Written by: Charlie Dolan (story), Dennis Paoli (screenplay)
Directed by: Albert Band
Starring: Damon Martin, Royal Dano, and Phil Fondacaro
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I am a magician, you sons of bitches. You can't kill me!"
The biggest surprise about Ghoulies II isn’t that a movie featuring toilet demons spawned a sequel (this is Charles Band we’re dealing with, after all)—it’s that it took four whole years for it to arrive on video store shelves (again, Band would become notorious for quickly turning anything halfway successful into a veritable cottage industry). However, once it finally did grace the world with its presence, it proved to be worth the wait: a superior sequel in nearly every way (it does feature less breakdancing), Ghoulies II also sits atop the (porcelain) throne of the franchise. This is peak Ghoulies, which counts for something in this world.
Practically a standalone film, Ghoulies II picks up with the title creatures on the lam, trying to escape the clutches of a priest. After dispatching this clerical inconvenience, the little hellraisers hitch a ride on a semi-truck carrying Satan’s Den, a rinky-dink carnival attraction that’s seen better days. Upon setting up shop at the next town, its operators (Royal Dano and Damon Martin, playing an uncle/nephew pair) receive bad news from rich prick carnival owner P. Hardin (J. Downing): business is down, and they might have to shutter their doors for good. Enter the ghoulies, who unwittingly become a star attraction when oblivious patrons assume they’re just part of the show. In reality, they are only there for the sort of hijinks that end with actual corpses joining the show as well.
I don’t know if anything about Ghoulies II can be considered “inspired,” but its decision to set up shop in a carnival is pretty close. The original funhouse vibe of the original meets its literal match in a setting germane to the goofy shenanigans required of Ghoulies. Even before the film settles on that, it’s an obvious lark, what with a priest being chased down by devil worshippers before conveniently stumbling upon a random vat of toxic waste in a mechanic’s shop, a discovery he misattributes to divine intervention (spoiler: it is not). Clearly unfussed about any notions of unnecessary course correction, the film doubles down on the silliness from the first film with a random assortment of inanity: a Shakespeare-spouting dwarf (Phil Fondacaro), a shit-headed yuppie, oblivious teenagers, and demons of all shapes and sizes get lost in the quaintest little county fair funhouse you’ve ever seen, with its obviously fake gags and ramshackle construction.
Obviously, this sequel also addresses its predecessor’s biggest problem by giving the ghoulies plenty of do from the get-go. Before the film even begins proper, they’ve soaked a guy in acid; by the end, they’ve racked up an impressive body count. Even with the PG-13 constraints, Ghoulies II has a more pronounced mean streak than the original: it actually feels like a little bit of a splatter movie this time around, complete with hacked limbs, puke, and melted faces. Additionally, the ghoulies are even more impressive, as stop-motion effects augment the puppet work to give the impression that these are free-roaming creatures capable of wreaking havoc (kindly ignore that they’re barely 2 feet tall as the carnival goes up in flames). Personalities emerge here, too, with Fish Ghoulie taking charge as a ringleader surrounded by loyal lieutenants Rat, Cat, and Flying Ghoulie (if ghoulies have parents, clearly they not the most creative at naming).
The increased ghoulie screen-time doesn’t come at the expense of the human characters—well, caricatures, to be honest. Like in the original, a corny (but completely earnest!) romance is at the heart but is overshadowed by the obnoxious dipshits serving as ghoulie fodder. Naturally, a group of teens proves to be the most lovably insufferable idiots who are mostly worried about their boombox (“my tunes!” one exclaims in horror as a ghoulie wrecks his shit) or sucking each other’s faces. Some of those faces are familiar, including Sasha Jenson (two weeks away from trucking to Haddonfield for Halloween 4) and William Butler (a few months removed from being butchered by Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th VII). Between this and the shit-heel yuppie carnival owner, this is a group that you want to see horrible things happen to, and the film delightfully obliges (I mean, someone actually gets it in the end this time thanks to Band’s obsession with toilet humor).
Look, I realize Ghoulies II is something that has to be met halfway. I won’t deny that. I also won’t deny my unnatural love for chintzy carnivals, hellraising critters, and any movie that features “draw a pentagram on the floor” as a recurring line of dialogue. And when said pentagram spews forth a giant ghoulie deus ex machina, it’s so deep into my wheelhouse that it has little chance of escaping. Ghoulies II is an absolute hoot (not to mention sort of a mulligan for The Funhouse), and I assure you this affection isn’t ironic: sure, maybe this is the type of movie that’s fit to mock, but it’s not like it doesn’t already know that. It’s movie that proudly proclaims it’s from the shitter, so good luck trying to feel superior to it. I doubt it can hear you over the W.A.S.P. riffs thrashing over the end credits.
Instead, embrace the inane madness that is Ghoulies II. Clearly, Scream Factory is in accord, as it has bestowed a special edition Blu-ray treatment upon it. The second half of a double feature alongside the original film, the sequel receives a nice high-definition upgrade, plus a handful of extras. 16 minutes of interviews with the cast and crew (including Band, Kerry Remsen, Donnie Jeffcoat, and artist Gino Crognale) briefly reminisce about the film’s production, while a trailer and stills gallery provide the usual promo material. The true highlight here is a reel of alternate, gorier scenes that were trimmed to snag a PG-13 rating. It’s too bad these weren’t reinserted into the film properly because if there’s anything Ghoulies II needs, it’s more gross shit.
Otherwise, the only shortcoming here is the lack of a super-special edition that with a recreation of the inflatable toilet promo that accompanied the film to video stores back in the 80s. That might be Band’s true masterpiece.
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