This has been a rollercoaster of a franchise in terms of tone and subject matter. The first film was focused mainly on the occult and sorcery, with the titular “ghoulies” being a fun little side element. The second one brought them to the forefront, likely to capitalize on the likes of Gremlins and Critters, and was more of a monster movie. The third carried that formula over, albeit with a hefty dose of juvenile comedy. So where does Jim Wynorski’s Ghoulies IV land on the spectrum? Somewhere in the middle.
Surprisingly enough, Ghoulies IV sees the return of the first film’s protagonist, Jonathan Graves (again played by Peter Liapis). As Graves returns, so do the more occult and sorcery-centric elements, as well as the ghoulies being pushed back into the background. Until the finale, our little beasties have very little effect on the main plot and mostly serve to provide a lot of comedy and running gags. They are also no longer puppets; instead portrayed by small actors in suits (Tony Cox being one of them!). The decision to eschew puppetry is an odd one. It works to a certain degree in that it makes more sense given their place in the film (side-plot tomfoolery), and their ability to speak is less jarring here than in Ghoulies III. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the weird little fellas from the first three films.
The film has a strong start. The prologue is entertainingly camp, with our femme fatale antagonist Alexandra (Stacie Randall) taking out museum security guards in a warehouse with ninja stars and silenced firearms, all the while decked out in tight leather. (That’s Wynorski for you!) Sacrificing them to a dark master within a spray-painted pentagram on the floor makes for a nice finishing touch too. After that we are reintroduced to Detective Graves. Yep, Jonathan is now a member of the police force and is, of course, a cop on the edge. Early on, we are treated to a pretty fun liquor store shootout between Graves and a would-be robber; complete with Jonathan dishing out a few one-liners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many cereal boxes horrifically blown apart until now.
Unfortunately, as fun as the opening act is, the film just can’t sustain it for the rest of its running time. It never devolves into a terrible sequel, but it does get fairly rote and repetitive as it goes along and the apparent lack of budget knee-caps its chances at providing the roaring finale that it needed. I lay the blame mostly upon the screenwriter and production company, however. Wynorski injects as much fun as he can and his trademark light-hearted humor is present throughout. We even get a few nods to his other works, from the inclusion of Hockstedter Mental Hospital (Sorority House Massacre II, Hard To Die) to a surprise appearance from Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle (Not of This Earth, The Return of Swamp Thing). What works in this film mostly does so because of Jim Wynorski.
Bottom line? Ghoulies IV isn’t among the best in the series, but it does have a certain charm to it. It’s also nice seeing Liapis’ Graves brought back into the fold. I just wish the franchise had kept him (and Charles Band) on throughout and hadn’t moved away from the themes of the original as much as it did. I’d place this one on par with Ghoulies III, though I enjoy elements of each for different reasons.
Well, that’s all for this round, folks! If you are looking for a sampling, it’s probably best to stick to the first two. If you are curious enough to go the distance, however, there’s enough bits o’ fun in the third and fourth entries courtesy of Buechler and Wynorski (respectively) to make the wonkier elements go down easier. The goal at the start of each of these franchise explorations is the hope that I don’t regret them by the end. In that regard, I’m thankfully 2 for 2, even though the Scanners series was more my speed.