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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ghoulies / Ghoulies II (Blu-ray)
Ghoulies / Ghoulies II (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG-13 // April 21, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 2, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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I was all of six years old when Ghoulies first stormed into theaters, and, yeah, it took a while for me to look at a toilet again the same way. Its legendary marketing campaign was forever seared into the brains of kids the world over, and if you never got around to facing your fears, Scream Factory is giving you another shot with this ghoulish double feature.

Ghoulies (1985)
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Ghoulies (1985)
It's like something off a motivational poster: no matter how far apart they may find themselves, a father and son can always reconnect. I mean, even if Daddy Dearest (Michael Des Barres) was a supernaturally-fueled devil worshipper who was aching to sacrifice his newborn child, and even if that satanic son of a bitch is rotting six feet under, it's never too late for a second chance. It takes a couple decades, sure, but he reaches out from beyond the grave to his now all-too-adult son (Peter Liapis). Jonathan and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) move into the decaying mansion he's just inherited, and there's...just...something about the place that sinks its claws into him and refuses to let go. A spirit summoning ritual with his pals at first seems like some kind of party game, but to Jonathan, it's deadly serious. He becomes so consumed by mysticism that he abandons damned near everything else in his life: his girlfriend, his education, natural sunlight, and, hell, even eating. Jonathan hoped that moving into the mansion would give him an opportunity to acquaint himself with the long-dead family he'd never known, but his thirst for knowledge quickly outstrips learning more about his mommy and daddy. He craves ultimate knowledge -- ultimate power! -- and Jonathan's about to get a hell of a lesson from his old man...

Ghoulies (1985)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

Ghoulies is like a spookhouse at the county fair. Its approach to horror is more playful, looking to make you jump out of your seat every once in a while, sure, but the movie wants to leave a devilish smirk plastered across your face while it's doing it. And it works...kinda. The rough thing about Ghoulies is that pretty much the entire movie is table setting. Once the prologue is out of the way, it takes forever for anything vaguely suspenseful or intense to roll along. There's some cacklingly ghoulish imagery along the way, yeah, but the titular little monsters don't attack any of Jonathan's buddies until right at the hour mark. Hell, these creatures are barely even in the movie, showing up for just a few minutes before that third act assault, clowning around the house and invisible to everyone but Jonathan. Despite stealing every last scene they're in, the ghoulies really don't factor into the plot at all, which boils down instead to a mystical battle between father and son. The screenplay was banged out in a week and a half, and it shows. The unfocused plot hinges on characters who get minimal screentime. There are a couple bursts of narration, but it's so sparse and random that I'm baffled why it's there at all. The first bout of it doesn't even sound like narration, and I was looking around trying to figure out where the other guy in the room was. The climax and epilogue are one swing-and-a-miss after another. If you're frothing at the mouth for a trashy horror flick, there's no nudity or T&A, borderline-zero stalk-and-slash suspense, only a tiny amount of on-screen violence, and the gore is pretty much limited to the after-the-fact corpses of Jonathan's slightly mutilated pals. Ghoulies deliberately isn't that kind of movie, but it doesn't seem all that certain what it wants to be, exactly. It's too dark for the junior set, and it's too aimless, clumsily paced, and bland for basically everyone else.

Ghoulies (1985)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

I don't want to come off the wrong way, though. It's not that watching Ghoulies is excruciatingly painful or anything. The creatures may be underutilized but are still the best thing about the flick, there are individual shots that I can't help but love (the long-distance cardiactomy in the beginning sure freaked me out in my younger years), it's overflowing with gorgeous women (including a young Mariska Hargitay!), and I'm all over the look of that rotting mansion. It's the squandered potential of this kinda boring, marginally okay movie that bugs me more than anything. Ghoulies is one of those genre flicks that's just kind of there.

