Ghoulies isn’t a very good movie, and I believe that only the most nostalgically challenged would say otherwise. It’s very poorly paced, and directed with the most workmanlike style. It was salvaged entirely on the strength of its great ad campaign (tagline and poster/VHS box art). I mean, if you were any age in the 1980s, how could you not pause when passing that cover?
Knowing that the poster image was his ticket to box office, producer Charles Band ordered a reshoot so that one of the titular demons could burst out of a toilet bowl in a split second insert shot. As a moment, it’s not very satisfying, but it’s there. And no one could accuse the movie of not delivering on its promise. Ask anyone what they remember about Ghoulies, and I’m willing to bet their memory doesn’t extend far beyond the video box.
That’s to be expected, considering I revisited it last night and still find it difficult to remember much about it. A college kid inherits his father’s mansion, where his old man once conducted satanic rituals in search of eternal life (I think). The kid discovers that he has his father’s abilities and soon becomes addicted to magic. Instinctively, he knows how to summon ghoulies, and that the pint-sized demons are supposed to serve him (they honestly serve no narrative function in the film). It turns out to be a ploy by the deceased father so he can rise from the grave and take control of his son’s body. Or something.
Fans of practical FX work might be able to squeeze a little enjoyment out of Ghoulies today. The monsters are rudimentary but charming, and the rest of the FX work is just as fun: creepy clown dolls, glowing green eyes, rotted zombies, and killer tongues converge to make this a WTF menagerie of the most outré order.
In that sense, it reminds me of another infamous 80s film, XTRO. It too refuses to add up, forcing the viewer to either go along for the batshit ride, or bail at the sight of toy soldiers coming to life, or a pregnant woman giving inexplicable birth to an adult man. Unlike XTRO, however, Ghoulies is probably an ideal way to introduce children to the genre. Maybe it’s because I’m a few weeks away from fatherhood, but in revisiting Ghoulies, I could still see the things that captured my interests as a kid of six or seven.
As I said, it’s not a good movie, and it’s understandable if you’re against showing your kid the same glut of junk food horror that you were fed. But Ghoulies is just edgy enough to feel dangerous to younger viewers. There’s real stakes in that people die, while the PG-13 violence comes off with just a hint of blood. Add in that the movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, and you’ve got soft-ply nightmare fuel for kids who won’t care about unconnected dots. If anything, Ghoulies‘ anything goes approach will probably make younger viewers feel even more vulnerable.
Obviously, I intend to shield my kid from the things that I saw at far too young an age. I was around six when I snuck a viewing of The Evil Dead, and was probably a year or two older than that when I first saw The Toxic Avenger. Movies that undoubtedly played a part in making me who I am today (for better or worse).
My kid won’t have those experiences, but, when he’s old enough, I want to share some of that fun with him. And that’s where things like Ghoulies come into play. Don’t worry, I’ll show him good movies too, but even at 35 I realize I have a soft spot for this. I can remember how visceral this nonsense felt back then, and the onslaught of “scares” certainly made me realize I wanted more of them.
I don’t mean to trump up the importance of Ghoulies too much. It was one of the many cogs in a gigantic wheel that prompted me to spend much of my life raiding video store shelves as I chased that feeling. When he’s old enough, I know I’ll enjoy seeing what my kid makes of Jack Nance playing the world’s most ineffective, protective warlock. And if the like father, like son adage holds any truth, I bet he’ll find something to be charmed by, just like his old man.