Halloween Scene: Ghoulies III, Ghoulies Go To College (1991)

A few months back my pal Rickey told me about this amazing 8 movie, 2-disc set from Lionsgate that includes Chopping Mall, Ghoulies Go To College, 976-EVIL 2, C.H.U.D. II, Slaughter High, Waxwork, The Unholy and Class of 1999. I love Chopping Mall and have seen Class of 1999, so after failing to find a copy at my local Walmart and Kmart I went to ebay and picked up a copy myself. I haven’t fully utilized it this October, but I did pop on Ghoulies 3 and had a fantastic time watching this flick. By the way, you can get this set for under $5 right now on Amazon, which is definitely less than I paid.

As regular readers surely know by now, I’m a big fan of goofy horror movies and 80s/90s high school and college movies. Ghoulies Go To College is actually a really great synthesis of the two, kind of like a cross between something like Critters and a less serious Revenge of the Nerds. The movie follows a trio of Ghoulies who get brought back to our plane of existence thanks to a comic book read by an angry professor. Said professor is sick of the prank war going on between two fraternities and it just so happens that the Ghoulies’ brand of murderous mayhem fits in well with the war being waged. I have to say, I thought this was a pretty brilliant way to have the Ghoulies’ actions be seen and experienced without directly pointing to them.

I put this movie on expecting almost nothing and walking away really surprised and even a little impressed. The puppetry in this movie is surprisingly good. You’d think by the third installment of a film that hadn’t been released in the US on DVD until this set would have some pretty awful special effects, but there seems to be either a fair amount of money behind this production or some really creative uses of what money they had. You also get the added bonus of the three main Ghoulies being pretty funny. They spend a good deal of the movie dressed up like late 80s/early 90s college kids which made me chuckle every time. They also talk, which can be kind of annoying, but they get a few good ones in here and there. Plus, this happens:

So, yes, this is two great tastes that taste great together for me, delivering on what I hoped to get from Welcome To Spring Break. It’s definitely goofy, but balances out the horror with the college stuff to deliver a fun little movie that probably deserves a more impressive release than this one.

Halloween Scene: Critters 2 (1988)

Most of my experience with the Critters franchise comes from seeing the boxes of the four films at the video store as a kid and thinking they looked pretty damn creepy. All fur, red eyes and teeth, how could they not be? Well, the films I’ve seen so far — the first one a few years back and now the sequel — do a pretty good job of making the Krites seem not so creepy.

The Critters movies are odd. They’re obviously Gremlins rip-offs, but instead of just borrowing the basic premise and getting on with it, these mini monsters are aliens who are hunted down by intergalactic, shape shifting bounty hunters. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it is and as I said when I reviewed the first film, the sci-fi stuff is actually pretty well done. What keeps these movies from being great and unique is the goofy tone that undercuts the horror and doesn’t seem to achieve the right balance. It works in something like Shaun of the Dead where you go from jokey moments to full on gore, but the structure and direction isn’t here. I’m guessing, though, that it wasn’t intended to be a great film or rival the amazing Gremlins in story, so they just kind of went with it.

The story revolves around the kid from the first one returning to his home town of Grover’s Bend a few years after the events of the first one. He gets there just in time for a batch of Krite eggs to start hatching. The bounty hunters from the first one also return to destroy the eggs — which the townspeople have painted for Easter — and shenanigans ensue.

At the end of the day, the results aren’t bad, they just don’t match up with the story I created in my head after seeing the box. That said, there are still some pretty solid gore scenes and a good deal of the little buggers get smashed, blown up, set on fire and stepped on, so that’s fun. I should also note, while the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, the creature effects actually do look pretty great. This isn’t just little people in funny robes like Troll 2, but actual puppets doing all kinds of things.

And that’s really the key to this movie, fun. It doesn’t take itself so serious and it comes across. Critters isn’t what I would call required watching for a horror fan by any means, but they’re with checking out with some friends and some beers (man, a lot of my reviews end like that, don’t they?).

Halloween Scene: Best Worst Movie (2009)

Wow, you guys. I’ve been hearing about Best Worst Movie for a while now. It’s a documentary that catches up with the cast and crew behind Troll 2, which I have seen and, while it is bad and nonsensical, is not the worst movie I have ever seen. Anyway, I’ve heard things here and there about this doc, about how it catches up with everyone and shows them the huge fan following this movie has accrued over the years. With that little bit of knowledge, I kind of assumed it would be a kind of uplifting thing, along the lines of “Hey, we made this thing that seems bad but people have really embraced.” And that’s part of it, but there’s even more. Very honestly, this movie is an emotional roller coaster in the same vein as the amazing King Of Kong.

