GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Eugenie Joseph/Thomas Doran/Brendan Faulkner.
Starring Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Dan Scott, A.J. Lowenthal, Peter Iasillo Jr., Lisa Friede.
Horror, USA, 85 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Limited Edition Blu-ray by 101 Films on 26th April 2021.
For anybody not familiar with SPOOKIES then be prepared because this is one of those movies that should come with a warning; not for extreme gore or anything untoward that warrants preparation but because it is such an oddity of ‘80s horror that going in blind might not result in a true appreciation of the art, mainly because you'll be too busy asking “What did I just watch?” and trying to analyse it rather than just soak it up and enjoy it. Yes, SPOOKIES is a weird one whose production history is just as bizarre as the movie itself and is the true definition of a cult curiosity.
It is also a title that is perfect for 101 Films’ Black Label range of cult gems and forgotten favourites, seeing as many people’s memories of it will be the lurid Graham Humphreys cover art from the original VHS cover back in the day and some of the glorious practical effects that looked so good on a crappy tape played on an old tube television. Despite those same effects still being quite impressive for a movie that went through such production hell SPOOKIES does suffer from the curse of the HD print, the glossy picture image showing up the sticky tape and the edges of the latex but it only adds to the charm of a horror movie that exists in such an unloved state from the people who made it.
And why is it so unloved? Well, SPOOKIES started out as an independent movie called TWISTED SOULS that was to be directed by Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner. After principal photography was completed financial and legal issues forced the original backers to hire Eugenie Joseph to direct new scenes and eventually release the movie as SPOOKIES. The film itself is about two car-loads of people who get lost and end up stumbling into a mansion inhabited by hordes of creatures. So far, so standard B-movie horror plot but thanks to the additional scenes the final movie has a sub-plot about a 13-year-old boy trying to escape from his parents, a sorcerer in the basement trying to resurrect his dead love by collecting souls and several other things that don’t really gel.
However, with so much going on you can guarantee that SPOOKIES is never dull and only ever a few minutes away from a rubber-faced monster trying to do away with the rather unlikeable characters that have wandered in, and that is where SPOOKIES score highly because the kills are fun – stop-motion face melting and lizard-like creatures are always good for a giggle – and one or two are genuinely creepy, such as the spider-woman who lures one hapless chap into her web before transforming into something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, only without the dodgy CGI.
The film itself is a riot in the charming way that low budget VHS creature features were back in the mid 1980s – minimal plot, bad acting, loathsome characters, comedic gore and inventive deaths - but if you were viewing this for the first time and wondered what the Beelzebub was going on then a quick trip to the second disc of this set would be in order as 101 Films have provided TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF SPOOKIES, a talking heads documentary featuring Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner and Frank M. Farel – the three producers of the original TWISTED SOULS. Not only that, though, as you also get the two-hour-plus VIPCO: THE UNTOLD STORY documentary, which tells the story of cult horror label Vipco from its genesis in the late 1970s through to its demise in the 2000s and its enduring legacy. Why is that relevant? Because Vipco founder Michael Lee served as executive producer on SPOOKIES and was instrumental in contributing some of the movies more bizarre moments, as well as helping to irritate its creators.
By including both documentaries you get to hear all sides of the story as those involved tell it how they saw it, although as with all of these things the truth will likely be somewhere in the middle, plus you get to hear all about Vipco (drinking game – take a shot every time somebody says the words ‘Arrow Video’, ’88 Films’ or ‘ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS’ if you wish to get extremely drunk very quickly), which does have some historical interest but as a documentary it is very long, repetitive and structureless. Still, within the context of this set it serves a purpose and you also get an audio commentary by FRIGHTFEST’s own Paul McEvoy and filmmaker Sean Hogan to add another perspective on things.
101 Films have been on something of a roll recently, especially when it comes to the horror genre, and this fully-loaded addition to their already excellent Black Label line shows that they are on the ball when it comes to giving the fans what they want. SPOOKIES is a strange movie that will probably only appeal to a limited number of people but that’s fine because when put into context with the two documentaries that come on the second disc then it all makes sense and will heighten your enjoyment of it, especially if you have never seen it before and are unaware of the sheer joy it generates. More like this please, 101 Films.