Ghoulies (1984)

“Ghoulies” is one of the many 80s-based horror franchises I never bothered with at the time, but for some reason have decided to visit for a movie review site in 2018. And it was with sinking heart I noticed it was a Full Moon movie, produced by our old friend Charles Band. I wasn’t planning this (honest).

Let’s make a list of all the other different franchises and individual movies Charles Band has had a hand in in, that feature miniature creatures as the main villains:

I got bored of looking through his filmography at this point, so there are almost certainly more. No-one seems aware of why, but at some point even the most casual observer must think “why so many? Is there really that much of a desire, even among Full Moon’s hardcore fans (pity the poor souls) for tiny creature movies?” Even now, when the budgets are almost non-existent and the return on investment must be microscopic, he’s still knocking out “Puppet Master” sequels.

ASIDE: This movie predates “Gremlins”, so even though Band can be accused of many things, plagiarism (in this instance) isn’t one of them.

Anyway. We’ve got a movie to cover. We start off with a Satanic ritual where a baby is about to be sliced up by a guy with glowing green eyes. He’s got some followers that appear willing until the baby is brought out, and then one lady shouts “no! You said no babies!” and hands the tyke off to Jack Nance, who runs away to keep him safe.

Now, right away, you might think it’s curious to be into Satan but to draw the line at sacrifice, but what do I know? Well, I’d know to get better followers who didn’t immediately wuss out on me, but whatever. Sadly, we leave this little section and jump forward to the present day, where that baby, now an adult man called Jonathan, is taking over possession of his father’s old house, alongside his girlfriend Rebecca. Jack Nance, who for some reason stands mute when Rebecca questions him about why he’s wandered up behind them, is sort of vaguely around as well, although he pretty much disappears at this point up to the last five minutes of the movie.

All this felt a little lazy to me. How long has the Dad been dead? The state of the house would indicate decades, so why didn’t Jonathan take possession of it before now? Why didn’t he introduce his girlfriend to the man who’d brought him up, or at the very least show her a picture of him?

While cleaning the house, he notices a few of his Dad’s old demonic things, and while throwing perhaps the most 80s party ever (non-John Hughes division), decides on what seems like a whim to do a ritual which they think fails, but actually wakes up…the Ghoulies.

When I reviewed “Subspecies” (which is by far the best series Full Moon ever had a hand in), I commented that, considering they’re the titular creatures, they don’t have a lot to do with the movement of the plot. Much is the same here, as the Ghoulies don’t really show up til halfway, then just become the familiars of Jonathan til the final conflagration. Also, they’re a really naff special effect, little rubber creatures with absolutely no articulation at all.

Jonathan gradually gets taken over by the same desires his Dad did, and although you might think, at some point growing up, Jack Nance would have told him what happened, or warned him away from the dark arts, you would not think the same way as the person who wrote the script. He gets worse, eventually his Dad is resurrected, and much like “Hideous!”, it then becomes a Bad vs. Worse battle in which it’s impossible to give a damn about either side. Oh, and there’s a genuinely crappy non-ending which renders the already fairly slow second half completely irrelevant.

Full Moon, I know, used to sell movies to distributors based on a poster, or a title, or a synopsis, and once again I presume those same distributors were less than thrilled to receive something which didn’t deliver on that central promise at all. That Full Moon had a sweet deal with Paramount which they lost due to sleazy tricks like this, and led to a long slow reduction in budgets, talent and fun, should only be a positive for people who’ve never had to sit through any of their later stuff.

My main criticism is how little thought went into any of it. It’s full of holes when there’s no need for them, not funny or scary or gory. The acting is surprisingly great, with a lot of 80s stars in fun roles – Scott Thompson (whose character has a gay subtext which I’m guessing was done by the actors going into business for themselves), Ralph Seymour and Michael Des Barres all do the best with what they have. And it’s the screen debut for one Mariska Hargitay, long before her twenty-year run in the “Law and Order” family of shows.

The best thing about this movie, and they’re treated like an afterthought 😦

There are three more. I feel ill and I really am not looking forward to three more of these damn movies, but I hear part 2 is “Troll 2” levels of bad, so fingers crossed.

Rating: thumbs down

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Quest For The Mighty Sword (1990)

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Re: that hookline, no it doesn’t, and no it doesn’t

You can’t beat a good misleading title, and this one’s a doozy. Our hero doesn’t so much quest for the mighty sword as he does find it under a rock in the home he’s been living in for 15 years or so; and this particular quest is more like the movie’s prologue than anything else, happening in the first 20 minutes. Fans of trash cinema may find those troll outfits familiar, and that’s because they were re-used outfits from “Troll 2” – not the only thing the two movies share (they also both suck).

