Stars: Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Michael Des Barres, Jack Nance, Mariska Hargitay, Scott Thomson, Ralph Seymour | Written by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy | Directed by Luca Bercovici
Stars: Damon Martin, Royal Dano, Phil Fondacaro, J. Downing, Kerry Remsen, Donnie Jeffcoat, Dale Wyatt | Written by Charlie Dolan, Dennis Paoli, Luca Bercovici | Directed by Albert Band
For my film-loving friends and I, Ghoulies and its immediate sequel were almost rites of passage growing up – I distinctly remember renting them from not only the local video shop but also that strange guy that used to park on the street corner renting tapes out of his boot (or, if he was more successful, the back of a transit van). You know the one, he’d have the craziest VHS tapes you’d ever seen – Class of Nuke Em High, Black Roses, The Toxic Avenger, Ghoulies… all films that sold themselves on artwork alone.
Of course if you weren’t around in the era of the video store you probably have no idea just how big of a deal Ghoulies was for kids (and I mean kids, we were watching the films way before we were old enough to legally) at the time. Like many films during the 80s, Ghoulies sold itself on a combination of a toilet-humour based, monster-filled, box art and its accompanying the ridiculous tag line. However unlike Gremlins – to which this film was always unfairly dismissed as a rip-off of – the humour found on the video box was not replicated in the movie, which is why they became a rite of passage – the artwork made the films look stupid, fooling our parents, but the films themselves were – at the time – scary. At least originally – the sequels would water down the format in much the same way as the Puppet Master movies but the early films played up the horror much more than the laughs.
I bring up the Puppet Master movies as Ghoulies came from Charles Band’s (yes, he of Full Moon fame) Empire Pictures shingle – the production company behind two stone-cold classics of the 80s: Re-Animator and From Beyond – and is essentially a precursor to what Band would do with his killer doll franchise: make the monsters the star of the show!
The first film follows Jonathan (Peter Liapis) who, as a child, was almost killed by his father Malcolm (Michael Des Barres) during a satanic ritual. After being saved and raised by Wolfgang (Jack Nance), who has kept him unaware of his background, Jonathan inherits Malcolm’s house and moves in with girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Through his explorations of the house he begins unlocking the secrets and latent powers contained within his new found home. Oh, and he also resurrects the titular Ghoulies, who wreak havoc on the house and on Jonathan’s friends (including a very young Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: SVU fame) – who are all helping him celebrate his inheritance with that oh-so-typical of 80s tropes: partying!
The second film in the franchise sees the series begin its slippery lope into more comedic horror, although there’s still plenty of grisly monster murders present in Ghoulies 2, there is also a LOT of broad humour and some ridiculous characters (with even more ridiculous hairstyles may I add). The sequel also sees the ghoulies hit the open road and set up a new home in Satans Den, a house of horrors in financial strife. Just when Larry Prentice (Damon Martin) and his uncle Ned (Royal Dano) think theres not a ghost of a chance that they’ll save their show, the Ghoulies makes Satans Den their home and profits soar as the demonic little creatures wreak havoc on the helpless fairground attendees. Think bigger is better, because that’s what Ghoulies 2 is – it ups the ante on everything present in the first film: the kills are more creative, the fun-factor is amped up through the comedy; and the film also has an excellent soundtrack…
Prints on both Blu-rays look fantastic, well-worth the upgrade from the two-film DVD released over here. The colours are vibrant, the picture is crisp and clean (so much so that you can see all the flaws in the Ghoulies themselves) and the audio is just as solid. Honestly, in all my years of watching this franchise (and believe me I’ve owned the VHS, US DVDs, UK DVDs, and even a VCD of the first movie!) I’ve never seen either film look so damn good.
If you’re locked to Region B for you Blu-ray watching and you’re a fan of the franchise, then these two Ghoulies discs are a musy-buy. Though those – like me – that have multiregion capabilities might want to look elsewhere as 101 Films’ discs are missing numerous extras found on other releases – though thankfully they have ported across the intro and commentary track on the first film. The commentary, with the films director Luca Bercovici is interesting and informative, if a little sparse: with no-one to push him, Bercovici does slip into long periods of silence, as if he’s just enjoying re-watching what, for me, will forever be remember as a childhood favourite.
Ghoulies and Ghoulies 2 are released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 11th, courtesy of 101 Films.