Ghoulies [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (19th September 2023).
The Film

College student Jonathan Groves (Ghost Warrior's Peter Liapis) inherits a mansion knowing nothing of his family history, including the fact that he was last there as an infant saved by his mother (Howling V: The Rebirth's Victoria Catlin) from being sacrificed by his Satanist father Malcolm (To Sir, With Love's Michael Des Barres). In the aftermath of a party thrown by his girlfriend Rebecca (Jennifer's Lisa Pelikan) for some of their twenty-to-thirtysomething college friends – stoners Eddie (Against All Odds' David Dayan) and Mike (Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Scott Thomson), "Toad Boy" Mark (Just Before Dawn's Ralph Seymour) and his long-suffering date Donna (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Mariska Hargitay), stud "Dick" (Tapeheads' Keith Joe Dick) and his potential conquest Robin (Girls Just Want to Have Fun's Charene Cathleen) – Jonathan suggests conducting a ritual for kicks.

Despite Jonathan's intensity, the ritual does not appear to work until there appears a pint-sized demon called a "ghoulie" after the others have left. To his girlfriend Rebecca's dismay, Jonathan becomes obsessed with the occult and withdraws from college to fix up the house. While Rebecca is at school during the days, Jonathan hones his powers and summons up more of the creatures to do his bidding. After Rebecca discovers him in the middle of a ceremony and leaves him, Jonathan summons up two dwarf helpers Grizzel (Something Wicked This Way Comes' Peter Risch) and Greedigut (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark's Tamara De Treaux) who tell him that he can not only get Rebecca back but also achieve ultimate knowledge and power with a master ritual requiring six others. Hypnotizing Rebecca, Jonathan invites his college friends to a dinner party and makes them unknowing participants in a ritual that actually brings back Malcolm, the ghoulies' true master who plans to use the lives of Jonathan and his friends to restore his youth and make him immortal.

Ghoulies was the first theatrical release by producer Charles Band's Empire Pictures, and also his first "tiny terror" flick which were basically body count films substituting trolls, little demons, dolls, or puppets for a human killer. The dramatic aspects of Jonathan's obsession/possession and how it impacts his relationship with Rebecca are undercut by the comic relief and the creatures of John Carl Buechler (Dolls) which are more cute than creepy. Eraserhead's Jack Nance skulks about the body of the film and does not seem to notice Jonathan's growing obsession with the Black Arts only to pop up again at the climax. Mausoleum's Bobbie Bresee pops up as a seductress with a super long tongue, and a bit with a creepy clown doll seems cribbed from Poltergeist. Actor-turned-director Luca Bercovici had previously appeared in Parasite for Band.

The photography of Mac Ahlberg (Hell Night) is slick as usual in keeping with his other Empire and Full Moon turns while the scoring of Richard Band(House on Sorority Row) and Shirley Walker (Memoirs of an Invisible Man) matches the contrasting tones of the film with a jaunty main theme (seemingly taking off from the cute shot of the ghoulie covering its eyes to avoid a scene of splatter rather than the mood of the rest of the pre-credits sequence) and the usual strings for the more conventional horror scenes. The film was edited by Ted Nicolaou who cut a number of Band films before moving on to a directorial career (most notably Full Moon's Subspecies series) while Buechler's crew included John Vulichand Everett Burrell (Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake), Howard Berger (the B in KNB Efx), Cleve Hall (Twisted Nightmare), and Chris Biggs (Scalps).


Released theatrically stateside by Band's Empire Pictures – and in the U.K. by Hemdale Film Corporation due to their providing some funds to finish the film – Ghoulies went to VHS in the U.S. through the company's deal with Vestron Video, with rights in both territories ending up eventually with MGM via the Epic and Polygram libraries. MGM released the film on DVD in a double feature with the sequel in an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The same HD masters for both films got a Blu-ray upgrade from Shout! Factory for their "Scream Factory" line, but that has since gone out of print.

MVD Visual was able to obtain a new 4K master from MGM for the second title in their "4K LaserVision Collection" – following up on their release of Swamp Thing – and the upgrade is appreciable in their 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo (also available as as number fifty-two in their "Rewind Collection" line – especially with the DolbyVision dynamic HDR layer. The opening sequence contrasts gray stone with richly-saturated costumes, with Des Barres' horned headdress a deep black and his cowl a glossy blue-black on 4K UltraHD while they just look like slightly different shades of black on Blu-ray. The white robes of the other cultists on Blu-ray look slightly off-white on UHD not unlike the dustcovers seen around the house in subsequent scenes (one wonders if Ahlberg was taking after fellow cinematographer Nιstor Almendros who on the production of The Marquise of O had the white fabrics for the period costumes dyed in English breakfast tea to prevent them from blowing out under the natural light and fast lenses being used for the period setting). The textures of the ghoulies hold up well in close-ups in 4K and 1080p, presumably due to all of the slime and lubricants used to give them a wet look while some of the make-up and prosthetics on the actors are a bit more obvious.