So, the description I had in mind is pretty correct for maybe half of the movie. Then it gets into the realness of the situation. As a fan of bad movies, I understand that mentality. We like laughing earnestly made things that turned out pretty crappy. It’s the same thing as my current favorite podcast How Did This Get Made? But, there’s a dark side to that, of course. Most directors, actors and crew members don’t go into a movie saying “Let’s make something laughably silly.” They go in wanting to make something good or to create something that will be a stepping stone to something bigger and better. Being in a movie like Troll 2 might get you a line at a Horror Hound convention in Cincinnati, but it’s the kiss of death if you’re looking to move on to something bigger and better (unless of course you’re George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston).

That other side of the coin gets its own spotlight in the doc and it honestly made my stomach hurt. And I’m not even referring to the people who still hang on to the possibility of acting (the mom) or the ones looking back at their careers thinking they could have done more (Grandpa Seth), though their scenes made me sad for another reason I’ll get to in a minute. The director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso has zero sense of humor when it comes to his work. This man talks very deeply about the sharing of human emotion and, at the end of the movie, very awkwardly interrupts a screening where the actors are joking around about not being able to understand him and not understanding the script. This man was clearly passionate about the project and (maybe) liked the finished project. He does not have a sense of humor about any of this. I feel bad for him.

Back to the mom and Grandpa Seth, oh man, I felt so bad for them too. Grandpa Seth sits on his easy chair surrounded by Hoarders-level stacks of books or magazines or something and explains that he would have liked to act more, but didn’t want to move to LA. He then goes on about how he wished his career had been different, but it’s all topped by the very end of the movie where they’re catching everyone up on these folks and all it says is that he’s retired and likes Family Guy. What? Really?! That’s a life? Ugh. Meanwhile the mom from the movie has one scene where she talks about getting back into acting, presumably after her elderly mother passes away (it’s not directly said, but that’s how I took it) and saying that she just wants to run away to a completely different places with different neighbors who don’t make the kind of high pitches sounds that would make Lloyd and Harry would get annoyed at. These two got to me because they either are still holding on to or held on too long to the dream of being an actor. These are the kinds of things that get to me, being a wannabe writer of fiction. How long do you hold on to lofty dreams? When is it time to just say “Nope, not gonna happen, I don’t have it in me” or “The cards are not being dealt in my favor”? Oh man, too close to home as I’m nearing my 29th birthday.

But, thankfully, there are less sad parts and people in this movie. The young boy from the movie is the one spearheading the documentary. He embraces the whole thing in the same way fans of bad movies do, but it’s because he has already processed the feelings of embarrassment and career-dread unlike some of the others. He makes a great touchstone, but the real star of the film is the dad, George Hardy. George is a dentist and one of the nicest guys around. He’s cool with the film’s legacy, for the most part. But, even he has a a few dark moments in the film, both of which revolve around conventions. The first has almost no people coming to a screening of Troll 2 and the second is a big horror show that leaves him with the impression that the attendees are weird, some of his fellow attendees are desperate losers and director Neil Marshall is kind of a jerk. Now, all of those things may be true (I have no idea, I’ve never been to a horror convention), but seeing the main “I’m okay with my life” person in the movie go down that path is a bummer. That’s life though, we all have our bad moments. I got the impression that George was very excited to embrace this underground fandom at first, but got bored with it very quickly. He saw the movie 20 times and doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would like movies ironically and he even says he doesn’t like horror flicks, so what’s the appeal for him? I’m guessing that “I want to be famous” spark that still lies inside him from his days of wanting to be an actor.

What makes this movie so interesting, aside from the various perspectives that one film can create in its audience and crew, is how it showcases so many different aspects of humanity and the desire for fame. Some people in Troll 2 went on to make their own movies while others gave up and went into other fields. There really is a lot to unpack in this film, far more than the “It’s so bad it’s good” fans might want, actually. This isn’t an obsessed fan’s love letter to the film, more like a document of how one film has changed the lives of many. I liked it a lot, but I’m not sure if I’ll watch it again. Sometimes things just get too real.

The Great Gremlins Goof

I tried getting over it, but I just can’t. As regular readers will hopefully remember, I’m a big fan of both Gremlins movies. I even watched both of them leading into Christmas again this year. Heck, I watched Gremlins twice because I realized after I finished it the first time that director Joe Dante and company did a commentary track that I had never listened to before, which spawned me to watch the sequel with a similar commentary.

So, when I saw that Mondo would be selling the above, awesome Gremlins poster drawn by Ken Taylor I was pretty excited, I even mentioned it in my increasingly sporadic Casting Internets section last week. In an effort to get my hands on one of the posters–I liked the above basic one better than the variant–I started following Mondo on Twitter and kept my eyes peeled. In fact, I only left my computer for about 10-15 minutes to take a shower. And guess what? That’s when the poster went on sale. Blam, I missed it.

