Release Date: March 2nd, 1985 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Luca Bercovici Actors: Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Michael Des Barres, Jack Nance, Mariska Hargitay, Victoria Catlin, Charene Cathleen, Bobbie Bresee
t a satanic ritual commanded by the glowing-green-eyed, knife-wielding Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres), with white-hooded, robed followers, a baby is about to be sacrificed. But the victim’s mother intervenes at the last second, allowing the child to be taken away and saved by participant Wolfgang (Jack Nance), who vows to keep the boy’s identity and history a secret. Now grown up, Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) return to the old, creaky, run-down mansion where the Lucifer rite originally took place. Wolfgang is now serving as the groundskeeper and is still tightlipped about the occult happenings that took place on the premises.
Jonathan and Rebecca decide to liven up the place by throwing a party with dozens of friends. When the festivities and energy start to wane, Jon suggests performing a demonic ritual to conjure up a spirit. No one questions why they’d want to accomplish such a peculiar task, or why so many sketchbooks with pentagrams and devilish imagery turn up all over the property. No one seems genuinely concerned that, while all gathered in the basement for the proceedings, Robin (Charene Cathleen) unexplainably disappears. She turns up later, outside, but offers no explanation for her corporeal transit. The following day, Jon is obsessively drawn to recreating the infernal exercises illustrated in the books and redecorating the large house, telling Rebecca that he’s quitting school to work on fixing up the estate. He also forges a talisman for Rebecca’s protection, begins fasting, continues his black magic studies, and eventually summons a band of small, evil ghouls to do his bidding – much to his girlfriend’s dismay.
While it’s little more than a derivation of “Gremlins,” “Ghoulies” boasts a more sinister, darker tone that doesn’t shift. It’s routinely serious, except that the constant meaningless mutterings, screaming, and undefined powers of the possessed Jonathan alternate between boring and grossly under-explained (“Jonathan! How?” inquires Rebecca, to which he shouts, “Don’t ask me!”), despite the short running time. The monsters themselves are rubbery puppets that are anything but cute, though they exhibit a curious ugliness that is wholeheartedly amusing. Many scenes with the ghoulies are hilariously and unintentionally comical. The special effects are dated but utile, with creature designs and effects by Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, aided by decent costumes, makeup, and sets. To combat all of the worthwhile elements, however, the film employs trite, bland dialogue and stale acting.
With Charles Band serving as executive producer, “Ghoulies” never had much of a chance to transcend the cheesy, B-movie vibe that permeates all of his projects. Wolfgang narrates at the most inconvenient times, quite unnecessarily, to reiterate notions clearly being displayed onscreen. And a young Mariska Hargitay (of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” fame) has a brief role as Donna, a partygoer who proposes a game of Trivial Pursuit before the tiny, toothy critters are summoned from beyond. In the end, there aren’t any heroes to support, villains to despise, or grand moments to inspire thrills – just a few barely memorable scenes of undead creature violence (and some utter nonsense, such as a thick, clawed, reptilian hand emerging from a clown’s mouth while gushing green goo).
– Mike Massie