Ghoulies 4 (1994)

So we come to the end of another horror series, one which (due to its chequered ownership history) appears unlikely to come back in the form of a remake, soft reboot, part 5, anything like that. Thank you, complicated entertainment law!

I have complained, often, about horror movies which don’t really feature the titular creature or villain, which just use the name to sell a few extra copies. The later “Hellraiser” and “Witchcraft” entries are the best examples of this, but there are dozens of others, and to that long long list we must add “Ghoulies 4”. The ghoulies are 100% entirely irrelevant to the plot, show up maybe three times, and interact with the main cast once.

Kudos for this and other puzzling choices must go to the director, ISCFC’s old friend Jim Wynorski. I once won a $10 voucher at a trivia night for knowing about “Chopping Mall”, so for that and the excellent LP I bought with the voucher, thanks Mr Wynorski, but those of you with long memories may remember my less-than-kind words about him and the other more recent movies he’s made. Since the millennium, he’s given us “Cleavagefield”, “The Witches of Breastwick”, “The Hills Have Thighs”, numerous entries in the “Bare Wench Project” series, and “House On Hooter Hill”, among lots of family movies presumably destined to trick undiscerning grandparents doing Netflix searches for their grandchildren; and sub-SyFy Channel efforts like “Dinocroc vs Supergator”.

I find him, David DeCouteau and Fred Olen Ray to be among the worst that B-movies have to offer, as their sole purpose in life – certainly since the fall of Blockbuster – appears to be to spit out “content” for late-night cable channels that are obliged by some obscure clause in their charter to make X hours of original programming a month. Two hours (with adverts) of a Wynorski movie is cheaper than sending a film crew to show topless women at mardi gras, one presumes – and while I don’t think they’re to blame for the state of low budget cinema, they certainly eagerly participate in its worst excesses.

But that’s a subject for another time. We’re here to talk the last Ghoulies movie, featuring a return from Peter Liapis as “Jonathan Graves”, star of part 1. He’s now a cop, because why not, and is the sort of loose cannon that we bad movie afficionados know and love, with the added wrinkle that his Captain is his ex-partner and ex-girlfriend, Kate (Barbara Alyn Woods). He gets a new partner, who’s a complete imbecile; and he’s also got a girlfriend who’s a prostitute, and he seems happy with her plying her trade while the two of them are an item. This does seem to be a thing in American horror cinema, even though this might be the last example of it (I guess STDs and the massive prevalence of hard drugs in that “community” have changed opinions).

Into this fun and games steps another ex-girlfriend, Alexandra (Stacie Randall), from way back in Jonathan’s life, back when he was still messing with the dark arts. Wait, says the viewer of part 1. His girlfriend back then wasn’t called Alexandra, and his entire life in the dark arts was documented in that movie – he wasn’t into it before, and as all his friends nearly died, one would assume he’d stop messing with it afterwards. So why has he got an ex who he clearly did black magic with? Shhh, dear viewer. Think not on such conundrums. Anyway, Alexandra is trying to find a special jewel with which she can summon a sexy male demonic entity called Faust – she loses the first jewel because she’s an idiot and Faust gives her poor instructions, but our old friend Jonathan has the second one, hung round his neck.

Jonathan investigates the theft of the first jewel, which is how he gets involved in the plot, and the aborted attempt to summon Faust causes an open door, through which come two ghoulies. Well, I call them ghoulies. Unlike the puppets of parts 1-3, Jim Wynorski just decided to hire two midgets and have them run around in largely identical outfits (save for a few shades of colour) that look absolutely nothing like the other ghoulies. They chat, crack “jokes” and seem, in a rather odd 180 from previous instalments, to be good guys.

What else to say? My notes include “anti-Bechdel test”, which is a conversation between two women so intently focused on one man that it was almost a joke. There are boxes in one scene labelled for delivery to Miskatonic University in Arkham, MA, aka the place where lots of HP Lovecraft stories are set. There’s a weirdly light-hearted scene where Kate gets a full condom thrown on her from another car, by accident.

A few words about Jonathan, who’s now sort of an alcoholic. Imagine you have to go through the stuff he’s gone through, and being an alcoholic would be about the best case scenario – but I do wish he’d taken better care of that jewel round his neck. He fights an Asian dude near the end for absolutely no reason, and the reveal of who Faust actually is is pointlessly undercut by a few lines of dialogue about ten minutes before. Same old, same old.

It’s just not very good, even if it’s not particularly obvious that Wynorski was going cheap on the making of it. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens, with no consistency in tone and no good jokes. Best that this series is now retired.

Rating: thumbs down

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Xtro 2: The Second Encounter (1990)

At least the box is honest

At least the box is honest

The thing about sequels is, even if the story doesn’t follow from one to the other, it’s nice to have some sort of continuity. Whether it’s a lead actor (“Bloodfist”, “Project: Shadowchaser”), a villain (“Predator”) or just an activity (“No Retreat , No Surrender”, “Bring It On”), almost all sequels will have some thread connecting them. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed by the way I’ve constructed this paragraph, “Xtro 2” is not any old sequel.

