18th Nov2016

‘Hobgoblins’ Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Tom Bartlett, Paige Sullivan, Steven Boggs, Tamara Clatterbuck, Duane Whitaker, Daran Norris, Billy Frank, Jeffrey Culver | Written and Directed by Rick Sloane


As someone who grew up haunting video stores throughout the late 80s and well into the 90s, director Rick Sloane was something of an icon. You see I was one of those teenagers who loved to rent any and all T&A comedies I could lay my hands on, and Sloane was the man behind Vice Academy and its six, yes six(!) sequels. Why Vice Academy? Well my other love at the time was horror movies, and in particular those featuring scream queens such as Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Brinke Stevens and Monique Gabrielle… and Vice Academy – and its immediate sequel – starred the one and only Ms. Quigley – it was, at least for me at the time, kismet: Linnea Quigley and T&A comedy? Sounded like heaven to me (not to mention Ginger Lynn also had a starring role, cough!)

But before Sloane took a turn into sexy cop comedy territory, he helmed what many would call one of the worst Gremlins cash-ins, Hobgoblins – which has just received the Vinegar Syndrome treatment and been released in a gorgeous Blu-ray that is packed with special features. Yet again proving that, given some respectable treatment, you can polish a turd. Though to be fair Hobgoblins is not really a turd. A bad film maybe, but not THAT bad. After all, this was released in the era of DTV shot-on-video dross which is much, much, worse than Sloane’s hilariously terrible, but immensely fun, monster movie.

For those interested in the plot, it goes a little like this:

Kevin just got hired to be the assistant night watchman at an old film vault. Warned to stay out of one mysterious chamber, the rookie guard can’t help but satisfy his curiosity and unwittingly unleashes a group of hobgoblins: furry aliens who grant people wishes only to kill them in the process. As the body count starts to rise, Kevin, with the help of his friends, decide to track down the deadly creatures before they wreak havoc on the city.

To be fair, that official synopsis hints at nothing of Hobgoblins bizarre, out-there, nature. This is the kind of outlandish film that appeals to a VERY specific audience, usually comprised of people that saw the film on VHS on its original release and have fond memories; or those that just love a good, bad, movie (which is why for many the MST3K riff on Hobgoblins is the best way to watch the film). Or fans of cheesy 80s movies like me… Because for all the problems with the film, for all the bad dialogue and terrible puppet work, Hobgoblins is actually really rather reminiscent of the early works of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, making this, for me – honestly – a no-budget masterpiece.

Interestingly, Hobgoblins didn’t start out life as a Gremlins clone, instead it was written as an homage to monster movies like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but after Gremlins hit it big, Sloane rewrote the film with cuter, more mischevious monsters. That’s just one of the facts you’ll learn watching the myriad of bonus features on the Blu-ray release!

Thankfully the creation of those “cute” monsters was left to Kenneth J. Hall – who would later go on to write and direct Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout – and who had previously worked on other, more famous, creature features before Hobgoblins: Critters, as part of the Chiodo Brothers crew; and Ghoulies, where he operated the Ghoulies themselves. Sadly, depite the cool look of the titular monsters, the puppets were not used to the best of their abilities: just check out the scene where the hobgoblins are riding on the golf cart for damning evidence of that.

Speaking of Hall, he is the centre of one of the extra features on this new Blu-ray release, revealing insights into the creature creation and technology behind it – and just how cheap a production Hobgoblins actually was… After paying Hall $2k for five puppets, Sloane couldn’t afford to pay Hall to supervise the on-set puppeteering, hence how bad the monster effects look in the finished product!

Other extras on Vinegar Syndrome’s release are comprised of the “Hobgoblins: The Making of a Disasterpiece” talking head featurette which was originally on the anniversary release of the movie – focusing on five of the films original cast, along with writer/director Rick Sloane and monster maker Kenneth J. Hall. And Hobgoblins Revisited, which is an extended interview with Rick Sloane, following him around the locations of the film and hearing stories about just how guerilla the production of Hobgoblins really was. There’s also an archival commentary track with director Rick Sloane, a “Hobgoblins Invade Comic-Con” short and the original trailer.

Print quality is of Vinegar Syndrome’s usual high quality: scanned, restored and preserved in 2k from 35mm original camera negative, Hobgoblins looks superb. There is some heavy film grain at times, typically during the darker scenes; but this is, without a doubt, the best the movie has ever looked (obviously) – much better than my old VHS tape that’s for sure!

Hobgoblins is out now on dual-format Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.


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