Empire Pictures's tiny terrors will get you in the end on Scream Factory's double bill Blu-ray of GHOULIES and GHOULIES II.
College student Jonathan Groves (Peter Liapis, GHOST WARRIOR) inherits a mansion knowing nothing of his family history, including the fact that he was last there as an infant saved by his mother (Victoria Catlin, TWIN PEAKS) from being sacrificed by his Satanist father Malcolm (rocker Michael Des Barres, MIDNIGHT CABARET). In the aftermath of a party thrown by his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan, JENNIFER) for some of their twenty-to-thirtysomething college friends – stoners Eddie (David Dayan, AGAINST ALL ODDS) and Mike (Scott Thomson, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH), "Toad Boy" Mark (Ralph Seymour, JUST BEFORE DAWN) and his long-suffering date Donna (LAW & ORDER: SVU's Mariska Hargitay), stud "Dick" (Keith Joe Dick, TAPEHEADS) and his potential conquest Robin (Charene Cathleen, GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN) – Jonathan suggests conducting a ritual for kicks. Despite Jonathan's intensity, the ritual does not appear to work until there appears a pint-sized demon called a "ghoulie" after the others have left. To his girlfriend Rebecca's dismay, Jonathan becomes obsessed with the occult and withdraws from college to fix up the house. While Rebecca is at school during the days, Jonathan hones his powers and summons up more of the creatures to do his bidding. After Rebecca discovers him in the middle of a ceremony and leaves him, Jonathan summons up two dwarf helpers Grizzel (Peter Risch, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) and Greedigut (Tamara De Treaux, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK) who tell him that he can not only get Rebecca back but also achieve ultimate knowledge and power with a master ritual requiring six others. Hypnotizing Rebecca, Jonathan invites his college friends to a dinner party and makes them unknowing participants in a ritual that actually brings back Malcolm, the ghoulies' true master who plans to use the lives of Jonathan and his friends to restore his youth and make him immortal.
GHOULIES was the first theatrical release by producer Charles Band's Empire Pictures, and also his first "tiny terror" flick (which were basically body count films substituting trolls, little demons, dolls, or puppets for a human killer). The dramatic aspects of Jonathan's obsession/possession and how it impacts his relationship with Rebecca is undercut by the comic relief and the creatures of John Carl Buechler (DOLLS) which are more cute than creepy. ERASERHEAD's Jack Nance skulks about the body of the film and does not seem to notice Jonathan's growing obsession with the Black Arts only to pop up again at the climax. MAUSOLEUM's Bobbie Bresee pops up as a seductress with a super long tongue, and a bit with a creepy clown doll seems cribbed from POLTERGEIST. Actor-turned-director Luca Bercovici (SPACE RAIDERS) had previously appeared in PARASITE for Band. The photography of Mac Ahlberg (HELL NIGHT) is slick as usual but less atmospheric than his other Empire and Full Moon turns while the scoring of Richard Band (HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) and Shirley Walker (MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN) matches the contrasting tones of the film with a jaunty main theme (seemingly taking off from the cute shot of the ghoulie covering its eyes to avoid a scene of splatter rather than the mood of the rest of the pre-credits sequence) and the usual strings for the more conventional horror scenes. The film was edited by Ted Nicolaou who cut a number of Band films before moving on to a directorial career (most notably Full Moon's SUBSPECIES series) while Buechler's crew included John Vulich and Everett Burrell (Savini's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake), Howard Berger (the B in KNB Efx), Cleve Hall (Scavolini's NIGHTMARE), and Chris Biggs (SCALPS). The Wattles Mansion setting would later be used in A VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT.
Band's father Albert (ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA) took the helm for GHOULIES II in which a quintet of ghoulies stolen from a devil worshipping cult by a hapless priest (Anthony Dawson, the Blofeld guy from the early James Bonds, not the Italian director Antonio Margheriti). The ghoulies manage to survive a dunking in toxic solvent at an abandoned gas station and think they have found home when the Satan's Den spook show caravan – driven by old Ned (Royal Dano, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE) and his nephew Larry (Damon Martin, AMITYVILLE 1992: IT'S ABOUT TIME) – stops for repairs on the way to Greenville. The latest engagement is not a happy one since the entire carnival is being taken over by Phillip Hardin (J. Downing, ROBOT WARS), the yuppie son of the parent corporation who wants to get rid of all acts that are not turning a profit. Ned and Larry learn from barker Sir Nigel Penneyweight (Phil Fondacaro, TROLL) that Hardin wants to replace Satan's Den with mud-wrestling unless it turns a profit, Satan's Den gets some unexpected help from the ghoulies as they gleefully attack and mutilate obnoxious visitors – including punk teenagers William Butler (the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake), Sasha Jenson (HALLOWEEN 4), Starr Andreeff (DANCE OF THE DAMNED), and Dale Wyatt (FROM BEYOND) – using the spook show's pendulums, guillotines, electric chairs, and wracks. The ravings of survivors (including NIGHT OF THE DEMONS' Donnie Jeffcoat) drum up enough business that Hardin is unconcerned with the increasing disappearances.
