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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Ghoulies II 4K UHD Review


MVD Rewind

Blu-ray Release: September 12, 2023

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

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (UHD) and LPCM 2.0 Stereo (BD)

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 89:47 (PG-13 cut), 91:19 (R-rated cut)

Director: Albert Band


Note: I'm recycling most of my Blu-ray review. If you're only reading this specifically for my opinion on the new 4K UHD transfer and R-rated cut, kindly skip to the Video and Audio sections.


Stowed away in 'Satan's Den,' the traveling House of Horror operated by carnival workers Larry (Damon Martin) and Uncle Ned (Royal Dano), the Ghoulies merrily devour the sideshow attraction's patrons, until Larry realizes his horror house is for real and tries to flee the scene. (From MVD’s official synopsis)



Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures closed its doors in 1988, but, in a lot of ways, the closure was merely a technical necessity, as the studio fell behind on bills and was seized by the bank. Within the same year, Band funded Full Moon Entertainment, which was essentially the same company with the same mission statement and many of the same employees/contractors. One of the few discernible differences between the studios in the early days was Full Moon’s dependence on franchises. Empire movies had repeating themes (tiny monsters, Lovecraft adaptations, horror comedies, et cetera), but not many sequels, compared to the dozens and dozens (perhaps hundreds?) squeezed out by Full Moon over the decades. In fact, at the risk of missing something obvious, Albert Band’s Ghoulies II might be the only official sequel released under the Empire banner. 


Luca Bercovici’s Ghoulies (1985) was, in some ways, the perfect Band production – a cheaply made, cut and paste compilation of sequences shot on and off over a year-plus period that doesn’t make sense and isn't very good, but was released just in time to siphon an audience from a popular Hollywood movie (in this case, Joe Dante’s Gremlins [1984]). It was one of the studio’s biggest hits and so a sequel made sense, especially since its appeal was reusable little rubber monsters, not actors or a director with a specific vision in mind. With the knowledge that the audience likely wanted more little rubber monsters, Ghoulies II had the potential to improve on the original by shifting focus and actually planning a story this time around. To help, Band enlisted the services of writer Dennis Paoli, a genuinely talented screenwriter who worked with Stuart Gordon on unique Empire classics Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). He and co-writer Charlie Dolan don’t redefine the creature feature, but they do dream up a perfect backdrop for the creatures to run amuck (a carnaval) and give the superior cast actual characters to play.



Albert Band was the son of a famous painter, Max Band, who fled from France to the United States with his Jewish family to escape the oncoming Nazi occupation. They settled in Los Angeles, where Albert developed an interest in filmmaking. As a young man, he worked as an assistant under John Huston and eventually made his directorial debut with the 1956 western The Young Guns. In the 1960s, he uprooted his family, including young Charles and his composer brother Richard, to Italy, where he became a producer and a semi-important figure in the history of spaghetti westerns, produced/co-directed Massacre at Grand Canyon (Italian: Massacro al Grande Canyon, 1964) with Sergio Corbucci and produced Corbucci’s The Hellbenders (Italian: I crudeli, 1967) and Franco Giraldi’s A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (Italian: Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire, 1967). When Charles began making his own movies, Albert helped as a producer and directed a few, starting with Ghoulies II and including the off-brand Doctor Strange adaptation Doctor Mordrid (1992), the unofficial Robot Jox (1990), Robot Wars (1993), and two of the three reasonably effects intensive Prehysteria! movies (1993, 1994).


Effects artist/creature designer John Carl Buechler was reportedly set to direct Ghoulies II, but was replaced by Band at some point. He got his chance to direct the next film in the series under different producers at Vestron. I think Buechler is the better filmmaker, at least visually (he clearly had more time and money to improve on the first film’s rushed effects), but Band has his advantages over previous series director Luca Bercovici – chiefly, his experience and the use of Empire’s stages in Lazio, Rome, where he could stretch the value of a dollar and had a dozen well-trained Italian artisans at his disposal. Key among the Italian crew members were production designer Giovanni Natalucci, who worked on most of Stuart Gordon’s Empire movies, and Sergio Salvati, the master cinematographer behind Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (Italian: Zombi 2, 1979), City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi; aka: The Gates of Hell, 1980), and The Beyond (Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981), among others. Ghoulies II isn’t that good looking, but it is a substantial upgrade over the previous film, thanks in no small part to Salvati and Natalucci’s efforts.