Like Empire's earliest releases, Ghoulies was mixed in cost-efficient mono, and MVD's release features the original mono track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 – dropping the 5.1 rechanneling included on the Shout! Factory edition, but that's just as well since it had little for the upmixing algorithm to spread throughout the sound field – offering clear dialogue, scoring, and effects (the scares come from aloudness rather than directionality). Optional English subtitles (not SDH or HoH) are included.


As with the aforementioned release of Swamp Thing, MVD's 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo and concurrent Blu-ray editions port over extras from the previous Shout! Factory edition and acquire some once-exclusives from foreign Blu-ray editions. First up is the Shout! Factory audio commentary by director Luca Bercovici in which he reveals that he pitched the story to Band and that the original script – co-written with "Fela Johnson and the Johnsons" bandmate Jefery Levy (who also penned Bercovici's Rockula) – was much darker until he saw Buechler's creatures and found them goofy (which offended the effects artist). He admits that suddenly deciding to take a more comic tone resulted in an uneven picture. The track starts off with little steam and then continues that way with increasing patches of silence as the feature goes on with sporadic comments about the cast members (some of whom he worked with previously and others he knew on the L.A. music scene like Dick of "Keith Jo Dick and the Dickheads"), the contributions of cinematographer Ahlberg, casting director Johanna Ray (Blue Velvet), and composers Band and Walker, and the usual remarks about pre-digital effects.

Ported from the British Blu-ray is an audio commentary by director Luca Bercovici, moderated by Jason Andreasen of Terror Transmission recorded the year after the first one. Bercovici rehashes a lot of the same anecdotes, so the contributions of a moderator help keep things semi-fresh, with Andreasen noting the use of future David Lynch alums in the cast by way of casting director Ray, how the original script as it was to go before the cameras was darker in tone before he realized he could not take the creatures seriously – and the uneven tone resulting from the shift towards humor – with the ghoulies functioning as a sort of Greek chorus before a few kills in the climax, working with Band, as well as the reaction of the people restoring the Wattles Mansion location to production designer Wayne Springfield (Forbidden World) weathering the facade.

The two commentaries are also included on the Blu-ray which also includes the bulk of the extras, including an introduction by director Luca Bercovici (0:51) from the British Blu-ray in which he describes the film as a "seminal work in silly horror movies," along with three interviews ported over from the 2017 Austrian Blu-ray from NSM Records starting with "Editing an Empire" (27:31), an interview with editor Nicolou who recalls getting into editing assisting J. Larry Carroll on the notorious production of Roar, moving up to editor when Carroll left to produce Band's Tourist Trap on which Nicolaou subsequently served as editor, being hired to fix other Band projects, and finally getting to direct a segment of The Dungeonmaster when the cut ran short. On editing Ghoulies, he recalls it as the shift in Band's thinking towards merchandisable tiny creatures.

Also ported over is "The Mind is Terrible Thing to Waste" (22:03), an interview with actor Thomson who recalls working previously with Bercovici (as an actor) and casting director Ray on Frightmare, antics with his co-stars – including Seymour who was also starring in "Equus" on stage at the same time – and actually being stoned on set.

Bercovici appears onscreen in "Just Cos of the Chick, Man!" (33:46) recalling living in Italy at the same time as the Bands but not knowing them at the time, doing some stage acting and being asked by his producer father Eric Bercovici to read opposite Japanese actors in auditions for Shogun and staying on to coach actress Yτko Shimada, working on television as an actor, and designing Ghoulies within the constraints of Band's "crappy low budget movies", the tone shift to comedy before Gremlins, the difficulty for himself and the cast and crew in getting paid by Band, and how his agent brokered a deal for Hemdale to provide funds to finish the production when it shut down three-quarters of the way through.

Also ported from the Shout! Factory edition is the documentary "From Toilets to Terror" (29:49) in which Band's discussion of the development and reception of the film is supplemented by comments from his composer brother Richard, actor Des Barres, and effects artist Vulich. Band recalls that he got the idea to do a tiny killer creature flick with effects artist Stan Winston (Interview with the Vampire) called "Beasties" earlier in the decade but Winston became too expensive by the time Band wanted to develop the project. He discusses the steps he took to get into self-distribution after his experiences trying to get other distributors to pay up, including designing the ad campaign with stoner Gary Allen and contacting the New York Times to make sure they would print a poster featuring a toilet (they would later film a scene of one of the ghoulies popping out of a toilet and insert it into the film so the audiences would not feel cheated) and the tagline "They'll get you in the end." Although the film was successful in its East Coast debut, Band got to the office the following Monday to a flurry of hate mail from parents who felt that the TV spot put their children off potty-training.

The disc also includes a still gallery (3:32), the film's theatrical trailer (1:55), four TV spots (1:25) as well as a theatrical trailer for Ghoulies II (1:23).


The two discs are housed in a standard 4K UltraHD black keep case with a slipcover and foldout poster.


Ghoulies, the "seminal work in silly horror movies" looks the best it likely ever has in 4K.


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