Ghoulies II (1988)

JUNE 6, 2010


A great philosopher, perhaps Plato, once asked, “What happens when you watch a midnight movie at 9:30 pm?” For me, the answer is: I get bored silly. On a technical level, Ghoulies II is fine - the mixture of stop motion and rubber puppets looks quite good, and the actors are no less competent than a movie called Ghoulies II deserves. But dear lord is it boring. The fact that I only dozed for about a minute near the very end (oddly, when it finally picked up) is more interesting than anything on screen.

The pitch seemed like a can’t lose scenario - “The Ghoulies invade a carnival”. You’re probably thinking of the same thing I am - hiding in the games and food stalls, causing chaos on the rides, eating unsuspecting yokels and carny folk... a smorgasbord of anarchy and silly fun, right? NOPE. The fucking things take the entire movie to figure out that they don’t have to stay in a goofy mummy haunted house, and they are only loose in the rest of the carnival for about 19 seconds before a giant Ghoulie is summoned to eat them. Until that point, we are forced to watch scene after scene of a little person (Phil Fondacaro) reciting Shakespeare, a Johnny Depp-ish hero facing off against a weasel-y park owner who wants to get rid of his attraction, and the continuity-be-damned account of a group of 5 punks who enter the haunted house.

Let’s talk about them. One of them (Leatherface's Bill Butler, who was in attendance and, as always, was an obnoxious jerk) dies right off the bat, but two others merely get slimed and seemingly fused together as they make out. The other pair is attacked by the flying Ghoulie, who breaks the guy’s boom box in the process (“my tunes!”). Then TWO DAYS later, the two guys return, seemingly with no memory of what happened to them (and the slimed guy’s face is fully intact) and asking if their friend is still inside. Yes, he’s just been lost in a 30x20 trailer for 2 days. And the one guy is, of course, still concerned about his “tunes”, but not of the bat type thing that nearly took his hand off.

I don’t understand the point of having creatures that are obviously inspired by Gremlins with their behavior, and keeping them confined to a single room for 75% of the film’s running time. It’s not like they were in some basement or something with only one exit that they couldn’t access - throughout the film people are walking in and out of the haunted house, and there’s probably another access as well. Yet it takes someone blowing a hole through one of the walls for them to escape, and again, their reign of terror is woefully short-lived.

Also, they are so small that I just don’t buy any of the terror they inflict on full sized humans. A Gremlin is about 2-3 feet tall, so I can buy a few of them taking a guy down. These things manage to chain dudes to tables despite not even coming up to the guy’s knee. Chucky may have strained logic at times, but they at least attempted to show how he got the upper hand on an adult (slicing their Achilles tendon or something). Albert Band simply skips over it, or has the actor act completely unnaturally in order to get him in the proper position.

And lest anyone think that they weren’t ripping off Gremlins, the smarmy business guy puts the moves on the hero’s would be girl, who has a tragic (read: hilarious) childhood memory to share around the film’s halfway mark. Sound familiar? They might as well have invented some rules for the damn things.

You can also be assured that any scene with Fondacaro won’t be worth your time. Nothing against him, but the movie is called Ghoulies II, and he shared almost zero scenes with Ghoulies, despite the fact that he’d be an ideal person for them to face off against due to his stature. And maybe I’m in the minority, but I simply do not care about the fact that he wants to be a serious actor and yet has to wear a monkey suit to entertain people at a carnival.

In fact, more problematic than the Ghoulies being so inert is how much time they spend on pointless “character development” for the supporting characters. The two main heroes - fine. But random other circus folk, some of whom we only see in said moments? Who the fuck cares? And none of it is particularly interesting anyway; its only purpose is to pad the film to an acceptable running time because Band and his group of cheapskates wanted to keep the number of effects shots to a minimum.

I will now admit that I have never seen the first Ghoulies, and now I’m not sure if I want to, as I was told this one was actually better (the best of the four, in fact). For those of you who have seen it - is this correct? Could the original film (which I understand was in development prior to Gremlins, to be fair) be worse? I generally don’t like to watch sequels before the originals, but I made an exception here - was I wrong to do so? Does Ghoulies II benefit from knowing more about their origin or whatever?

Also not helping matters is that the film followed The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which is 80 minutes of nonstop, glorious awful. I was/am a big fan of the cards, yet never got around to seeing their feature film (though it wasn’t for a lack of trying - I bought a VHS copy in 1997 only to discover it was broken), even with everyone I knew who HAD seen it telling me how mind-blowingly repulsive it was. As always though, I’m glad I waited to see it with a crowd; there’s something about sharing the experience with others that made it a far more rewarding experience.

Now, Ghoulies II may be a (slightly) better film in the critical sense, but GPK can’t be bothered with pointless character development, nor do its filmmakers try to hide their biggest asset, which makes it a way more entertaining experience. The Kids are in pretty much every scene, and they get loose often - going to bars, robbing Pepsi trucks, sneaking into movies, destroying fashion shows, etc. It’s a terrible movie, sure, but it’s never boring, which is the biggest sin any film with boogers can commit. Christ, there’s even a musical number. The Ghoulies never even speak nonsense words (like Spike going “Gizmo... KAKA!”).