Video

Ghoulies II carried an R rating when it first hit theaters, but was trimmed to PG-13 for home video, I suppose in an attempt to recapture the kid audience that made Ghoulies a hit. The PG-13 cut had a good run as a Vestron Video 1988 rental tape. For whatever reason, it debuted on DVD two years before Ghoulies via a 1.33:1 disc from Artisan (who absorbed Vestron), followed by an anamorphic disc from MGM in 2003. The first Blu-ray came from Shout Factory in 2015, who coupled the first two Ghoulies together. Initially, the folks at MVD Rewind, who had just put out the first Ghoulies on UHD, had to release a downgraded Blu-ray, due to “unforeseen circumstances.” 


It’s less than one year later and we now have that originally promised UHD collection, which will likely frustrate some of the people that bought the Blu-ray. To their credit, MVD was very open with fans in regards to their continuing efforts to find worthwhile original material. And it seems they did, because this 1.85:1, 2160p, Dolby Vision/HDR enhanced transfer is derived from a 4K, 16-bit scan of the original camera negative. Besides the new scan, this release also Includes both the PG-13 cut and the ever-so-slightly longer R-rated director’s cut (which they’re calling the unrated cut on the menu). According to legend, a few copies of the R cut were released on VHS, but this has never been verified, as far as I understand. What has been verified is that several tapes were initially mislabeled as R when they only featured the PG-13 version.


Unfortunately, the included Blu-ray copy is the older disc, so the 1080p screencaps on this page can only give you an idea of the color timing, which is similar between releases. The extra resolution certainly helps, shrinking up and naturalizing grain and sharpening textures, but so does the quality of the negative material they were scanning, because most, if not all of the BD’s fuzzy frame edges, blotchy bits, and other print damage has been corrected. The HDR enhancement also boosts the vividness of Salvati’s neon highlights against the delicate darkness of his signature shadows and smoky backdrops.


For a deeper look at the differences between the R and PG-13 versions, see this Movie-Censorship.com post



Audio

Ghoulies II is presented in its original stereo and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. There isn’t a notable enough difference between this and the previous Blu-ray’s LPCM 2.0 mix – outside of the fact that the deleted bits have been reinstated – so this part of my review is largely the same. This is a cheap movie and the mix is thinner than big budget films from the same era, but the sound designers are having fun with the stereo field, so there are plenty of directional effects and more ambiance than you’d expect from an Empire picture. Dialogue exhibits occasional hiss, but nothing out of the ordinary. The score was composed by multi-instrumentalist and famed sessions musician Fuzzbee Morse, who appears to have been the go-to at Empire whenever Richard Band wasn’t available, having also scored Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987) around the same time. The music doesn’t directly match Band and Shirley Walker’s score for the first movie, but fits the spirit with the right mix of whimsy and spookiness.



Extras

Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • R and PG-13 rated cuts

  • 2023 introduction by screenwriter Dennis Paoli (1:15, HD)

  • Trailer


Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • PG-13 cut

  • 2023 introduction by screenwriter Dennis Paoli (1:15, HD)

  • More Toilets, More Terror: The Making of Ghoulies II 2015 documentary (16:50, HD) – This retrospective featurette, recorded for the Scream Factory Blu-ray, includes interviews with Charles Band, FX artist Gino Crognale, and actors Donnie Jeffcoat and Kerry Remsen. Band and Crognale discuss behind-the-scenes logistics, while the cast members, who were young at the time (especially Jeffcoat), talk about their experience on-set (the Italian-made food was very good, apparently).

  • Under a Magic Moon (33:36, HD) – This 2017 interview with screenwriter Dennis Paoli was recorded for the 2022 Umbrella Entertainment’s AU BD and covers his early life in Chicago, his lasting relationship with Stuart Gordon, going to college during the turbulent late ‘60s, discovering H.P. Lovecraft, making movies with Gordon at Empire, and writing other Empire and Full Moon scripts based on posters and minimal prompts (like ‘the Ghoulies attack a carnival,’ for example).

  • Alternate scenes (2:43, HD) – I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a contractual reason that MVD didn’t edit these gore shots back into the film, because they’re all in good condition.

  • Theatrical trailer

  • Still Gallery

  • MVD trailer gallery – Ghoulies, Vampire's Kiss (1988), Swamp Thing (1982), and Return of the Swamp Thing (1989)


The images on this page are taken from the BD – NOT THE 4K REMASTER – 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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