Every so often, a film gets made that is so singularly baffling, so misguided and so wrongheaded that it is a kind of terrible miracle—something that should not be and yet is. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is exactly that kind of film.

On paper, it makes sense: a studio sees the success of the wildly popular line of Topps trading cards during the mid-’80s and determines a movie is there. The rights were snatched up by the Atlantic Entertainment Group and co-writer/director Rod Amateau was hired to bring the Garbage Pail Kids to the screen. Legendary effects man and sometimes director John Carl Buechler designed animatronic heads to be worn by little people actors and about $1 million was spent to make what would become The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, now widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. It’s now available in high-def for the first time courtesy of Scream Factory, a studio known for bringing nightmares to Blu-ray. It’s just that the nightmares are usually intentional—not of the “accidentally terrifying children’s film” variety.

Mackenzie Astin plays Dodger, a kid who might be an orphan(?) who works as an assistant to Captain Manzini (Anthony Newley), the owner of an antique shop. Dodger is picked on a lot, particularly by the boyfriend of Tangerine (Katie Barberi), the girl he’s crushing on. During a particularly bad run-in with the bullies one day, Dodger is rescued by the Garbage Pail Kids, a group of hideous, but lovable(?), mutants who have arrived from space and live in a garbage can housed at Captain Manzini’s. There’s Greaser Greg, Windy Winston (who farts), Messy Tessie (constantly dripping snot), Nat Nerd (covered in acne), Foul Phil (a baby with terrible breath), Valerie Vomit (take a guess), and Ali Gator, who is part alligator because there are only so many bodily functions you can get away with in a kids’ film. When it’s discovered that the Garbage Pail Kids are good at sewing (of course they are good at sewing), Dodger enlists them to help create a fashion line for Tangerine so that she’ll like him.

Where does one even begin talking about The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? It is misguided in almost every way possible, trapped between being a gross-out comedy, a trauma-inducing horror film and a sickly sentimental “family” movie. In trying to be all of these things, it is successful at none of them. It is a movie for no one.

Credit to Buechler’s team in their creation of the actual Garbage Pail Kids costumes. They are terrifying, yes, and disturbing to look at, but they also look a lot like the Topps trading cards on which they are based. If the intention was to create designs that brought the Garbage Pail Kids to life onscreen, Buechler and company are completely successful. Yes, the questions raised are less about “can they do this?” and more about “should they do this?”, but the effects crew isn’t responsible for the movie in which their effects appear. Their goal is to execute the effects in the best way possible.

It’s not just that the designs are terrifying and grotesque that makes the Garbage Pail Kids so repellent, though. It’s their uncanny size (the heads had to be large to accommodate the animatronics, so the suits were built out to keep them proportional, leading to full-sized monsters that are supposed to look like kids) and their shrill, irritating voices. Everything about the big-screen incarnation of the Garbage Pail Kids is unpleasant. But isn’t it supposed to be? They were created to be the edgy antidote to the Cabbage Patch Kids, at the time all the rage in toy stores and pop culture. These are characters defined by their propensity for runny noses, flatulence and vomit. They’re not supposed to be cute. I’m not sure they’re supposed to be the nightmare creations that they end up being here, but I know they’re supposed to be unpleasant.

And therein lies the biggest problem with The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Because the producers and Amateau set out to make a “family” film, these disgusting beasts are shoehorned into a movie that contextualizes them as cute and lovable. They are neither. It also is guilty to a disturbing tradition in kids’ movies, which is that human characters gain access to a world they never even knew existed and, confronted with this new knowledge, immediately see how this magic can benefit them in the most menial ways. In Zookeeper, Kevin James discovers animals can talk and asks them to help him get a date; in The Smurfs, Neil Patrick Harris finds out about an entire world of tiny blue creatures and has them help him with his marketing presentation. In The Garbage Pail Kids, visitors come from outer space and rather than try to understand or question a single thing about their home world, our hero turns them into slave labor to gain the affections of a girl who’s both much too old for him and utterly uninterested in a relationship. Everyone involved with Garbage Pail Kids both in front of and behind the camera is suffering from a frustrating lack of imagination.

Despite the fact that The Garbage Pail Kids Movie doesn’t work, it remains something so uniquely strange that I’m happy to see it get a Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. It’s a true time capsule—a relic from a period in which kids’ movies could be nightmarish (intentionally or otherwise) and properties ill-suited for the big screen were still being adapted to film. No, this incarnation of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie probably shouldn’t exist, but it does and, as such, is worthy of preservation and study. The 1080p transfer looks as good as possible for a movie that’s this cheap and ugly to begin with; some scratches and debris are visible during the opening credits, but the image clears up after that and looks generally good throughout, all things considered.

The disc really excels in its collection of bonus content, comprised mostly of interviews with several people involved with the making of the film. Buechler is interviewed about his effects work, several of the actors who played the Garbage Pail Kids are interviewed, assistant director Thomas A. Irvine is interviewed and, best of all, Mackenzie Astin is interviewed about his participation in the film. All of the interview subjects seem very aware of the movie they ended up making, but none are too quick to dismiss it or throw it under the bus despite its reputation. Everyone tried to make the best movie possible and know that they came up short, but there is a fond affection that comes through the interviews that’s completely charming. It’s proof that even bad movies mean something to the people who made them.

It’s much easier to recommend The Garbage Pail Kids Movie to those with residual affection driven by childhood nostalgia or to those who wish to discover it as a cultural artifact. As a movie, it’s no good. As a piece of pop culture history, it’s fascinating. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is important because without understanding our cinematic past, we are doomed to repeat it. The world can only handle so much Valerie Vomit.

Movie Score: 1.5/5,  Disc Score: 3/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on About.com, DVDVerdict.com and fthismovie.net, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.