And I entertained myself even further by trying to understand who they made the film for. It’s obviously “aimed” at kids due to the fact that its based on a trading card series primarily purchased by adolescents, yet there’s a scene where one of them plays doctor with one of the others (ew), and a pretty obvious crotch shot of the female lead, who at first seems to be a well-meaning but “with the wrong crowd” type of girl who will ultimately redeem herself, but turns out to be a complete bitch through and through, resulting in our hero telling her he doesn’t want to be her friend anymore because he no longer thinks she’s pretty (which goes against the film’s closest thing to a moral, which is that you shouldn’t be judged on your appearance - the Kids are actually the heroes of the film).

I also loved the movie’s “ah, whatever” approach to storytelling, where plots are introduced and resolved out of nowhere. I’m not sure who the hell thought that the backdrop for a Garbage Pail Kids movie should be a fashion show, but it had to have been more of a thought process than what is displayed in the film, where the main girl just suddenly decides to have one for “her label” at the end of the week. And somewhere along the line the Kids decide to find all of the others that came with them from outer space (yeah, fine), deciding that they must be at the Home For The Ugly (which houses a clown, Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln). But they’re not there, and out of nowhere poor Anthony Newley reveals that they were all tossed out and killed in a trash compactor, a fairly gruesome fate, made worse by the way its sort of shrugged off; mortifying in its casualness. Poor Brainy Brian and Schizo Fran...

Speaking of actual cards, who the hell chose this lot? None of them are particularly top-tier cards, with the possible exception of Leaky Lindsay, who was one of the puzzles for Series 2. How the hell is Atom Bomb not in this? And ones like Greaser Greg and Valerie Vomit just make the “midgets in suits” approach all the more disturbing, as there is nothing about their appearance that a regular actor couldn’t have been made to look like. Ali Gator was a sound choice, and maybe Nat Nerd (I don’t even remember that card), but the others should have been more visually interesting - Zipper Zack (S4) or Half Nelson (S3) would have been a lot more fun, just off the top of my head. They also don’t bother making any reference to the series - I would have put up a few of those WANTED ads around, or maybe a few fake diplomas from the 1st two series. OK, yeah, maybe I remember a bit too much about Garbage Pail Kids. But come on - no one even noticeably chews gum in the movie! I guess that’s what happens when you start shooting a film in April and release it in August.

At any rate, it certainly made for one of the most critically reviled double features ever, and almost sort of educational as to how to approach a bad movie. GPK threw everything at you without any sense of decency; whenever in doubt, they'd cut to Nat peeing his pants or Windy Winston farting on someone. On the other hand, Ghoulies II suffered from trying to be a real movie far too often, when all I wanted to see was little puppets coming out of the toilet.

What say you?

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  1. Dude! Ghoulies 1 is tits on toast! Well, if you're eleven. But it's still better than II. You've got a hot Linnea Quigley-double strangling a dude with her tongue, Mariska Hargitay getting face-chewed, and Jack (Eraserhead!) Nance as a wizard using eye-laser beams to fight the other wizard! That and it's played way too dead serious. I need your review of that!

  2. Ha ha! Wasn't expecting a surprise review of the Garbage Pail Kids Movie but am sure glad I got one anyway. Terrible terrible movie but I loved it as a kid anyway. Same with Ghoulies 2 as a matter of fact -loved it at the time but watched it recently and it's absolute cack. Still got affection for it though and it is better than the first one which doesn't even really feature the Ghoulies anyway!

  3. No fucking way is Ghoulies 2 the best.

    GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE aka 3 is a fucking masterpiece. I swear on my moms brown tits it redeems the whole franchise.

  4. I just recently revisited both GHOULIES and GHOULIES II (I've got the double-feature DVD which has part II on the flip-side of the disc). The first GHOULIES is a very odd bird. And no, you don't have to have seen it to have a better understanding of who/what they are for part II.

    Part II is basically a standalone -- even the sequel setup with the guy being chased by Satan worshippers isn't a carryover from part I.

    Matt was correct when he said the Ghoulies themselves don't really figure into the movie. They really don't. They're a byproduct of someone meddling in demonic activities.

    The first one is an absolute mess. It doesn't really have a lead character -- the lead guy is slowly "turning evil" so he basically becomes a bigger and bigger prick as the movie goes along. (He has a girlfriend and the standard Hollywood ensemble of obnoxious friends, including Mariska Hargitay, who end up getting killed one-by-one at the mansion the lead guy has inherited.)

    It's basically a slasher movie/devil movie hybrid and the ghoulies are minions of the bad guy. And yeah, Jack Nance has a wizardy-mano-y-mano with the resurrected sorcerer at the end.

    Believe it or not, the second one is an improvement. It's awful, don't get me wrong, but a definite improvement.

    --Jared R


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