Ghoulies Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Glass Doll Films
Directed by Luca Bercovici
Written by Luca Bercovici and Jefery Levy
1985, Region B, 81 minutes, Rated M (AU)
Blu-ray released on March 23rd, 2016
Peter Liapis as Jonathan
Lisa Pelikan as Rebecca
Michael Des Barres as Malcolm Graves
Jack Nance as Wolfgang
Scott Thomson as Mike
Ralph Seymour as Mark
Mariska Hargitay as Donna
Keith Joe Dick as Dick
Jonathan and his girlfriend Rebecca have been hard at work restoring a recently inherited Los Angeles mansion. The house is a bit dilapidated despite the presence of Wolfgang, the bizarre groundskeeper more interested in lurking than cleaning. While inspecting the basement, Jonathan discovers a book of magic spells and finds the remnants of what was once an occult temple. He is fascinated by the content and eager to share his findings with friends at the couple’s house warming party. Jonathan’s efforts to summon demons yield tiny monsters, “Ghoulies”, that create mischief around the house. Soon his obsession is out of control and Jonathan gets more than he bargained for when a powerful warlock returns to the house with malicious intent.
Ghoulies is the brainchild of Luca Bercovici (Rockula) and Jefery Levy (S.F.W.), who co-wrote a dark and moody tale of monsters and mayhem to terrorize audiences emerging from the waning days of the slasher film. Their picture would feature similar elements, including a group of attractive young people being killed in a remote house--this time by demons. Director Bercovici has gone on the record many times admitting that the intended tone of the movie switched to comedy once he got a look at the monsters and realized they were anything but scary. Following the success of Gremlins (1984) released earlier in the year, Bercovici decided to let his little beasties run amok in a playful manner. Sadly, the main storyline of a man growing obsessed with magic and losing his soul to a powerful warlock is a much better tale and the Ghoulies themselves are merely a distraction viewers could do without.
Peter Liapis (Fast Getaway II) stars as Jonathan, the well-meaning but easily duped owner of the mansion and all of its secrets. Lisa Pelikan (Lionheart) plays his dedicated girlfriend Rebecca, and the two do a fine job carrying the picture, especially in the scenes where the monsters are absent. Musician and occasional actor Michael Des Barres (Mulholland Dr.) delivers as the sinister Malcolm, whose motives are a bit muddy when it comes to connecting the dots between the prologue and his triumphant return an hour into the feature. The always-welcome Jack Nance (The Blob) chews all available scenery as the quirky Wolfgang, a protector who appears only when absolutely necessary, but can hold his own when it comes to wizard battles. The supporting cast of characters is largely forgettable with the exception of a few familiar faces, including Mariska Hargitay (Lake Placid), Ralph Seymour (Just Before Dawn) and Scott Thomson (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as Donna, Mark and Mike, respectively. Of the three, Thomson stands out as the breakdancing stoner who crosses paths with the creepiest clown doll since Poltergeist (1982).
Legendary and somewhat infamous low-budget movie mogul Charles Band built a legacy of horror and fantasy features throughout the 1980s with his companies Empire Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment. He told giant stories on a small scale featuring enough recycled props, sets, actors and monsters to make Roger Corman smile in approval, though Band is more of a carnival huckster than respectable gentleman. Regardless of his business ethics, Band knows how to entertain a crowd and shares his love of schlock with great success, frequently filling his pictures with such awesome elements as puppet monsters, dwarves, stop-motion animation, swords and sorcery, women in peril, and wizards. When he isn’t directing the movies himself, viewers familiar with the impresario’s work can recognize his guiding hand in the end product.
Ghoulies proved to be one of the most successful pictures in Empire’s canon and Band has been chasing that magic for decades with countless creature features. These films bring a charming quality that alternates kid-friendly fun with just enough sex and violence to please teen viewers too. One of the most memorable aspects of this film is the ad campaign featuring a monster popping out of a toilet with the brilliant tagline “They’ll get you in the end”. True to the typical bait-and-switch form of these low-budget productions, no such scene appeared in the original version of the film. That was quickly corrected, but bears zero significance on the actual plot – not that anyone is watching this flick for its storyline. For what it’s worth, there appears to have been some studio interference with the script, as the happy ending feels as forced and unnecessary as the titular creatures. Audiences didn’t seem to care and the success in both theaters and on home video paved the way for three sequels. Ghoulies II is actually a more enjoyable movie, and I can honestly say that is the first time I have ever written that in a review.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is likely the same transfer used for the recent Scream Factory Blu-ray release. Colors and black levels are respectable and consistent, although some flaws in the source material remain.
The disc offers a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that keeps things active throughout the more magical moments. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and is balanced well with the music and effects tracks.
English subtitles are available for anyone in need.
Luca Bercovici offers a brief (1 minute) introduction to the film, thanking fans for keeping it alive.
Bercovici gets a second chance at recording an audio commentary, following his abysmal efforts for the domestic Blu-ray release in which he ran out of things to say within twenty minutes. The new track is moderated by Jason Andreasson to keep the director awake and on topic. The results, while infinitely better, are still a bit tedious, but it is nice to finally hear a more detailed account of the making of this project.
In the informative and entertaining interview Just 'cos of the Chick Man! (34 minutes), Bercovici discusses how he got into the industry and provides a basic overview of his career. He has a lot of nice things to say about his experience directing Ghoulies, but is also upfront about his disappointments. He is well aware of the kind of movie he made and is thrilled that people still enjoy it. Inevitably the talk turns to the difficulties of production and some financial failings that forced the director to sue Charles Band for payment.
Ted Nicolaou (TerrorVision) shares his experiences working at Empire Pictures in Editing an Empire (28 minutes). He acknowledges that Band’s reputation was well known, but the job opportunities made it worth putting up with the occasional hassle of chasing down paychecks. This is a highly enjoyable interview, as Nicolaou spills the beans on some fantastic Charles Band stories.
The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste (22 minutes) catches up with Scott Thomson, who discusses working with Bercovici as an actor in Frightmare, which was the experience that led him to Ghoulies. He has plenty of nice things to say about the director, his fellow cast members and his approach to breakdancing.
A 16-page booklet with an essay titled “The Empire that Ghoulies Built” by Dave Jay offers a nice history of the feature and includes many photographs in both color and black and white.