Made during the latter half of Charles Band's Empire Pictures period, GHOULIES II got more value for its money with the former De Laurentiis sound stages, the production design of Giovanni Natalucci (CRAWLSPACE), and the candy-colored lighting of Lucio Fulci favorite Sergio Salvati (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY). The love triangle between Larry, traumatized tightrope walker turned belly dancer Nicole (Kerry Remsen, PUMPKINHEAD), and Hardin fortunately takes a back seat to the antics of the ghoulies (the same designs from the first film) who they make cuter sounds while being meaner spirited (their movement is also enhanced here by David Allen's stop-motion rather than the hand puppetry of the first film). Fuzzbee Morse (DOLLS) contributes an atmospheric score that at times suggests a more serious tone. The mix of comedy and horror works better here in the first film, although the film really could have been more brutal during the climactic sequence in which the ghoulies leave the haunted house attraction to terrorize the rest of the attractions (a clown loses an arm in a dunk tank and, unlike the first film, someone really does get it in the end from a ghoulie lurking in a toilet seat). American expatriate actor Mickey Knox (STAGE FRIGHT) turns up as the barker for the belly dancers.
Both films were previously released on VHS by Vestron (and the second film on laserdisc by Image) and were later among the Empire product to be digitally remastered by MGM and issued in a double-sided anamorphic widescreen DVD double feature in 2003 (and reissued in 2010) with the trailers as the sole extras. Scream Factory's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfers seem almost identical in framing to the DVD versions, although there is a finer variegation of colors and textures (although the ghoulies look even more rubbery here). The grain which looked particularly noisy on DVD is also better handled here (but some of the actors faces look only slightly less smooth than the slimier ghoulies). The more recent, higher-budgeted (only just), sound stage-lensed GHOULIES II is the better looking of the two, but the source – presumably an interpositive – does sport a few more spots and minute scratches. The mono mix for GHOULIES is treated to a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmix that spreads out the score but of course does not have the effect that a remix might have given to the film what with the ghoulies sometimes making themselves known on the soundtrack before they appear (the mono track is also included in lossless 2.0). GHOULIES II got a matrixed Ultra Stereo surround mix theatrically and on home video, and is offered both in lossless 2.0 and 5.1 upmixes that spread rather than redirect the circus ambience and score well enough (although W.A.S.P.'s "Scream Until You Like It" could have afforded a bassier presence). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
GHOULIES is accompanied by an audio commentary by director Bercovici in which he reveals that he pitched the story to Band and that the original script – co-written with "Fela Johnson and the Johnsons" bandmate Jefery Levy (who also penned Bercovici's ROCKULA) – was much darker until he saw Buechler's creatures and found them goofy (which offended the effects artist). He admits that suddenly deciding to take a more comic tone resulted in an uneven picture. The track starts off with little steam and then continues that way with increasing patches of silence as the feature goes on with sporadic comments about the cast members (some of whom he worked with previously and others he knew on the L.A. music scene like Keith Joe Dick of "Keith Jo Dick and the Dickheads"), the contributions of cinematographer Ahlberg, casting director Johanna Ray (BLUE VELVET), and composers Band and Walker, and the usual remarks about pre-digital effects.
Scream Factory has also produced a documentary featurette "From Toilets to Terror" (29:49) in which Charles Band's discussion of the development and reception of the film is supplemented by comments from his composer brother Richard, actor Des Barres, and effects artist Vulich. Band recalls that he got the idea to do a tiny killer creature flick with effects artist Stan Winston (THE THING) called BEASTIES earlier in the decade but Winston became too expensive by the time Band wanted to develop the project. He discusses the steps he took to get into self-distribution after his experiences trying to get other distributors to pay up, including designing the ad campaign with stoner Gary Allen (who cut the trailer for STAR WARS) and contacting the New York Times to make sure they would print a poster featuring a toilet (they would later film a scene of one of the ghoulies popping out of a toilet and insert it into the film so the audiences would not feel cheated) and the tagline "They'll get you in the end." Although the film was successful in its East Coast debut, Band got to the office the following Monday to a flurry of hate mail from parents who felt that the TV spot put their children off potty-training. Also included are the film's theatrical trailer (1:55) and a stills gallery.
GHOULIES II has no commentary but is accompanied by another retrospective featurette "More Toilets, More Terror: The Making of GHOULIES II" (16:50) featuring Band, Remsen, and Jeffcoat as well as effects artist Gino Crognale (PUMPKINHEAD II). Band recalls the idea of letting the ghoulies loose in a circus and building the entire circus on Empire's largest sound stage (while lamenting that these days they would have to find an actual working circus to shoot at). Jeffcoat recalls the film being his first feature role and having to demonstrate his beginner martial arts skills for the audition (he runs a karate school now) and getting to go to Italy for his first film (the tutor hired for him on the production had him keep a journal of his experiences and field trips rather than the traditional curriculum). Remsen also recalls excitement about shooting overseas and trying to keep a straight face while acting afraid of the giant ghoulie during the climax. Crognale recalls refurbishing the ghoulies from the first film with perhaps less money than the first film for effects.
Although GHOULIES II was rated PG-13, it was cut down from an R-rating and the trimmed shots are presented separately as deleted scenes (2:43) with the surrounding footage in black and white to better highlight the missing bits which include additional gore as well as a couple seemingly innocuous shots that were apparently too intense in the context of the sequences. The footage looks to be of similar quality to the feature (unlike the reinstated gore in MGM's restoration of FROM BEYOND) but Shout! Factory was apparently legally prevented from reinstating the scenes. The film's theatrical trailer (1:23) and a still gallery are also included for the second feature. (Eric Cotenas)
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