Ghoulies II (1988)
I was skimming through my review of Ghoulies II from back when MGM first released it on DVD thirteen years ago, and I was surprised to read that I kinda hated it. Revisiting the flick nearly a decade and a half later, the pendulum has swung way back in the other direction, bringing back warm, fuzzy memories of that summer in 1990 or whatever when I'd sit down with a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal and watch my daily marathon of Ghoulies II, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Howling III: The Marsupials on HBO. ...but, hey! Enough about me. Let's talk about Ghoulies II.

Ghoulies II (1988)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

For what it's worth, you don't even have to suffer through the original Ghoulies to get anything out of this sequel. The pint-sized demons aside, absolutely nothing is carried over from the first flick. The story this time around is that Satan's Den is on the verge of shutting its doors. No, no, I don't mean that Hell itself is about to be closed for business, although I probably can't say that for the spookhouse in this corporate-owned traveling carnival for much longer. Phillip Hardin (J. Downing) has run the numbers, and Satan's Den has been in the red for more than a year. He gives the folks who run it -- a tiny Shakespearean actor by the name of Sir Nigel Penneyweight (cult cinema mainstay Phil Fondacaro), alkie magician Uncle Ned (Royal Dano), and, in the handsome hero-type role, Larry (Damon Martin) -- through the weekend to pull a profit. It'll take a miracle to turn things around...or maybe, Uncle Ned thinks, just a little magic! The guy wants to sound authentic with this part of his act, so he picks up an old book and starts reading incantations from it. Before you know it: hey, ghoulies! (Okay, they hitched a ride earlier in the movie, but let Neddy have his fun.) These phlegm-spewing, throwing-star-eating, mischievous little devils are good for business too. The ghoulie infestation keeps the crowds flooding in for a look, helping Satan's Den rake in record numbers. 'Course, not everyone who strolls into Satan's Den makes it out.

Ghoulies II (1988)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

Royal Dano at one point decries the way that jaded audiences sneer down at spookhouse fun, perhaps reflecting the way that Albert Band -- sitting in the director's chair for his first genre flick in a decade, following 1978's Zoltan, Hound of Dracula -- felt about the state of horror in the late '80s. Maybe all it takes is the right movie. The original Ghoulies fumbled around, trying and failing to strike a similar tone, but this sequel gets it right pretty much from word one. These little bastards barely factored into the first movie, but they're front and center all over the second go-around. The creatures look better than ever, they have a hell of a lot more personality, and they're not competing for screentime with some dull-as-dishwater sorcerer in the sequel. The use of stop motion animation frees the ghoulies up to wreak even more mayhem, and the endless assortment of medieval torture devices in the funhouse (where's OSHA when you need 'em?) gives 'em a helluva lot more to do than just jump and chomp too. Their killing spree is better spread out in the sequel, feeling more slasher-like in that sense rather than the first movie where everyone's slaughtered all at once. Ghoulies II's sense of humor is equal parts diabolical and campy. One minute, you're looking at a clown in a dunking booth flailing around a bloody stump of an arm, and the next, there are tweety-bird sound effects after a ghoulie in a boxing glove slugs a strongman. It gels better than you might expect. The sense of community among the carnies is a blast when they take the fight to the creatures, and the Evil Dead II-style cure-is-worse-than-the-disease climax is right up my alley.

It's kind of a drag that this is the PG-13 cut of the movie, losing just about every trace of gore and grue. Ghoulies II still works surprisingly well in this neutered form, though, and some of the blood-drenched R-rated footage is included elsewhere on the disc. There are a bunch of people who can't stand Ghoulies II, and there was a time when I was right there with 'em, but I didn't have that reaction at all when revisiting this sequel on Blu-ray. Damned near everything is dramatically improved over the first Ghoulies, leaving me with nothing but chipper, upbeat things to say, something that's going to come to a screeching halt when I move onto the next part of this review.


