Nasty little monsters were all the rage in the mid 80’s. The titular Gremlins got the most respect and the biggest box office returns. The “Crites” of the Critters series of films were nasty little buggers with sharp teeth, but they were fun when they rolled around like bowling balls. But then we had the Ghoulies, who were just plain gross. Not only were they literally demons but they’re primary marketing campaign was to show them crawling out of a toilet on the poster. Still, even these little guys proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, 1988’s Ghoulies II.
This time around the action shifts to a run-down traveling carnival. Larry (Damon Martin) and his Uncle Ned (Royal Dano) run the spook house attraction, Satan’s Den. Things are not easy for them, though. They’re returns have not been great lately, plus they’re truck is the one that’s always breaking down making it difficult to get to the next gig. In fact, one night they stop in an old run-down gas station to do some repairs only to pick up some unexpected passengers. Yup, the nasty old Ghoulies are hanging out in the station after having escaped a crazy guy trying to dump them in a vat of toxic waste. That’s no way to kill a Ghoulie!
When they catch up with the rest of the carnys, Larry and Ned meet Mr. Hardin (J. Downing), whose company has just purchased the carnival. He informs everyone that any attractions not making enough profit will soon be shut down…especially the spook house which is barely bringing in any money. Something is needed to turn things around…like real monsters! Yup, when the attraction opens that night, the Ghoulies start terrorizing what few visitors come in. As people come out talking about the realistic monsters, more start lining up to get a look. No matter that the little guys are actually trying to kill people.
Business is booming at Satan’s Den now, but when Uncle Ned ends up getting killed by the creatures, Larry realizes that the monsters everyone has been talking about are real and must be destroyed. Of course, they’re attempt at getting the little freaks only succeeds in releasing them from the haunted house ride. Now, the creatures have the run of the entire carnival…and they mean business.
As I said earlier, the Ghoulies are probably the grossest of the little monsters of the 80’s. The main one that they always show on the posters looks like a booger with teeth. One of the other creatures has a propensity for projectile vomiting. When he does this all over a teenage couple making out it cause their lips to stay locked together. Blech! It’s disgusting! So, if you go into this expecting cute little fuzzballs with Howie Mandell’s voice, a la Gremlins, you’re in for a shock. Of course, this is Ghoulies TWO, remember. If you made it through Ghoulies one you should know that already.
Having said that, however, Ghoulies II, though gross, is a vast improvement over the series’ first chapter. Setting the action in a somewhat scuzzy carnival is a perfect choice. The little demons do spend most of the film confined to the haunted house attraction, which is ok, but things really take off when they bust out and start terrorizing the rest of the carnival. Had this not been such a low-budget film I think the creatures would’ve probably been unleashed on the midway sooner. As it is though, right at the moment when I thought the movie was starting to get too repetitive, the Ghoulies break out of the haunted house, opening up some new possibilities for them. Watching them play at the shooting gallery or mow down people with bumper cars is silly fun.
There’s also some improvement when it comes to the effects work this time around. Sure, the Ghoulies are still just latex puppets, and relatively crude ones, at that. However, considering the limited range of these puppets, they actually look pretty good in a few sequences. The filmmakers even manage to pull off a few decent looking stop motion effects that allow us to see the characters actually walking around in a few shots. There’s also a giant Ghoulie at the end that, though a bit clunky, is kind of a nice throwback to the rubber-suit monsters of the 50’s.
There’s certainly nothing extraordinary about Ghoulies II. It’s definitely not in the same league as Gremlins, or even Critters for that matter. Also the revolting little monsters and the bounteous amounts of mucus they emit is probably not for everyone. Still, I applaud this sequel for coming up with a far more interesting scenario for these gross little guys than the original film provided.