Back in the Charles Band Productions era, future Oscar-winning effects artist Stan Winston worked on 1976’s Mansion of the Doomed. He also worked on makeup effects for 1977’s Dracula’s Dog, which was directed by Albert Band, Charles Band’s father. This started a friendship between Band and Winston that lasted for many years, even after Winston went onto bigger projects. Most notably, Winston worked on the creature effects for Band’s 1982 film Parasite, which starred a then-unknown Demi Moore. Around this time, Winston and Band were discussing ideas for a potential film called Beasties, centering around tiny creatures. Nothing came of the project, but Band revisited it after Joe Dante’s Gremlins was released in 1984 to massive success. He hired Parasite co-star Luca Bercovici to co-write and direct, as well as John Carl Buechler to do the effects. The result was the 1985 creature feature Ghoulies.
Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) have recently moved into the estate of Jonathan’s late father. They invite several friends over for a party to celebrate, and Jonathan decides to perform a ritual with them downstairs. Though nothing seems to happen initially, the ritual ends up summoning several tiny creatures called Ghoulies, who become Jonathan’s servants. Soon, Jonathan becomes more and more obsessed with the occult and the estate much to the dismay of Rebecca. Eventually, Jonathan ends up performing a ritual that resurrects his late father Malcolm (Michael Des Barres), a satanic cult leader. Turns out Jonathan was supposed to be sacrificed as a baby but was protected by his late mother. Now with Malcolm restored, he takes control of the Ghoulies and plans to steal Jonathan’s youth to remain young forever. Will Jonathan and friends escape, or will Malcolm and his Ghoulies succeed?
While the film may have been made to capitalize on the success of Gremlins, Ghoulies is still an entertaining watch. One thing that makes this stand out is the gothic scenery and atmosphere, giving off a very eerie presence. For a first-time director, Bercovici shows some promise behind the camera, and the late Mac Ahlberg’s cinematography compliments this. The Ghoulie puppets themselves, though not as intricate as the Gremlins or Critters, are still impressive and uniquely designed. The late great John Carl Buechler was always Band’s go-to guy for makeup and creature effects, and with good reason. No matter how small the budget or how limited the resources, Buechler always delivered some quality work. He’d go on to do effects for other Band films including Re-Animator, Trancers, From Beyond, TerrorVision, and Demonic Toys. Sadly, he passed away in 2019 due to prostate cancer, and he’ll be missed.
Acting-wise, the cast ranges from decent to not very memorable, aside from a few exceptions, namely Liapis and Des Barres. As the villainous Malcolm, Des Barres is clearly reveling in playing such an over-the-top villain, but still makes it believable. Liapis does a good job going from likable protagonist to obsessed creep then back to hero struggling against evil. Character actor Jack Nance (Eraserhead) pops in as the groundskeeper, but he doesn’t have much to do until the end. However, Ghoulies is also noteworthy for featuring a then-unknown Mariska Hargitay years before becoming famous for Law and Order: SVU. The rest of the cast is mostly there as cannon fodder, but none of them are particularly annoying or hateful. Despite these and other issues, this was still successful enough for Empire Pictures to continue making movies throughout the 80s. Overall, Ghoulies is a fun creature feature with memorable monsters.
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