Video
Quick! Pop this screenshot from Ghoulies -- or, hell, any of the others scattered throughout this review -- open to full-size and tell me what the first words are that pop into your head:

Ghoulies (1985)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

If you answered "high definition", maybe you should step away from DVD Talk and click over to lenscrafters.com instead. I don't know if Ghoulies has been culled from a late-'90s-era master or what, but it's far and away the worst looking film that Scream Factory has licensed from MGM. Definition and detail are anemic. Film grain is chunky and poorly resolved. Color saturation is passable but doesn't rate much more than an indifferent shrug. Contrast is flat and lifeless. Ghoulies isn't aggressively awful the way that Universal's worst hatchet jobs in Scream Factory's library have been, and very tight closeups of the pint-sized monsters still manage to look decent enough, but that's about as much praise as I can muster. Ghoulies looks more like DVD-and-a-half (if that) than a newly-minted Blu-ray disc, and if I were scoring this half of the double feature on its own, it'd be or maybe . Watchable but embarrassingly far below par.

It's a different story with Ghoulies II, thankfully. I wouldn't be surprised if this were an older transfer as well -- I know that MGM put together a high-def master in 2002, including HD transfers of the R-rated footage provided elsewhere on this disc -- but at least it's immediately recognizable as high definition. The image is quite a bit more filmic, despite the usual Scream Factory headaches with properly encoding grain. Its colors pack more much more of a wallop, and contrast is quite a bit meatier than the original Ghoulies. Though there are some shots that aren't as well-defined as they probably ought to be, clarity and fine detail are dramatically improved over the first film as well. Admittedly, the image is heavily peppered with flecks of dust and assorted signs of wear, along with...well, this:

Ghoulies II (1988)
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...although the worst of that damage is limited to one sequence and only last a couple of seconds. By and large, though, this is very solid work. Let's round it up to

This double feature arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc. Both movies are presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and have been encoded with AVC.


Audio
Nevermind the typo on the case that says these movies are in mono only -- the sequel is actually in stereo, and both Ghoulies and Ghoulies II boast 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in 5.1 as well. I haven't dug my old Ghoulies double feature DVD out of storage to do a direct comparison, but both of these movies sounded awful when MGM hammered out that disc in 2003, and lossless audio or no, not nearly enough has changed.

This Blu-ray release of Ghoulies pretty much looks like a DVD, and the lossless audio is right along those same lackluster lines. The film's dialogue is boxy, hopelessly dated, and honestly kind of tough to discern at times. Frequency response is awfully cramped, and although music and slammed car doors are reinforced by a hefty low-frequency kick, that bass response sounds overcooked. The distinctness and clarity I typically expect to hear in a lossless soundtrack are woefully lacking. Crashes of thunder and dark magicks ought to set a hell of a mood, but instead they're limp and lifeless. The surrounds draw so little attention to themselves that I wonder why they bothered with a remix at all. This lossless soundtrack gets nothing right.

Ghoulies II (1988)
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

Ghoulies II is nearly as awful. The high-end is really harsh and scratchy, with nearly every line of dialogue coming across as distorted. Again, frequency response is extremely limited, although it actually sounds thinner and a bit more trebly than the straightahead-midrange I'd have expected to hear. The subwoofer just lounges around, indifferently twiddling its thumbs throughout pretty much the entire flick, waiting in vain for something to do. There are low-frequency hiccups punctuating some effects, most memorably a couple of thwwip!s at the shooting gallery, but the sub is caked under however many inches of dust again for the sequel's two biggest explosions and...well, everything else too, including the score. I assume this is all just a factor of shitty elements being remixed because the actual remix part is actually pretty solid. There's a very strong sense of directionality, including discrete placement of effects and several smooth pans across the front speakers. The six-channel treatment helps the carnival feel that much more bustling (especially when the customers are fleeing and screaming in terror!), it makes the sequences inside Satan's Den more immersive and fun, and the remix even heightens some of the attacks by the movie's vicious little monsters. You know what they said about polishing turds, though.

There aren't any dubs or anything this time around, but both movies do feature optional English (SDH) subtitles.


