After being kidnapped and fending off a do-gooder who was trying to destroy them, a group of Ghoulies evade their summoners and stow away on a cheesy haunted house attraction that’s owned by a drunken magician and his nephew. The attraction is part of a traveling carnival that’s fallen on hard times and the new owners are looking to cut the fat. Apparently Satan’s Den hasn’t been performing as well as it should, and their little fright fest is under threat of getting the boot. But the Ghoulies swoop in and fix all that when the carnival goers mistake their antics as being part of the show. Except, of course, they’re NOT, and the antics everyone is witnessing are in reality full-fledged murder attempts. When they’re finally confronted, mayhem ensues at the carnival and it’s up to the carnies to figure out a way to send the little miscreants back where they belong.
I wasn’t too impressed with the first Ghoulies when I watched it last year. I just found it to be an odd production, one that for the most part, while occasionally being bizarrely amusing, also happened to be painfully, and unbearably dull. But hey, the franchise somehow still managed to conjure up three more sequels after that yawn-fest, so I figured I’d give the next one a shot. Surely they all can’t be that boring. And I was right, because Ghoulies II does indeed manage to be a bit better than the first film. But I emphasize, only a bit. Because while it does at least manage to be much more engaging than the first film, keep in mind that this is still a Charles Band production, and if you’re at all familiar with that name you should already know the level of quality you’re about to get into.
Right off the bat we start off with your typical mixed bag of quality courtesy of the company that would soon be known as Full Moon, as some dude who looks like a John Carradine look-alike is being chased through the park by three robe-wearing dudes who haven’t even bothered to wear matching outfits, and as a result end up looking like either very poor, or very miss-matched D&D cosplayers. So that’s fun.
Seriously? You guys couldn’t even bother wearing matching pants? What kind of lame cult is this?
Then the John Carradine look-alike stumbles upon an empty garage in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere that just so happens to also be housing a giant, steaming, open metal tub of industrial solvent in the middle of the room. Why would a garage out in the middle of nowhere have that on hand? Maybe it’s a meth thing, who knows. The plots of these movies have never made much sense anyway.
Odd, but convenient, I guess.
But it gives us an excuse to burn the flesh off a man and reintroduce the four types of Ghoulies that were in the first film to the audience, as well as show off some kind of new Hell… bat…thing. Look, I’m not really sure what else to call it, I’m just impressed that Band had enough of a budget to design a new monster for their movie. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since this is an Empire Pictures production and they always seemed to have more money on hand, as evidenced by the fact that they actually took the time to fully animate their Ghoulie puppets for a couple of scenes. They may be brief, but they’re there and they’re rather smoothly rendered, which is more than can be said for the last 7+ Puppet Master films that I forced myself to sit through. So I’m just going to try to be happy and quickly note that as a high point of the film and move on, before I start to dwell too much on my wasted time and become bitter.
Point is, the film’s quality is totally slapdash as expected, but it still looks better than the first film (I didn’t see any puppet strings this time), so yay-rah for improvement.
Look, I never said it was EXCITING animation. I just said it was there.
High point #2: the acting has actually improved. Or at least everyone was given more screen time to develop some form characterization this time around (puppets included). Now instead of being a nameless rabble of potential victims (and Mariska Hargitay) people actually have personalities and backstories and junk. It’s great. I mean, there’s still nothing here resembling ‘star power’ beyond Phil Fondacaro, but hell, just having him it was 10x better than the last movie, so I’ll gladly take what I can get.
But the most appreciated improvement over the first film is the pacing. Because, blessed be, thanks to the Ghoulies being present from the start, the action scenes in this movie come at a constant pace and involve more than some emo-esque twenty-something with daddy issues screaming into the void for 90% of the film. Oh and people actually die this time around, too. And I mean, like, die die. Not, “die and then get brought back to life by some magical deus-ex wizard” nonsense like the last film pulled. The stupid carnival drama plot is just a cheap horror framing device used to string together various scenes of the demonic imps killing people and screwing with the horror-show owners until the climax rolls around. It’s all predictably ridiculous and stupid, but it’s the right amount of ridiculous and stupid for a cheap horror comedy such as this. Not that I’m saying that helps make the film any ‘good’ in any way, but it was occasionally entertaining and I never once started to feel like I was going to fall asleep. And considering how I felt after the first film, I’ll consider that a win.
I still don’t think Ghoulies II is necessarily a ‘good’ movie. But it is a better movie than the one that spawned it. It’s still cheesy as hell, and the plot is contrived and confusing, but at least it knows what kind of film it is this go-around and manages to remain entertaining, both for good and bad reasons. I can see why this film managed the highest score out of the four in the franchise, because based on what little I remember from the third film, this one clearly has the better output. That said, a measly increase of .5 isn’t really that much of a marked improvement either, so remember to take “best of” with a grain of salt for this franchise. But hey, if you like goofy, cheesy horror films involving puppets, and don’t mind the lack of blood then Ghoulies II is probably the entry to go with. Just be sure to set your expectations accordingly.
Ghoulies II is available on a variety of streaming services.
Ghoulies II is also available on DVD and Bluray.