There are some flicks that are so far below what is considered to be the contemporary standards that all you can do is embrace the corny nature of it and go along for the ride. Those of us who are proud of our status as baby boomers know a lot about such movies. We grew up with some of the worse made science fiction flicks possible and the thing is we loved them. We were a generation coming of age long before there was any dream of computer generated special effects. For us a monster movie consisted of a guy in a rubber suit with the zipper fully visible along the back or a plastic creature with a stick and a hand seen at pushing it from the edge of the screen. This was entertainment for us as we sat in the dim light of the local theater or in front of the glow of our television sets. Now audiences, even young ones, are far too sophisticated for flicks like those we so fondly remember. Even movies with moderate budgets are capable of some amazing or at least passable effects. We most people today see something like ‘Ghouls’ they shrug it off as a complete waste of time. Actually, it is a throw back to a simpler time when the fun was in just how bad the effects were. Over the last few years a lot of flicks like this have popped up on the Sci-Fi channel. With all the networks refraining from original programming on Saturday night they have come up with an ‘original’ film to help fill in the gap in programming. These movies have been called their Saturday night specials and typically they are made for a couple of million dollars, nothing compared to a studio theatrical release, and shot in a matter of a couple of weeks. They are made to be cheap and fast and more times than not it shows. ‘Ghouls’ is admittedly towards the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to these movies. If nothing else have a few friends over; order some beer and pizza and play the home game version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
What passes for a script here was penned by Brian D. Young. His previous work includes a drama, ‘Love for Rent’ about a surrogate mother and the lamentable Saturday night special ‘Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep’. I have seen that one and yes it is pretty much as bad as it sounds. For this screenplay, and I use that in the loosest possible way, strings together bits and pieces of other stories that all horror fans will immediately know. First thing we need for a tale like this is a beautiful teenaged girl to keep the audience watching. Considering the major demographic for these flicks are high school and college aged boys with nothing else to do on a Saturday night a good looking girl is a must. It also distracts the lonely young men watching from the plot holes big enough to drive the Death Star through. For this role we have Jennifer (Kristen Renton), ostensibly a college student but appear more as a cute but not too mentally acute girl. When her grandmother in far away Romania dies her father Stefan (William Atherton) decides to take his daughter to the old country for a visit. Of course it wouldn’t be any story at all if Granny died of natural causes and even a flick like this needs something as an excuse for the story. It turns out that the old lady was sacrificed by some ghoul worshiping Romanian cult. Once there Jen meets her uncle Vlad (Dan Bararau). With that name you just know that he will give the girl a solid case of the creeps. Also along for the ride is Dad’s girlfriend Liz (Erin Gray). Her main function is to provide some actor who was once in a popular science fiction series, in this case ‘Buck Rogers’. In the eighties she was all the rage since she dressed for that show in form fitting futuristic outfits. The last element for the cast that is required is the undaunted ghoul hunter, Thomas (James DeBello). He is needed to have someone jump around in front of a green screen so the computer graphics people can put creatures around him. Speaking of the computer people I think they had some old TRS-80s around to work with.
Holding the position of director here is Gary Jones. He has experience in these Saturday Night specials and has directed a few of them including ‘Crocodile 2: Death Swamp’, ‘Planet Raptor: Raptor Island 2’ and his feature film debut ‘Mosquito’. The later had such bad special effects it was highlighted on the comedy show ‘The Soup’. He does do his job here. He brought the flick in on time and on budget which is the primary responsibility for the Sci-Fi channel in cases like this. To his credit Jones gets the story up and running quickly without much fuss and keeps it moving along. People have to respect the fact that directing any film is a difficult task. Jones does his job and has earned a living doing it for over a decade now. He also has experience in special effects for low budget horror flicks like this which is a help. Even if the effects themselves are not up to contemporary standards it takes a lot to direct actors you are playing opposite a tennis ball on a stick that will be replaced with a creature in post production. The movie has more than its share of dead moments though. Jones tries to keep the pace up but the script is such that there are just too many lulls in the action to work around. The screenplay has a lot of red herrings in it that Jones has to deal with. For example Liz likes to read tarot cards and you might think that this would lead somewhere but ultimately it is a time filling dead end. There are also the required occult scenes complete with the chanting cult dressed in ominous blood red robes in a secret underground lair. I guess every spooky town in Eastern Europe has such a place with reasonable rental rates for demonic cults.
This film does have a recognizable cast that tries their level best to perform well. Renton attempts to play her role in s straight forward fashion but is severely limited by what she has to work with here. Grey is always a pleasure to watch especially if you were a fan of her previous television work but here is little more than window dressing and another damsel in distress. Atherton is a well known and very talented character actor. He is best when playing a pompous authority figure of some sort. In this film he has to play a different character and his performance is not up to the standard he as reached so many times before.
Unless you are feeling nostalgic for those corny films of our youth this is not the best flick to pop into your DVD player. It was released by First Look Studios who does specialize in little independent gems that otherwise would be difficult to find. Don’t hold this flick against them.