In the early ’80s, small creatures called Mogwais forever changed the horror comedy landscape. The year was 1984 and Joe Dante’s Gremlins (written by Chris Columbus) became a smash hit for Warner Bros., bringing in over $153 million in North America alone and securing its spot as the number four highest grossing film of the year. The movie was a genre bender, opting for black comedy that lightly dipped its toes into horror waters (despite the warning to NOT GET THEM WET!). These little guys were cute and cuddly (until you fed them after midnight), and were so immensely popular, they launched ginormous merchandising and marketing campaigns and spawned a cluster of knock-off movies all centered around small, weird, cutesy-gross little creatures. Ghoulies II was one of those movies.
Mostly unconnected to the original film, Ghoulies II follows the pesky little toilet monsters as they wreak havoc in an amusement park funhouse called Satan’s Den. With the attraction facing a possible closure unless it rakes in some cash, the Ghoulies end up saving the day (sort of?) when they’re mistaken for faux carnival props, thus bringing in big money to the dying attraction. As Larry (Damon Martin) and Uncle Ned (Royal Dano) work overtime trying to stay afloat, the Ghoulies rampage throughout the carnival, leaving a trail of hilarious havoc in their wake as they attack kids and chomp on body parts. It’s a fun romp filled with satanic mischief. While light on the satanic elements of its predecessor, the sequel is heavy on the mischief, and that’s what makes it such a blast, one that I’d argue is a cut above the Critters, Hobgoblins, and Munchies of the era.
Directed by Albert Band (Dracula’s Dog, Prehysteria!) from a screenplay penned by Stuart Gordon’s writing partner Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Ghoulies II is the ultimate in creature camp. The second entry of the four-film series, Ghoulies II is perhaps best-known for finally placing the Ghoulies at the front and center of the action, as the first film largely focuses on its main character, Jonathan Graves, who becomes possessed by a desire to summon and control ancient demons. In many ways, the first Ghoulies plays almost like a prequel. On this second go-around, the creatures are free to explore the entire carnival setting, mixing them up with random attendees and carnies who all want to sneak a peek at the latest macabre venture of Satan’s Den. The change in setting cracks the story wide open, allowing the movie to feel more menacing and playful, rather than confined like the stationary mansion we saw in the first movie.
Despite being an American production and regardless of its extravagant carnival setting, Ghoulies II was filmed on a constructed set in Rome, Italy at Empire Studios. Carnival attractions were rented and constructed on location for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Band’s son, Charles. Considering the movie’s low-budget feel, Band and his crew pulled off some exceptional set design work. The set’s single filming location allotted the rest of the creative team the time and money to work on the movie’s special effects, particularly those wee little titular bastards. A team of over 20 crew members worked on creature design, on-set effects supervision, costume fabrication, makeup, and more, while a stop-motion animation crew helped the Ghoulies step into action (literally), and even added additional frames to the giant monster Ghoulie that appears in the movie’s climax.
Part of this team was John Carl Buechler, a man known in the industry for his effects and makeup work (From Beyond, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, among others), in addition to his directing credits, which include Troll, Friday the 13th Part VII – The New Blood and Ghoulies Go to College, which was released three years after Ghoulies II). Buechler’s creature design largely shaped the series, as he worked on special effects makeup and creature designs for the first movie as well, and let’s be serious—not many can ever forget the bald, green goblin Ghoulie with the sharp teeth that pops out of toilet bowls (the ass-eating death creates quite an image—check your toilets for Ghoulies, people!). It’s completely fitting that the guy who created the Ghoulies’ look ended up taking the reins on the third installment.
Once the second movie in the franchise takes off, the gags are a dime a dozen, as the Ghoulies bite and claw their way through the carnival. They tie their victims up in torture devices, mummify dead bodies to hide their work, and even destroy the party music of one young wounded hooligan (“It broke my tunes!”). Whining is sooo not punk, dude.
Although the creatures are the real stars of this slapstick circus, the human actors add to the fun as well. Dano was fresh off a couple campy appearances in House II: The Second Story and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Other recognizable non-creatures are Phil Fondacaro (Willow, Troll), Sasha Jenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dazed and Confused), and Kerry Remsen (Pumpkinhead). Remsen appears in a fantastic featurette on the movie’s Scream Factory Blu-ray release (which pairs Ghoulies I and II) and looks back on her experience with affection. If you’re looking to collect the series, start with this release. It delivers a nice high-def upgrade, tons of insightful interviews, and a reel of the chopped gore that helped the first film snag a PG-13 rating.
While the Ghoulies series understandably gets lumped in with other post-Gremlins rip-offs (despite the fact that the first movie was in production before Gremlins hit theaters), Ghoulies II is notable and enjoyable for its creative kills, slick puppetry, and all-around good time. It may be schlocky and derivative, but that’s what makes it such a hoot. If you sign up to watch this particular member of the Class of 88, expect to bask in its over-the-top camp, silly creatures, and ridiculous death scenes, which quite honestly are all a B-movie-loving horror fan ever needs.
Be sure to check here all month long for more special features celebrating the Class of 1988!