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Ghoulies (August 16/03)

Admittedly, Ghoulies is one of those movies that fascinated me when I was a kid. That now-infamous image of a monster emerging from a toilet was enough to pique my interest, but it wasn't until recently that I actually got to watch the movie. As generally tends to be the case with things that seem cool to us as children, Ghoulies doesn't amount to much - and worse than that, the ghoulie-popping-out-of-a-toilet sequence lasts all of three seconds.

The film opens with a bizarre ritualistic ceremony ruled over by Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres), whose attempts to sacrifice his own baby son are rendered fruitless (it probably doesn't help that he tried to snatch a baby from its mother's arms). Cut to many years later, and said baby has grown up into a man named Jonathan (Peter Liapis) - who, along with his girlfriend (played by Lisa Pelikan), is preparing to move into the mansion from the opening sequence. Almost immediately, Jonathan begins showing an interest in the black magic rituals his father presumably specialized in. He becomes so skilled that he's eventually able to conjure up the titular ghoulies, a group of small monsters willing to do his bidding.

For a movie called Ghoulies, the creatures have surprisingly limited screen time. The majority of the story is devoted to Jonathan's attempts to master the black arts, with the ghoulies relegated to supporting roles (finally, towards the end, they're allowed to take center stage and begin slaughtering hapless party guests). But the problem is, among other things, Jonathan's efforts just aren't interesting. By the time he finally conjures up the ghoulies, it's almost impossible to care. Having said that, it's the ghoulies themselves that prove to be the only worthwhile aspect of the film. It's fairly obvious that they're not meant to inspire terror in viewers, as evidenced by the sequence featuring a ghoulie playing the piano, and on that level they're a lot of fun.

But there's no storyline here, and the film runs out of steam long before the end credits have begun to roll. The entire midsection of Ghoulies, featuring Jonathan's discovery of his burgeoning powers, is essentially disposable; this likely would've worked a lot better as a quick montage accompanied by the requisite cheesy '80s pop tune. It's not until the last half hour or so that things start to happen, starting with the resurrection of Jonathan's long-dead father - with the action culminating in a bizarre battle between Malcolm and the local nutjob (played by David Lynch regular Jack Nance). That fight was good for a few laughs, mostly because the two men eventually take to shooting lasers out of their eyes at each other, but it's one of the few bright spots in the movie.

The script for Ghoulies, written by Luca Bercovici and Jefery Levy, does contain a few instances of cleverness (it's brimming with movie references, from Rosemary's Baby to The Ten Commandments), but there's just not enough here to warrant a recommendation. How this managed to spawn three sequels is beyond me, though the ghoulies themselves are enjoyably campy.

out of

About the DVD: The primary extra on this disc is the sequel, which can be found on the flip side (there's also a trailer). But for fans of the film, this MGM release will surely seem heavenly; this letterboxed transfer is surely the best Ghoulies has ever looked on home video.
© David Nusair
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