to start somewhere, and as far as I can tell the first time Charles Band expressed his cinematic love for small bitey things was Ghoulies. In this instance he farmed out the directing chores to Luca Bercovici, who also co-wrote the script. This is one of the few occassions where I found myself wishing that Charles Band had directed a movie himself, because Ghoulies is a badly paced movie with no visual panache.

The first half of the movie is taken up mostly by the exploits of Jonathan, the grown-up baby from the pre-credits sequence, after he has inherited his late father's mansion. He's been reading through dad's library, and decides to liven up his housewarming party with a summoning ritual. Nobody notices at first that this works and brings through some ghoulies, but soon Jonathan is regularly putting on his robes and doing black magic, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Rebecca. Soon Jonathan is mind-controlling everyone so that he can rope them into more elaborate rituals. Infrequent and awkwardly placed voice-over narration by Jack Nance explains that he is himself being controlled by his father.

Eventually Michael Des Barres is brought back from the dead while the ghoulies get serious and slaughter everyone. This is by far the most entertaining part of the movie, as the wee beasties make short work of Jonathan's idiotic friends. There's some minimal gore, an arresting scene where Bobbie Bresee throttles a guy with her ridiculously long and prehensile tongue (this scene reminded me of A Chinese Ghost Story), and a genuinely unnerving bit where a life-sized clown doll leaks green goo from its eyes.

It all leads to a climax where everything is made worthwhile for the sight of Jack Nance dressed as a wizard. If you're not turned on by the idea of Henry from Eraserhead in a purple robe and having a magical duel with a washed-up British rocker, Ghoulies probably isn't the movie for you. As a Gremlins ripoff it's no Critters, and as a story of black magic it's no Simon, King of the Witches. Somebody clearly liked it because it managed to spawn three sequels. I guess I have to watch those now. The second is written by Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon) so it may have something going for it.

This has been a Shortening in the tradition of The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense.