The larger studios generally dig into their back catalog around Halloween, churning out DVDs of whatever genre titles they have lying around to cash in on the holiday. MGM is beating the rush, lobbing out title after title on August 26th, including The Brood, Burnt Offerings, Clownhouse, The Ghoul, a special edition re-release of The Howling, I, Madman, Once Bitten, Poltergeists II and III, Raw Meat, Squirm, Troll/Troll II, and...as you could probably guess from the big, bold text above...a double feature of the first two Ghoulies flicks.
The original Ghoulies memorably kicks off with a long-distance cardiactomy before settling into the traditional unwitting possession / haunted house formula. Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) has inherited a run-down, quasi-palatial estate, complete with the obligatory creepy groundkeeper and ominous grave. He refuses to leave his newly-acquired house, skipping out on school, playing dress-up in robes he stumbles upon, and generally just annoying his gal pal Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Jonny botches one spell after another, but eventually, he manages to summon two supposedly-loyal bite-sized extradimensional cronies who claim to be able to provide Jonathan with the power and knowledge he so desperately craves. The ritual requires seven people, so...kegger at Jonathan's! The soiree unleashes the manipulative force behind Jon-Boy's odd behavior, pitting the witless partygoers against a small army of vicious little demonic creatures.
I had Ghoulies on video growing up, and I watched it incessantly. I was convinced that the opening scene where Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres) rips the heart from a hapless victim had to be the greatest thing I'd ever seen in however many years I'd been alive up to that point. Ghoulies holds up better than a lot of the dreck I fawned over back then, but it's pure '80s cornball. It's intentionally campy, or at least, I hope it is, with your usual assortment of dope smokers and ham-fisted acting. The usual exploitive elements are lacking, with no nudity, little on-screen violence, and next to no gore. What minimal grue there is turns up after the fact, on brief shots of the slightly mutilated bodies of Jonathan's friends. Even though little happens for long, long stretches of time (the ghoulies don't really go on the attack until the last twenty minutes of the movie, and the infamous toilet shot is all of two seconds long), the pacing doesn't drag excessively. Ghoulies runs under 80 minutes minus credits, so it's over before things can get unbearable. I feel kind of indifferent towards Ghoulies now, sixteen years or so after I first shoved a VHS copy in my VCR. As unremarkable as the movie is in innumerable ways, Ghoulies still has an endearing charm about it, and I can see myself dusting it off my DVD shelf in a few months and giving it another spin.
This is actually Ghoulies II's second time hitting DVD, following a full-frame release from Pioneer nearly three years ago. The sequel changes the setting to a traveling fright show on the brink. Bottom-line-minded suit Larry Prentice wants Satan's Den, an unprofitable spook house, to either turn around financially or be shut down. Business booms when some new attractions are tossed into the mix, and patrons are...and I'm pretty sure I'm the first inept Internet reviewer to ever use this pun...dying to get in! Yup, the Ghoulies are back, kind of, with not really much of any connection to speak of with its predecessor.
One wistful summer, HBO had apparently snagged the rights to show Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Howling III: The Marsupials, and Ghoulies II. They aired those movies almost every damn day, and I was perched in front of my TV, Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal in hand, watching the three of 'em as much as I could stomach. No idea what was going through my mind back then. The first Ghoulies wasn't any sort of criminally underrated genre classic, but Ghoulies II is just bad. To its credit, the titular terrors maintain a little more of a presence in the sequel, but that's about as close to praise I can bring myself to spout off. The goofy, understated comedy of the original is almost entirely gone. The closest Ghoulies II comes to that is a unique choice for a burial shroud. Presumably the spazzed-out Gremlins rehash as the ghoulies wreak havoc in the carnival during the movie's last twenty minutes and change is supposed to be whimsical and entertaining or whatever, but it's as stale and boring as the rest of the flick. Whereas most sequels up the boobs and blood quotient, Ghoulies II manages to have less of each, and considering there wasn't of either in the original, that takes a concerted effort. Ghoulies II doesn't continue anything resembling a plot from the first movie, and its connections to the original are more or less limited to the inclusion of a band of little monsters, a wee fella (a Shakespeare-spouting Phil Fondacaro), and an unattractive love interest. Albert Band hadn't directed a movie in nearly a decade(his previous film was 1978's Zoltan: Hound of Dracula), and whatever talents Band possessed as a filmmaker appear to have atrophied. Ghoulies II is incredibly mediocre, and I'd imagine MGM decided to tack it onto Ghoulies as a double-feature for the same reason that Fox piled sequels to Revenge of the Nerds and Porky's when they hit DVD -- because those sequels really aren't worth watching on their own.
