Ghoulies II (1988) — Murder critters take over a carnival

“This place is better than EPCOT center!”

Justin’s rating: Step right up! Step right up!

Justin’s review: So let’s do a quick recap so far. 1985’s Ghoulies was a slapdash occult film that just so happened to include some little demonic critters on the side. Despite poor production values and an unfocused plot, it rode the coattails of Gremlins right to a $35 million payday. This unexpected success called for a follow-up, which came as the only other theatrically released film in this series, Ghoulies II.

More times in the horror genre than elsewhere is the phenomenon that the second (and sometimes third) entry ends up being far better than the first. The filmmakers figure out what worked from the original and eject the rest, resulting in an improved product. And like Critters 2 (which also came out this year), Ghoulies II embraces the lunacy of out-of-control munchkins while having a lot more fun with the premise.

After a priest is unsuccessful at liquifying the creatures from the first film in a toxic vat, the now-stronger ghoulies hitch a ride on a traveling carnival’s van. Right away, I can tell that the movie is all-in on the titular creatures, putting them right up front and giving them improved stop-motion and puppetry effects. And the ghoulies are more distinct this time around, each with their own Garbage Pail Kid-like features.

I also think that tossing them into an amusement park setting is brilliant (especially considering that the ghoulies hide out in the haunted house where their presence will be assumed as an extra effect). It offers a lot of opportunities for mischief and mayhem while tossing the inherent weirdness of the setting and carnies in with the lot. I would have actually loved to visit a carnival like this, it looks like so much fun!

The infestation of demonic creatures isn’t the only problem that the carnival is facing. The owner’s son, a yuppie accountant, shows up to issue an ultimatum: Either the carnival step up its profit game, or any underperforming elements will bite the big one. In this, the ghoulies might actually be an asset, turning the haunted house into a real scare machine to draw local teens.

Ghoulies II reminded me that there used to be a time when horror movies weren’t solely mean to their characters. The carnies are downright lovable, and even the ghoulies — as murderous as they tend to be — are rascally enough that it’s easy to tolerate their somewhat bloodless killing spree. It’s also a movie that’s pedal-to-the-metal campy in every setting, character, and development.

By the end, we’ve got ghoulies taking over the park, mass chaos, and a MEGA-GHOULIE eating ghoulies and people alike. It’s the kind of thing that makes you fall in love with cheesy cinema. One of my favorite discoveries this year so far.

And hey, and there was even a music video, which was something that horror movies did in the ’80s and strangely never since:

Didja notice?

  • A super-duper toxic barrel of chemicals. That’s sitting out in the open with the lid removed.
  • Flying fish ghoulie!
  • The King Lear-spouting little person
  • “I am an actor, sir, not a freak!”
  • Where’s Muffy the cat!
  • Hehe the ghoulie imitating the cat
  • Drunk magicians pull ghoulies out of hats
  • Did that mummy say “ow!” when the kid kicked it?
  • There are so many open flames in this haunted house
  • The rat ghoulie puking on the kid and then catching the ninja throwing star in its mouth
  • “He broke my tunes!”
  • The couple that get stuck kissing together
  • Turning the dead teen into a mummy
  • The ghoulies high-fiving
  • “My tunes are still in there!”
  • You can use a magician’s endless scarves to cover their faces when they are murdered
  • Sad stories of family tragedies are followed up by making out
  • The kids cheering on the rude teens about to get killed
  • The Jaws theme in the shark dunk tank
  • Bumper cars explode when catapulted into a building
  • You just know someone was going to get it through the toilet

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