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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Ghoulies 4K UHD Review


MVD Rewind

4K UHD Release: September 12, 2023

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 80:58

Director: Luca Bercovici


Conjured during a party thrown by the new owner of a spooky Hollywood mansion, hairy, fanged demons – Ghoulies – wreak havoc on the scene and declare the unsuspecting owner their new lord and master. (From MVD’s official synopsis)


Formally founded in 1983, Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures had its first real hit in 1985 when Luca Bercovici’s Ghoulies siphoned its audience from the box office juggernaut that was Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984). Despite the connection, Bercovici’s film was reportedly in production at the same time as Dante’s and struggled through a series of budget shortfalls and legal issues, delaying its release until well after Gremlins. What’s interesting about these delays, though, is that they appear to have changed Ghoulies’ trajectory to further emulate Gremlins, even though Bercovici and co-writer Jefery Levy’s original concept reportedly had very little in common with Chris Columbus’ script. Even in its finished form, the Gremlins-like Ghoulies are a comparatively small part of a fantasy/occult horror movie. It is a similar situation to another film constantly accused of filching Gremlins’ concepts, Stephen Herek’s Critters (1986), which was a sci-fi adventure that happened to feature destructive little monsters as antagonists. For the genuine Gremlins knock-off experience, I recommend Bettina Hirsch’s Munchies (1987), produced by the God King of carbon copy cinema, Roger Corman.



Whether it was altered to mimic Gremlins or not, Ghoulies’ success had a clear effect on not only Empire, but also Band’s longer-lasting second studio, Full Moon. Band’s very empire (excuse the pun) was built on horror-comedies starring bloodthirsty little moppets, including Stewart Gordon’s Dolls (completed 1985, released 1987), the Puppetmaster franchise (1990-?), Demonic Toys (1992), and Band’s own Hideous! (1997), Doll Graveyard (2005), and The Gingerdead Man (2005). Honorable mentions include Albert Pyun’s Dollman (1991), about a tiny hero, not a monster; Ted Nicolaou’s Bad Channels (1992), in which aliens shrink sexy women and keep them in jars; and, arguably, Band’s Evil Bong (2006). Then there’s the matter of the Ghoulies sequels, which I will discuss in my upcoming review of Albert Band’s Ghoulies II (1987). The moppets in question here were created by Empire’s in-house effects wizard John Carl Buechler, who brought his signature creature design style to a number Band productions, including Troll (1986), Cellar Dweller (1988), and Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1991), all of which he also directed.


Bercovici is mostly an actor by trade and made his directorial and co-writing debuts here. He does what he can with what he had, which was a low budget that sunk even lower during production, culminating in a several month pause when funding ran out completely. Unfortunately for him, Ghoulies was made before Band moved shop to Italy, where small budgets went further and gifted Italian artisans propped up slapdash production values (it was actually the success of Ghoulies that facilitated Band buying the studio in Giove), so it looks about as cheap as it was. Swedish cinematographer and Stuart Gordon collaborator Mac Ahlberg, fresh off of Re-Animator (1985), puts in a good effort and the cast is, in Empire tradition, arguably better than the material deserves, including anti-nepo-baby daughter of Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield, Mariska Hargitay paying her dues on the way to a lucrative decades-long career on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and David Lynch’s favorite actor, the late Jack Nance. The cast does what they can with the material, which is drawn thin over a brief 80 minutes, filling time with some memorably goofy (albeit pretty annoying) character moments while we wait for the Ghoulies and other occult antics to return.



Video

As one of Empire’s golden geese, Ghoulies has had a reasonably healthy life on home video. In North America, this began with Vestron Video’s VHS release that basically acted as the film’s debut (there was also a Beta tape, but it was a Venezuelan exclusive), followed by a 2003 MGM double-feature DVD with Ghoulies II and a Blu-ray double-feature (also with the second movie) from Scream Factory. The same HD transfer used for that Blu-ray also appeared on streaming sites and MVD Rewind has now upgraded that transfer for the film’s UHD debut, including a brand new 4K restoration of the original camera negative. The 2160p, 1.85:1 transfer is also fitted with a HDR/Dolby Vision boost. I’ve included screencaps from the included Blu-ray copy, which I think offer a decent indication of improvements made over the Scream disc, minus the extra resolution and HDR, which arguably goes a little too hard, washing out some of the lighter skin tones. Still, even compressed into 1080p JPGs, the detail and color upgrades are clear, as is the lack of major print damage. Grain levels are cleaner and tighter on the UHD transfer, so ignore the slightly wormy/blotchy quality seen here.


Audio

Ghoulies is presented in its original English mono sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The track is clean and crisp, free of obvious damage, hiss, or distortion at high volume levels, though it’s also a sort of quiet mix and I found myself turning up the volume to higher levels than usual. Some of this ties into some rough set recording and an overall lack of ADR. Charlie’s brother Richard composed the score alongside Shirley Walker, who would become best known for her groundbreaking work on Batman: The Animated Series. I’d love to know who did what, because the major themes sound like an almost even split between their styles. Or at least what I know from each of them.



Extras

Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary with Luca Bercovici – The first director’s commentary was recorded for Scream Factory’s 2015 Blu-ray and features Bercovici running down his memories of making the film at his own pace. Subject matter covers the entire production, more or less, though the discussion remains relatively screen-specific throughout.

  • Commentary with director Luca Bercovici – The second director’s commentary is moderated by Jason Andreasen of the Terror Transmission podcast and was recorded for 101 Films’ 2016 Blu-ray. It’s a bit faster paced due to Andreasen’s input as a fan and interviewer. There’s a lot of overlap between tracks, so I’d personally recommend checking out this one first.



Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • Both Luca Bercovici commentaries

  • Introduction by Bercovici (0:51, HD) – This is also taken from the 101 Films’ BD

  • Austrian NSM Records 2017 archive extras:

    • Editing an Empire (27:31, HD) – Editor Ted Nicolou looks back on the films that made him abandon medical training for movies, his early work on Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Noel Marshall’s Roar (1981), and David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap (1979), which led him to hook up with Band and edit/rescue a load of Empire films, including Ghoulies, as well as directing gigs on Dungeon Master (1983), TerrorVision (1986), Subspecies (1991), and many more, up through the Full Moon years.

    • The Mind is Terrible Thing to Waste (22:03, HD) – Actor Scott Thompson chats about his career as a character actor in B-genre movies, his Ghoulies co-stars, improvising, working with Band and Bercovici, and the process of making the movie.

    • Just ‘Cos of the Chick, Man! (33:46, HD) – One last chat with Bercovici, who talks about himself and his wider career as an actor and filmmaker, beginning as Yoko Shimada’s English dialogue coach on James Clavell’s Shōgun miniseries (1981), and carrying through big and small movies/TV shows, followed by some stories about Band and the struggle to get Ghoulies made.

  • Scream Factory 2015 archive extras:

    • From Toilets to Terror: The Making of Ghoulies (29:49, HD) – This well-rounded retrospective featurette includes interviews with Charles and Richard Band, make-up effects artist John Vulich, and actor Michael Des Barres.

  • Still gallery

  • Theatrical trailer, 4 TV spots, and Ghoulies II trailer




The images on this page are taken from the included BD – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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