I wouldn't expect a double-feature bargain-bin DVD like this to offer much in the way of extras, and...well, I guess MGM didn't either. The disc does include anamorphic widescreen presentations of both movies, though, along with trailers and somewhat questionable audio.
Video: The first thing I did after popping in the Ghoulies side of the disc was take a peek at the trailer, and its soft, grainy appearance had me expecting the worst for the feature. No worries, though; I don't know if MGM turned to some sort of arcane sorcery themselves to conjure up the source material for this DVD or if an archivist inadvertently stumbled onto some particularly pristine elements in a backroom somewhere, but the end result is pretty impressive. Close-ups, most notably those of the beasties and Grizzel 'n Greedigut, are incredibly sharp and detailed. The image as a whole generally offers respectably inky blacks and solid shadow detail. The level of film grain varies throughout, often barely discernable and only infrequently teetering on mild. It's never heavy enough to be intrusive, and I'd much rather have that slight and very likely accurate amount of grain than have the image artifically smoothened to try to mask it. No speckling, haloing, or anything else remotely resembling a flaw caught my eye. The sequel is similarly free of any glaring print issues, in some ways improving on its predecessor. The carnival setting provides a much more vibrant palette, and tight shots look even crisper and more detailed. There is some intermittent haloing around hard edges, but at least on my display, they weren't large enough to distract.
Audio: For the first minute or two, Ghoulies' monaural audio (192Kbps) seemed like it was going to be as impressive as the video...until I heard the first line of dialogue. The distinctively '80s synth-drenched score by Richard Band and Shirley Walker is loud and boasts a booming low-end, but much of the dialogue sounds muffled and scratchy. Things improve somewhat when the brief prologue ends and the meat of the movie gets underway, but the dialogue still has a very dated, limited sound to it. It's not unlistenable by any stretch, of course, and I only had trouble making out a few scattered lines. The climax sports some particularly painfully distorted dialogue. Though a low-bitrate mp3 obviously isn't going to offer quite the fidelity of a DVD, I recorded a brief snippet of dialogue that's fairly representative of how much of the movie sounds if you want a quick taste (64Kbps; 13.2K).
Ghoulies II makes the leap to stereo surround, but it manages to sound much, much worse. There's hardly a line in the movie that's not accompanied by a pop or crackle, and I flinched everytime a character was unfortunate enough to have a dialogue with the letter "s" in it. The surrounds frequently chirp with activity, but the dialogue that often leaks into the rears is crackly and uneven. I recorded another mp3 sample (64Kbps; 14.6K), with the usual disclaimer.
Both movies are closed captioned and include subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: The only extras are a pair of soft, grainy anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailers, one on each side of the disc. The liltingly narrated Ghoulies trailer runs just under two minutes, with more than half culled from a single sequence. Ghoulies II (1:21) boasts a voiceover by some hellspawned hybrid of Penn Jillette and Wolfman Jack.
The "hey, where's my insert?" crowd may be disappointed to hear that their beloved slip of paper hasn't been included, as is the norm for MGM's budget line. Normally MGM's double-feature cover art incorporates the posters of both movies, but Ghoulies / Ghoulies II has a single shot of a couple of beasties hanging out in a john that isn't culled from the original one-sheets for either flick. The dual-sided, single-layer disc comes packaged in a keepcase, and both movies feature static 16x9-enhanced menus and sixteen chapters a pop. Dunno if this is new for the studio, but each side of the disc has a forced thirteen-second MGM promo that I found really, really annoying.
Conclusion: The Ghoulies/Ghoulies II double feature is probably the least appealing of the lot from MGM's hefty 8/26 genre slate. With four movies in the series, obviously there are some Ghoulies devotees out there that'll find this disc well-worth shelling out ten bucks for, but for more casual fans, I'd stick with a rental. Rent It.