I’m not sure how many of you are aware of or even care about the fact that this week marks 30th anniversary of the release of Ghoulies. Yep, that toilet-dwelling green little bugger has been inhabiting this planet for three decades now. How many of you have actually seen the original film or any of its sequels? I certainly hadn’t, and I’m willing to bet a good amount of you haven’t either. Perhaps it is finally time to change that this month? Speaking of March, I’d apologize for the cheesy title above, but I’m honestly not sorry. I have a weird and often cheesy sense of humor and while it might not make perfect sense, neither does this film or my love of horror in general. Besides, the movie’s title was only one letter short of a delightfully bad joke! Enough yattering though! It’s time to get out the Roto-Rooter and see what exactly is clogging this commode…
I’ve been operating all of these years under the assumption that Ghoulies was a cheap Gremlins rip-off. Part of that blame can be laid at the feet of the film’s marketing department. After all, that’s clearly the angle they were going for with the posters and VHS box art. The rest of the blame lies with me for not ever bothering to find out for myself.
Ghoulies has one of those iconic images for a poster that has been engrained in my brain since childhood. The little green beastie popping out of the toilet, which … funnily enough … was something said marketing department came up with while the film was in post. Producer Charles Band loved the idea so much that they quickly shot an insert of it and tossed it into the film before its theatrical release. It’s a striking, memorable image. After all, the toilet is a very sensitive and vulnerable place for most, so imagining something sinister coming out of it isn’t the most pleasant of ideas.
For whatever reason, despite always liking the cover, I never bothered to actually rent the film as a kid. I’ve always loved monster movies, and I tend to enjoy Charles Band’s early output, so there’s no logical reason for bypassing this film or its sequels. I just never got around to it. That’s part of the fun of these franchise retrospectives! In addition to eventually going through some of my favorite horror sagas, I will also continue to cover territory that is new to me. With the Scanners films that I covered back in January, I was at least extremely familiar with the original film itself. Not so with Ghoulies. I haven’t seen a single entry in this four-film franchise … until now.
I was wrong. Ghoulies is not a Gremlins rip-off. Not in the slightest. There are weird little puppet creatures in it for sure, but they are a side dish. Black magic and satanic rituals are the main course. Complete with a warlock battle for the finale! Yes, my friends, this is a “classic” sorcery-obsessed early Charles Band outing … complete with all of the man’s obsessions. Little creatures? Check. Little people? Check. Dark magic? Check. Playful tone? Double check.
After a charmingly cheesy intro, we jump to present day where our protagonist Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) gains ownership of his family home. With the help of his girlfriend, Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan), he decides to move in, quit school and fix up the place. After happening upon his estranged father’s collection of books on black magic, the occult, and other esoteric subjects, Jonathan becomes obsessed with plumbing the depths of such forbidden knowledge. Along the way, he manages to conjure up two imp servants named Grizzel (Peter Risch) and Greedigut (Tamara De Treaux), as well as the titular little fiends. Oh, and there’s also the weird caretaker, Wolfgang (Jack Nance). Hijinks ensue.
Naturally, Rebecca isn’t too thrilled with the idea of a warlock for a lover. Nothing a crazy ritual can’t take care of though, right? Cue the usual “invite friends over and brainwash them with a magic potion into participating in a satanic ritual” routine. Okay, maybe not so usual, but you get the drift. It’s mainly just an excuse to have a body count after the ritual goes through. You see, a side effect of Jonathan’s magic soirée is that he accidentally resurrected his uber-warlock evil father, Malcolm Graves (a gloriously over-the-top Michael Des Barres). Unlike his son, Malcolm knows exactly what he is doing and assumes control of Jonathan’s previously-conjured minions, setting them loose on Jonathan and Rebecca’s friends (one of whom is a young Mariska Hargitay). Jonathan must then man up to his mistakes and make everything right before it is too late.
Ghoulies is rather cheap and 100% an early Band film, but I also found it to be a lot of fun. I’d have been entirely fine with a low budget riff on Gremlins, so it turning out to be something more than that only increased my entertainment. It may be silly and derivative, but it is charming in all of its low rent glory. It’s really the little things that do it for me. Rebecca coming home to find Jonathan in a wizard-esque robe conjuring rain in the basement, only for Jonathan to pout like a scolded toddler after being discovered. Jonathan apparently reading a book of magic to one of FX maestro John Carl Buechler’s disgusting but cute titular creations. There’s also a rather crude, Freddy Krueger-esque tongue death and a somewhat unnerving clown-thing attack! And, as is often the case with these early Charles Band efforts, there’s a fun little score courtesy of his brother Richard … here paired with collaborator Shirley Walker!
All in all, a good time was had, and my previous hesitation about choosing this series as my next franchise to tackle has momentarily been washed away. I haven’t heard too many good things about its three sequels, but if they can maintain at least some of the goofy fun on display here, I’m sure I’ll survive them. For now, I can at least consider myself a fan of the original, and I’ll definitely be snapping up the Blu-ray release that arrives next month.