Now, I don’t usually get too excited about these things. The reality of the situation is that I don’t actually have space to put up cool posters like this. I don’t currently have an office and as cool as this poster is, it wouldn’t really fit in our living room. I’ve been cutting way down on the amount of geeky stuff I purchase mostly because of space and financial restrictions, but I figured this poster would be worth it to buy now and hold on to for that fateful day when I actually have an office or man cave.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. By the time I got back to my computer it had sold out. It was about 10 minutes. The Gremlins 2 poster was still available, but it just didn’t strike me as much as the other one. I know I should be over it by now. I had a wonderful Christmas with my wife and daughter–her first. I’ve had some great time off with family and friends. And yet, it still gnaws at me a bit. I made the mistake of looking them up on ebay yesterday and they’re going for hundreds of dollars. Ugh. Well hopefully, this post will help get the disappointment out of my system. I mean, there’s way bigger things in this world to worry about than a poster, right?

Casting Internets

For once, I’m close to up to date on my Read It Later reading, so I figured I’d do a CI before Christmas comes and I ignore the internet fort a while!

In addition to my daily Spinoff posts, I also wrote a bunch of stories for CBR including an interview with Jim Valentino about Shadowline, Tim Seeley relaunching Bloodstrike as well as Seeley and Ron Marz on Witchblade.

James Kochalka once again captured one of the thoughts that runs through my head every day back on December 20th. So much coffee…Um, I almost can’t write how much I like this Gremlins poster from Mondo.

How freaking awesome is it that the Foo Fighters and their audience in New Zealand emitted volcanic tremors? (via Rolling Stone)From the world of sketchblogs, I’ve been really enjoying Scott C’s Christmas themed Showdowns and Glen Brogan’s 25 Days of Christmas entries.

I’m fascinated by places writers write, so I dig seeing Peter Straub’s entry on Write Place, Write Time.

Ron Marz did his most recent Shelf Life post on a similar subject: writing location. Makes me want a desk and and miss my old coffee shop hangout at the same time.

I’m very curious how the Beach Boys will sound on their 50th anniversary tour. (via Rolling Stone)

Jeffrey Tambor has learned quite a lot of interesting things and passed them along to us through Esquire. My personal favorite bit: “The secret of life is to be surrounded by people who get you — just the people who get you.”
I haven’t seen any of the Peter Davidson Doctor Who stuff, but I very much like the Springfield Punx version of him. Fabio Moon drawing a Serenity story for Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day offering? Yes please.

Halloween Scene: Child’s Play (1988)

If you were to ask the average person over 25 to name five slashers with their own franchises you’d probably end up with a list that includes Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy, Leatherface and…Chucky. When I started my horror odyssey so many years ago, I was way more interested in those first four than the fifth. In fact, I completely disregarded the Child’s Play series as a bunch of goofy movies with a doll trying to kill people. I’ve always had a problem with killer doll/toy stories because you can either melt them or they’re magic and you’re screwed. So, these flicks were never a priority, especially after seeing bits and pieces of the sequels on TV here and there and not being impressed.

But, since it’s a somewhat long-running and popular horror series–and the first movie’s on Netflix Instant, though not the rest–I figured it would make for perfect Halloween Scene fodder. And you know what? It wound up surprising me. Much like the Freddy flicks, the Chuky movies started out pretty serious and then bought into their own hype, making Chucky an over the top wiseacre.

As you probably know, Chucky started out as a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray who gets gutshot in a toy store and winds up doing a voodoo incantation over a Good Guys doll, thus transferring his soul. He winds up in the home of a young boy and his mother, slowly wreaking havoc in the process.

What surprised me about the movie is how long they play up the mystery as to whether the kid is actually nuts or not. He’s always saying the doll told him things, but you never see it. I don’t know if I ever really bought the idea that it could be the kid, though. I mean, obviously I knew the story going in, but I also didn’t think the kid showed enough creepy tendencies to be a murderer. The weirdest thing you see him do is make breakfast for his mom that includes lots of sugary cereal with extra scoops of sugar and completely burnt toast with an ice cream scoop’s worth of Country Crock. Heck, he looks scarier on the French poster above than he ever does in the flick.

By keeping the truth a secret, the film also builds the creepiness and withholds the wisecracks and profanity from the murderous doll until the end, when the mom is in on what’s going on and Chucky’s on a rampage. I’ll even say that the movie has some good gore/effects scenes in that end series of events, especially when SPOILER the doll’s all burnt up. I had a My Buddy as a kid and would constantly kick the crap out of it, so I had no problem seeing this facsimile getting all messed up.

I’m not sure how the rest of the movies go. I doubt there’s a Dream Warriors in the bunch that stands apart as an awesome movie on it’s own, but I’m a lot more willing to give them a look now that I know that they at least come from an interesting source.

