Ghoulies (1985) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Ghoulies opens during some sort of dark magic ritual which includes a group of robed and hooded humans alongside several small ugly monsters. Malcolm Graves, the master, attempts to sacrifice his son, but a woman steps forward and stops him. Malcolm sends the boy away with one of the hooded men, never to return. He then finishes the sacrifice with the woman in his son’s place. Years later Jonathan Graves inherits his father’s old spooky mansion and returns to the scene of the ritual. Now, a strange force has taken him over and he is driven to become the master of ancient demons and take control of the Ghoulies even at the cost of his girlfriend’s and friends’ lives. But his dead father has other plans, and soon it’s revealed why he spared his son’s life and sent him away. Can Malcolm Graves demonic rule be stopped?

This was an Empire Pictures release, which was Charles Band’s precursor company to Full Moon Entertainment. Ghoulies was a surprising box office hit at the time, earning around $35 million ($0.00 million today) on a $1 million budget. It set the stage for Band to focus on small monsters and puppets which have become a staple in the majority of his horror films. It’s one of the great things about Full Moon today. They are still relying on mainly practical non-CGI effects work for their monsters.

Originally Stan Winston was set to develop the special effects here, but Fox killed the project and the originally far more ambitious idea was hacked down to Ghoulies. This is an incredibly simplistic film. As a youngster I remember seeing this and being quite frightened by it, especially the clown in the end. But as an adult this film tries to be a tad too serious for its muppet like monsters. It’s also not jokey enough to be funny. Gremlins (a good comparison movie) does a far better job incorporating the small monsters into our larger world and making it fun. In contrast Ghoulies doesn’t figure out that the little guys are the stars of the film until the end.

The acting is all over the top, but fitting to the overall picture. There’s a sweet spot when it comes to low budget horror films where the effects are good enough to become adored, but not great enough to be realistic and thus not accepted by the wider audience. These are cult classics, mainly as they require a certain type of suspension of disbelief to enjoy. I supposed to the viewer this makes the film less frightening, but often more fun. That’s not always a bad thing as in the low-budget horror sub-genre fans often make films as well; these effects are appreciated here because they seem attainable to other filmmakers and critics (who had dreams of being filmmakers).

Ghoulies is a fun flick, but its timing is too soon to get that low budget horror fun formula just right. Regardless it’s a classic of its genre and something I’d recommend to anyone interested in creature features or low budget horror.

Director: Luca Bercovici
Stars: Michael Des Barres, Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan

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