Back in 2011, while writing for the now defunct Eat Sleep Live Film, I came up with an idea that would end up taking over my life for the next three years. I’d grown disillusioned with ‘reviewing’ films for the site and was struggling to see how my opinion on whatever cineplex fodder happened to be out that week made any difference to anyone.
I knew I needed to find something more personal and in tune with my own cinematic taste to write about, so I set about coming up with some editorial pieces designed to be a bit less focused on news and the latest releases. There were articles bemoaning 3D and the modern theatrical experience, ‘fake reviews’ for sequels that didn’t exist, even dumb list articles like the ‘top 5 shit-eating grins’ in film. I was having fun, but it was clear I’d yet to find what I was looking for…
At the time, I was listening to a lot of cult movie podcasts and had quickly found myself falling back in love with the same kind of genre films I grew up with as a kid with a video store membership card and too much time on his hands. After a while, it just made sense for me to start writing about some of the specific titles I remembered from my youth and the impact they had on me, as well as how they fared now to my aged and jaded eyes.
It was no surprise how much I enjoyed rewatching From Beyond (1986), The Wraith (1986), Dolls (1987), The Gate (1987), Vamp (1986) and Society (1989) for the first time since they were initially scarred into my pre-pubescent brain, but what I didn’t expect was all the other stuff that came with it.
I found myself able to remember every detail of the video store I spent hours perusing each day. Everything from the layout of the place to its musty smell came flooding back and I started to think more about the unique relationship my family had with its owner John, who essentially had guardianship over the things I could and could not rent (though there wasn’t much that fell into the latter category). After six ‘Rentals Revisited’ articles, I decided to bring the series to a close.
I knew there was something bigger I’d stumbled into here and that it deserved something more immersive and authentic, something that allowed me to rediscover the format that was so important to me back then and bring readers along with me in exploring some of the memories that were now swimming around my brain. So I came up with Adventures in VHS.
The project kicked off with some investigation into Video World, the long-gone independent rental store from my childhood. After a visit to the Greater Manchester County Record Office, I managed to strike absolute gold in the archives with some beautiful photographs of the shop interior that were so detailed you could pick out individual films.
Next up, I sought out a decent VCR and a 21-inch CRT TV (the size I grew up with) and set about hunting down as many copies of the big box, ex-rental tapes that once adorned those dusty shop shelves as I could find. In addition to a spare room that looked like 1987, I ended up with a book (and a podcast) documenting the whole experience and examining 60 of the videos I found.
Hey U Guys have kindly allowed me to exclusively share one of these 60 adventures with you below. I hope you get a kick out of it.
Entertainment in Video – EVV 1037
When a new tape arrives in the post, it’s like being reacquainted with an old friend. On occasion though, it’s more akin to facing down a forgotten enemy. But in every instance, each time one of those carefully packaged VHS-shaped parcels has dropped on my desk, it is accompanied by a genuine rush of excitement – and never was this truer than the day Ghoulies (1985) was casually dumped next to my keyboard.
You see, this is a film with which I have a particularly strained relationship, despite having never actually even seen it. As one of a slew of ‘mini monster’ features that spread like wildfire through video rental stores in the late 1980s, Ghoulies – and the artwork you see here today – seemed to be just about everywhere when the movie first popped up on VHS. Alongside Critters (1986), Munchies (1987) and Dolls (1987), it felt as if there was no shortage of pint-sized beasties looking to scare the living daylights out of me… and I have to tell you, they succeeded with minimal effort. I had no problems with killer clowns, razor-fingered peodophiles or even the prince of darkness himself, but if it was two-feet tall and made of rubber, I wanted nothing to do with it.
As embarrassing as that is to admit now though, it’s the absolute truth. For a short while, this omnipresent tape and its accompanying poster had me both mentally and physically traumatised. So embedded in my conscious was this demonic green porcelain-dweller, it had actually managed to trouble the majority of my bowel movements. I’m not even kidding.
No nine-year-old kid should have the kind of difficulty I had passing a stool… taking just a few seconds to complete the job before running frantically from the bowl as the terrifying whoosh of the flush somehow followed me down the stairs. I was honestly so worried about the little shits that might be living in the u-bend, I’d become too scared to take care of my own.
So now, as a 37-year-old man who actively looks forward to this kind of private toilet time, I had to ask if all that fear back then really was worth it. The answer, perhaps predictably, was no. Ghoulies could have never lived up to the impossible legacy my memory had built for it – what film could? Behind that despicable sleeve, I found little more than a drab and badly acted haunted house chiller that was light on laughs and had absolutely none of the colonic trauma I’d so feared.
[pull_quote_right]When the Ghoulies do show up, they’re completely ineffectual […] and battle for screen time with bickering dwarves and awkward clowns.[/pull_quote_right]In fact, only one of the titular creatures ever emerges from a lavatory during the course of its 80-minute runtime and even then, it turns out, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot was added in post production to justify the patently more interesting marketing. Later entries in the series, I would go on to learn, did run with the backside-biting concept a little more. But for this first instalment, producer Charles Band was happy enough to rely on the popularity of mini-monsters (coincidentally kicked off that same production year by Joe Dante’s Gremlins) to try and season an otherwise bland tale of ritual possession.
When the Ghoulies do show up, they’re completely ineffectual and have little to do except mug at the camera and battle for screen time with bickering dwarves and awkward clowns. However, none of these are the worst characters to try (and fail) to inject some fun into proceedings… that prize goes to ‘Mike’. Mike is a perfect example of the painfully familiar relic of 1980s cinema I like to refer to as the ‘Wacky’.
Chances are you’ve experienced this archetype on more than one occasion. The Wacky substitutes confidence and personality for garish clothing and zany behaviour and, when done well, can act as a comedic yet ultimately tragic foil to make those around him feel more interesting (think Jon Cryer’s ‘Duckie’ in 1986’s Pretty in Pink). Sadly, when the Wacky is done badly, you get Mike. Excruciatingly played by Police Academy’s Sgt. Copeland (Scott Thomson), Mike giggles like a moron, breakdances like a drunk dad at a wedding and, when the time comes, even refuses to die in a satisfactorily gruesome manner.
And that’s perhaps Ghoulies’ final sin. Because, while the film never managed to ‘get me in the end’, that one remaining gift could have at least made those days of childhood constipation worthwhile.
Adventures in VHS is now being crowd-funded via Unbound and you can support the project by visiting AdventuresinVHS.com to order a copy today.