It’s not just got one misleading title, though, being known as “Troll 3” in some markets, despite director Joe D’Amato releasing another – also entirely unrelated – movie which was billed as “Troll 3” (better known to us as “Creepers”, “The Crawlers” or “Contamination .7”). It’s also occasionally listed as either the third or fourth “Ator” movie, the cheap Conan knock-off series previously starring Miles O’Keefe, despite having nothing to do with any of the previous movies, sharing no cast or plot elements and making the lead character completely different. Oh, plus it’s listed on IMDB as “The Hobgoblin”, which is different to 1988’s (also terrible) “Hobgoblins”.

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Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to ponder such questions as the movie rumbles on, because it’s not exactly packed with conflict. The best way I can think of to describe it is as a computer game with the cheat codes turned on, because while hidden stuff still causes a slight problem, monsters fall immediately and everyone thinks the main character is the best thing ever. I’m going to have a go at recapping this one, because the plot is a delightful, meandering, odd thing and I hope you enjoy reading about it.

 

Ator is a Prince, and we see him dishing out justice to a couple of criminals, who apparently have a win your freedom or die thing going on (spoiler: they don’t go free). Then, a large monster-looking chap, who is apparently a demon, or a minor god, or something, decides that Ator is showing him up by being fair and decent to his subjects, and kills him. Where will it go from here, I wonder? Well, Ator’s wife escapes with her baby and Ator’s broken super-sword and goes along to some hobgoblin she knows who runs a forge. She asks the hobgoblin to raise her son and reforge the sword to give him when he turns 18…oh, and also that she wants to commit suicide due to her husband being dead. You know, like normal. Anyway, the hobgoblin gives her a love potion rather than poison and has his wicked way with her…and then she’s cursed to wander the earth as a prostitute, being beaten and abused by her clients (although we don’t find this out til later).

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The hobgoblin then raises the kid even though he had absolutely no reason to, a kid who grows up to look identical to his own father and is also named Ator. Why not? Ator finds out that this chap betrayed his mother, so after being tricked with a few fake swords and generally having the hobgoblin be a dick towards him, while he’s one his own one day, Ator finds the broken sword, reforges it and splits his former mentor in half. Ator’s helpful old woman turns up and tells him his destiny, which is to rescue the beautiful Dejanira and marry her. She was a goddess who spoke up on behalf of Ator and was sentenced to mortality as a result, although the movie isn’t too good at supplying these details to us.  Someone else wants Dejanira though, the evil Prince Gunther; plus, his sister Grimilde wants Ator for her very own. Gunther is played by the old white guy Donald O’Brien, while Grimilde is the significantly younger Indonesian-born Laura Gemser; it’s a bold move to make them brother and sister, but this movie does it!

 

Anyway, back to the action. Ator beats a couple of baddies up without really trying (including one robot, D’Amato did love his pointless anachronisms), and rescues Dejanira almost embarrassingly easily. He also frees his mother from her curse with no problem at all (in fact, he’s barely aware he’s doing it)…but then the cheat codes don’t work for a minute and they all get captured by Gunther. Before escaping with Ator, Grimilde shapeshifts into Dejanira, but Ator notices pretty quickly, and after confronting her, they nip back to Gunther’s castle, with a predictably quick and easy battle to finish everything off. Oh, there’s a fight against some frog-people in there somewhere, presumably because one of the producers had a warehouse full of the outfits and wanted rid of them; and a friendly guy with a boomerang who pops up to help out.

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We all know the hero is going to survive the movie. That’s a given. But the tension of the powerful villain, or the morally justified one, is what makes these sorts of movies interesting, and when the hero achieves everything he set out to without encountering any resistance, it falls flat. Well, flatter, because nothing about “Quest For The Mighty Sword” is interesting at all. Star Eric Allen Kramer (Robin Hood: Men In Tights, “The Hughleys”) is a solid dependable actor, but here he’s barely trying, and rather than looking like the lean, ripped Miles O’Keefe, looks like a large former high school American football player gone to seed. All the other actors, even those not under troll masks, are terrible too, like they realised that they were in a Joe D’Amato movie and didn’t need to try.

 

Joe D’Amato was, by all accounts, a warm and generous guy to work for, but his filmed output was largely rubbish, being cheap rip-offs of Hollywood genre movies, gory horror, and (almost exclusively towards the end of his career) pornography, of the soft and hard-core varieties. The first two “Ator” movies, one of which was covered by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, are fun affairs, but by this point everyone had stopped caring. Not so much bad as utterly pointless. Sword-and-sorcery movies should at least be a bit exciting.

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Rating: thumbs down