Directed by Chad Ferrin
Distributed by Cine Du Monde
Following on from the grotesquery of his debut feature, Unspeakable, the real-life helicopter footage that opens The Ghouls gives an in-your-face indication of director Chad Ferrin’s refusal to hold back when it comes to pushing boundaries. A tight and thoroughly unpleasant tale, The Ghouls follows anti-hero Eric Hayes (Muskatell) – himself a similarly unpleasant ambulance-chasing videographer, making a living by selling footage of human destruction and carnage to the highest media bidder – as he stumbles upon the titular colony of flesh-eating monstrosities living in the sewers of Los Angeles.
Leading a tortured existence on the verge of moral bankruptcy, Hayes spends the majority of his waking moments attempting to smoke and drink himself into oblivion. After stumbling from a bar at closing time, Hayes happens upon what he thinks is three homeless people gang-raping a woman in an alleyway. Grabbing his trusty camera, he intends to make a quick buck but finds himself witnessing an orgy of cannibalistic mutilation: These guys aren’t raping her… they’re eating her. Barely escaping from the clutches of the horrific trio, Hayes brings the footage to his newest client, Lewis (a wonderfully greasy Joe Pilato), only to find that in his drunken stupor he forgot to load the camera with film.
Facing ridicule and disbelief, he turns to his only friend and fellow injury-seeker Clift (Trent Haaga) and convinces him to return to the scene of the incident. Soon enough, the pair end up way over their camera-wielding heads.
While The Ghouls looks and sounds about as rough as Ferrin’s previous effort, Unspeakable, it’s leaps and bounds ahead in terms of narrative construction and filmmaking chops. The story flows solidly from start to finish, and the small cast leaves little chance for any seriously poor performances to stick in the mind. Ferrin regular Timothy Muskatell slides perfectly into the role of the damaged and conflicted Hayes. Rarely a sympathetic character, Hayes is more of a misguided, pitiable protagonist than most audiences are used to accepting as their window into the film’s world. It’s a ballsy move but necessary as Ferrin’s contemporary LA is a neon-lit cesspit littered with depravity, devoid of altruism — where decent people are few and far between.
While there are a few gruesome moments throughout, Ferrin lets the atmosphere and characters do most of the work when it comes to revulsion in The Ghouls, showing a surprising level of restraint while still having fun with the red stuff. In doing so, he also admirably avoids letting the level of believability slip too far, too quickly – ugly, without becoming schlocky. Less dependable is the score, which only crops up occasionally and whose jazzy overtures offer a sordid complement to character beats but little in the way of backing up urgency or fear during attack sequences featuring the titular fiends.
This is a film whose very presentation is bathed in the sleaze of the world it inhabits. It’s difficult, challenging and unsettling in just the right ways, save for a few moments that feel needlessly exploitative when coupled with the overwhelming (yet honest) nihilism of the piece. This pervasive atmosphere and the low-budget techs will likely render The Ghouls nigh-on unwatchable for many, but fans of home-grown horror with something to say would be well served to seek it out.
For those who fancy themselves as filmmakers, Cine Du Monde’s Special Edition UK DVD release of The Ghouls is an absolute must-buy. This disc is packed to the gills with extras that run the entire gamut of making the film – from the raising of starting capital via Ferrin selling his beloved Mustang right through auditions, pre- and post-production chaos, on-set limitations, disagreements, secret recordings, bloopers, interviews – you name it and it’s here. Backed up by a lively, revealing commentary with Ferrin and Muskatell, this is an astounding package that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the experiences behind The Ghouls. The same “Thank You” introduction from Ferrin found on the distributor’s Unspeakable DVD shows up here, with trailers and an image gallery bringing us to a close. When these guys say “Special Edition”, they mean it with this one!
• Thank You Message from Director Chad Ferrin
• Audio Commentary with Chad Ferrin and Actor Timothy Muskatell
• “Tough Shit” – The Making of The Ghouls
• Auditions and Rehearsals
• “Fuck!” – Bloopers, Blunders and Alternate Takes
• Deleted Scenes
• Interviews with Cast and Crew
• “Blood and Camera” – Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Image Gallery
3 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5