Halloween Scene: Dolls (1987) & 10 To Midnight (1983)

As much as I’ve been digging 007 lately, dedicating so much time to that franchise–whose movies tend to all hover around the two hour mark–has kept me away from watching other kinds of movies, specifically horror flicks. I still have to finish Die Another Day (almost finished last Friday before running off to New Hampshire) and the Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, but the missus wants to watch those as well, so it might take a while for me to get to them. Anyway, I had a great time today going through Netflix Instant and checking out three movies (I also watched Dollman, which doesn’t have enough horror elements for me to include it here, but I might do a Quick Movie Review of it). Anyway, I must have been going through the “weird movies that begin with D” on Netflix a while back because Dolls was the next movie on the ol’ queue and I went for it, especially after realizing that Stuart Gordon directed it. I’ve seen embarrassingly few of his movies only seeing Re-Animator once a long time ago as well as Robot Jox which was a lot of fun and the strange/bad Space Truckers. I even had the pleasure of interviewing Gordon once, but I’m sure I’ll post something separate about that sooner or later.

Anyway, Dolls is about a young girl in England with her asshole father and stepmom whose car breaks down so they have to spend the night in a nearby mansion owned by an old couple with a penchant for doll-making. A nice guy played by Stephen Lee (he’s fantastic in this movie) also shows up at the house with a pair of British punk rawk chicks in order to up the body count and give the little girl someone to confide in. As the night–the longest one of the year, or something–the dolls start coming to life and taking out various guests with only the little girl knowing what’s up. Of course, her folks don’t listen to her because she apparently has visions or daydreams or something and is constantly talking about monsters and fairies and whatnot. The only one of these we see is early on when she envisions her thrown-away teddy bear becoming a giant, turning into a real bear and killing her parents. This scene convinced me this movie was worth watching. See here:

I don’t usually like killer toy/doll movies because I’m always thinking “Just crush it.” This movie handles that well by throwing tons of dolls at our house guests. The sheer numbers, not to mention their weapons like tiny knives, overwhelm one person, while another uses a makeshift weapon to wreck shop on a bunch of them, so it’s not like everyone is being taken out wholesale by these tiny things. THEN, things get flipped even more SPOILER when it turns out that the dolls aren’t normal dolls. They have little creatures inside that turn out to be previous guests who proved to be immoral and were thus turned into mini monsters by the couple who own the house who are also witches. It’s a great turn that makes them more dangerous and threatening. A good work around to a pretty great movie, possibly my favorite killer toy movie of them all!

It’s kind of funny how similar Dolls and 10 To Midnight wound up being. Like Stuart Gordon, I haven’t seen nearly enough Charles Bronson movies with some Death Wish flicks, The Mechanic, The Dirty Dozen, Breakout and maybe a few others under my belt. It also wound up being a kind of movie that I don’t usually like–gritty, real life killer in the slasher role–that I wound up digging. Heck, I wasn’t even expecting a horror movie when I selected the movie. It was in my head because my buddy Rickey mentioned it over on his excellent VHS review site Crucial VHS when talking about Death Wish 4 the other day.

Honestly, had I not wanted to write about two of the three movies I watched in one post, I probably would have dubbed 10 To Midnight as an action/crime movie. I was going to say that it’s about as much of a horror movie as something like Dirty Harry where you wind up seeing a good deal of the action from the killer’s perspective, but as I write, I’m turning more towards the idea that this is actually a horror movie in the vein of Maniac or something like that. We spend about equal time with the killer–a young man with sexual issues who kills his victims in the nude (there’s a lot of man butt in this movie)–and the cops one of which is Bronson. Plus, there’s a good deal of blood in the kills. From the very beginning we see the face of the killer who actually looks like Josh Brolin, but isn’t and the movie’s kind of a cat and mouse game with Bronson crossing a line and planting evidence which he later admits to. Of course, this pisses the killer off and he winds up going after Bronson’s daughter. It’s interesting because, after the court scene, Bronson actually takes on the role of a slasher, constantly following the killer, calling him at all hours, breaking into his house and even hanging pictures of the killer’s victims at his place of work. That’s another reason I labeled this one a horror movie, though the flick’s never really scary even if it has it’s suspenseful moments.

All in all, I’m realizing it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with a Bronson movie. He’s just so cool and such a badass and he always does the thing that people want to do, but usually don’t thanks to moral or legal concerns. Plus, I love his freaking voice. People always say stuff like they could listen to someone read the phone book, I wouldn’t go that far, but I wish he had had a career as an audiobook reader before passing away because he could make even Tess Of The d’Urbervilles interesting (hate that book). Thanks to Rickey for putting this movie on my radar and Jesse for also encouraging me to watch it. Great pick bros!