Extras
First up is Ghoulies.
  • From Toilets to Terror: The Making of Ghoulies (30 min.; HD): This newly-produced half-hour retrospective features executive producer Charles Band, composer Richard Band, actor Michael Des Barres, and makeup effects wizard John Vulich. Fast, breezy, and entirely too much fun, "From Toilets to Terror" tackles the original Beasties concept that Charles Band dreamed up with Stan Winston, how Ghoulies launched Empire Pictures, the iconic monster-in-the-toilet campaign that scared kids off the crapper for months, and, perhaps most interestingly to me, how Ghoulies was envisioned and very, very briefly shot with 3D in mind! Absolutely worth setting aside the time to watch.

  • Audio Commentary: I gave up on this commentary track by director/co-writer Luca Bercovici less than halfway through. For the first fifteen minutes or so, it's a really lively discussion, delving into how quickly the screenplay was hammered out, casting the sucker two short weeks before cameras rolled, steering the tone in a different direction after actually seeing the beasties, the whole Gremlins-vs.-Ghoulies lawsuit, and how the real-life Toadboy wasn't cast in the role he inspired. I guess Bercovici used up all his best stories early on because the next fifteen minutes are almost nothing but dead air. He chimes in with a couple of sentences sporadically, fumbling for something to say -- more often about Empire in general rather than Ghoulies in particular -- but it's otherwise vast, endless expanses of nothing. It got so bad that I just mashed 'Stop' and decided to move on with my life. Maybe it would've been a different story if someone had been handy to moderate the commentary or if an actor/producer/absolutely-anybody had been in the room with him to spur on conversation, but this is a waste of time.

  • Ghoulies (1985)
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

  • Still Gallery (3 min.; HD): A lot of these look like high-res scans of low-res images, but you get a stack of production stills, artwork, and behind-the-scenes shots from the creature workshop.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up for Ghoulies is a high-def trailer.
Ghoulies II gets something close enough to the special edition treatment too.
  • More Toilets, More Terror: The Making of Ghoulies II (17 min.; HD): The retrospective for the sequel doesn't have nearly as much meat on the bone, despite having a pretty good assortment of contributors handy: executive producer Charles Band, actors Kerry Remsen and Donnie Jeffcoat, and effects guru Gino Crognale. The biggest highlights are Band revealing that the entire carnival was built on an indoor soundstage along with Crognale chatting about how the original creatures were repainted and spiffed up. The rest is pretty much just everyone smiling about what an amazing experience it was. It's sweet, heartfelt, and kind of infectious, but I was hoping for a little more substance.

  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.; HD): Finally! Some of the more gruesome footage that had to be yanked out of Ghoulies II to score a PG-13 rating is included here...and in shiny HD to boot! It's all gore, by the way.

  • Ghoulies II (1988)
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

  • Still Gallery (2 min.; HD): The sequel's still gallery isn't as expansive but looks quite a bit better than the one for the original Ghoulies.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): The trailer for Ghoulies II is presented unmatted in 1.33:1. It's technically in 1080p but doesn't scream "high definition!" so much.

Production stills are highlighted on the flipside of the cover art. No combo pack or slipcover here, for anyone keeping track at home.


The Final Word
As much as I dug the original Ghoulies growing up, you're better off leaving that nostalgic glow in the rear view mirror. Pretty much nothing about the movie has aged well, and that definitely goes for the substandard presentation that Scream Factory has tossed in the microwave for this Blu-ray release. Ghoulies II sticks the landing a hell of a lot better, swinging the spotlight towards the franchise's titular little ghouls -- exactly where it oughtta be -- and remains a hell of a lot of fun more than twenty-five years later. Though the presentations as a whole aren't up to snuff and the extras are hit-or-miss, I can't turn down a high-def double feature of movies that meant this much to me when I was younger, and the very reasonable price tag eases some of the sting. Still recommended as more of a rental, though. Rent It.
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