Trying to figure out just why the not exactly beloved “Xtro” got a part 2 is one of the very few entertaining things to do while watching this – and let’s just get it out of the way. It’s such an enormous rip-off of “Aliens” that I’m genuinely amazed James Cameron and his people didn’t sue director Harry Bromley Davenport – an additional problem being that the first movie is more similar in tone to a low-budget “Hellraiser”, meaning the two have literally nothing in common but a name. Researching, it seems Davenport only made “Xtro 2” because he retained the rights to that name, but not the story, and needed the money.

XTRO

Someone else who probably needed the money was star Jan Michael Vincent, formerly of “Airwolf” – we first see him in a cabin in the woods after retiring from his high-powered Government job, just in case you didn’t make the connection yourself. Now, Vincent has been an alcoholic and junkie since at least the early 80s, and is such a total mess he’s not acted for fifteen years; and it’s fairly safe to say this was filmed during a rough time for him. He looks awful and according to Davenport, refused to learn his lines and seemed not to care about acting at all (he had to feed Vincent most of his lines from just off camera). I’d normally try and be more sympathetic to Mr. Vincent but he seems to have had a habit of getting drunk and driving his car, and he’s extremely fortunate to have not killed anyone else.

I still haven’t mentioned this damn movie, have I? Scientists have figured out a way to beam people into alternate dimensions. Vincent is the only person to have done it and come back, and when they lose a team of three scientists, he’s brought out of retirement to assist with the rescue preparation. Evil Dr Summerfield doesn’t like Vincent, though, so he brings in a four-person “strike force” to go to the other dimension and bust some alien ass; before they get the chance to set off, one of the scientists is discovered in the other dimension and beamed back, but wouldn’t you just know it, he’s carrying something back in his chest cavity!

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That’s all the recap you’re getting, Go watch “Alien” and “Aliens” if you want to see the same plot done several thousand times better. The beats are the same, the ideas are the same, some of the props appear to be the same, but “Aliens” didn’t have a drunk asshole who couldn’t be bothered to learn his lines in the lead role. I’ve been trying to think of something nice to say about it, but there’s really nothing. Sorry! Well, there’s a bunch of perfectly serviceable supporting roles, but that’s almost the definition of damning with faint praise.

Perhaps the only thing of any worth to be gained from this was finding the 17 minute “Xtro Xposed”, an interview with Davenport, which is one of the most honest interviews with someone in the movie business I’ve ever seen. On the first movie: “there’s nothing to it at all. It’s rubbish”. “Everything about this film is dreadful”. And referring to this one: “it truly is a piece of garbage”. He’s kind to people who deserve it – Robert Shaye of New Line, Maryam D’Abo and Bernice Stegers from the first movie; but brutally honest about everyone else, including himself. I wish more people would do interviews like this – because you know he’s not on his own in his opinion of the movie business.

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Seriously, why are you still reading this? Nothing good can come of watching “Xtro 2”. Avoid at all costs.

Rating: thumbs down

The Hidden 2 (1993)

Hey, that guy's only in the first movie!

Hey, that guy’s only in the first movie!

I loved “The Hidden”, the greatest of the surprisingly durable “alien cop chases bad alien on earth” genre. Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri were excellent in the central roles, the various alien-possessed humans were all good…then, in 1993, they decided to make a straight-to-video sequel, featuring no returning cast members. But I’ll reserve judgement!

No good movie, though, has ever started by spending its first 15 minutes recapping the events of its prequel. It doesn’t even bother doing all the best bits! Anyway, after the alien exploded at the end of the first film, a dog just strolled into the middle of a crime scene, picked up a piece of alien flesh and strolled out. Luckily, that piece was an egg or something, because it takes over the dog, get itself to a disused factory, lays eggs and then goes into sort-of-hibernation for 15 years.

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If you’ve seen any low-budget movie, you’ll know that this factory will be the location for a good half of what’s to come. The alien cop from the first one realises the alien didn’t properly die (and has conveniently mutated him to the point he can be played by a different actor), but he dies and then backup from his home planet turns up, to meet with Nouri’s daughter, now all grown up. He does half a bad Kyle MacLachlan impression, they fall in love (given their first meeting nearly results in one of them getting shot, she warms to him incredibly quickly), etc.

It’s all fairly standard. The problem is, they almost deliberately ignore the rules they set up in the first movie, and they were good rules! Both the alien cop and the daughter could sense whether people were aliens or not just by looking at them, now, not so much; and the alien which would have been an egg at the time, remembers stuff which went on in the first movie. That any tiny fragment of alien could become a new alien just seems a stupid “what’s the best way to make a sequel?” 4am writers’ room decision. Why didn’t the good aliens send like a thousand agents to kill the bad guy alien? Why just one, if it’s so important?

Hidden201

Because the first movie used the city so well, this sequel is a bit like making “Titanic 2” and setting it on a liferaft. But even saying that, it’s not terrible – the two central performances are okay, some of the action is fun…it just feels so pointless. I’d rate this below “Alien Space Avenger”, to be honest. That had slightly less people sat around talking.

Rating: thumbs down