One of the true tests of the success of a movie is whether or not other filmmakers try to rip it off. One film that got more than it’s fair share of copycats was Joe Dante’s Gremlins. In the years that followed, several other films about little monsters were released, including Critters, Munchies, and today’s film, 1985’s Ghoulies.
Right from the beginning the film lets you know that it’s not going to have as playful a feel as Gremlins did, opening with a strange satanic ceremony where the freaky Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres) is jonesing to use his infant son as a sacrifice. The mother protests, however, and ends up paying the price with her life. Meanwhile, the kid is snuck out by a follower named Wolfgang (Jack Nance) who ends up raising the boy.
Many years later, the now adult boy, Jonathan (Peter Liapis), has returned to the home where all this occult craziness took place. He is joined by his wife Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Of course, with such a huge house all to themselves, Lisa is anxious to have a bunch of friends over for a party…including a young Mariska Hargitay. As the night lingers on, and folks start to get bored, Jonathan hits upon the idea of doing a bizarre ceremony in the basement. Everyone joins in, though somewhat jokingly, but nothing happens…or so they think. Turns out Jonathan actually conjured up some slimy, ugly little creatures.
As time goes on, Jonathan starts to become more and more interested in the occult…following in his fathers footsteps. Poor Rebecca has no idea all the weird stuff that he and his little demons are up to in the basement. Two freaky little dwarfs even show up. Eventually, Rebecca does find out and ends up in a sort of zombie trance, allowing Jonathan to continue his quest for power. However, Jonathan needs some more participants for a ritual and so the friends are invited over for another party. Meanwhile, dear old dad rises from his grave and begins to cause trouble. This includes transforming into a buxom woman (Bobbie Breese) with a killer tongue in one scene. All the while, the little demons drool and snarl at everyone and occasionally try to bite someone’s face off.
I can’t help but wonder if the makers of this film had a script about a guy who becomes a power-hungry maniac by dabbling in the occult but then decided to tack a bunch of gross little monsters onto it to capitalize on the success of Gremlins. It’s hard not to reach that conclusion since the Ghoulies actually do very little in this film. I mean the Gremlins were mischievous, the Crites of Critters were vicious, but all the Ghoulies have going for them is excessive mucus. There are so many cutaway shots of the creatures doing absolutely nothing that it goes way beyond ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on how terrible the puppetry is.
Now then, if you thought the puppets were bad, wait till you get a load of the human actors. Peter Liapis turns in what may be one of the most over-the-top performances in cinema history. He couldn’t chew up the scenery harder if it had been on all-you-can-eat buffet! It’s downright comical. In fact, the film is full of unintentionally hilarious moments, from an evil clown doll to that 10-foot long tongue scene. The only moment that has some solid horror is the moment where Malcolm rises from the grave. It gives the audience a decent jump and is achieved with a solid special effect not reflected in the rest of the film.
Ghoulies is pretty much a disaster, yet it made money. Over the course of the next several years, three sequels would follow. The poster image for this film is of one of the creatures emerging from a toilet. Might I suggest using that handy little lever on the tank?