Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring David Renton, William Atherton, Erin Gray, James DeBello
Directed by Gary Jones
It pains me a little bit to have to write this review since I've had some correspondences with this film's director, Gary Jones, and he seems like a cool enough guy and I strongly suspect he's going to read this review. But I have to be honest and there's just no polite way of putting this - Ghouls kinda stinks. There's no kinda about it really. Ghouls stinks! It really stinks. Even from a pure schlock standpoint Ghouls still has little to offer. And the worst part is that I can pretty much put my finger on the two main reasons why this film ended up being such a stinker.
First of all, the movie is called Ghouls. The monsters are ghouls: spectral, skeletal, flying, flesh-eating phantasms. A movie about ghouls entitled Ghouls should have a level of ghoulishness to it. There should be a creep factor. So why the hell is all but the very beginning and end of this film set in broad daylight? Why am I watching ghouls attacking people in broad daylight?
Forgive my preconceived notions of what a ghoul should be but when I think ghoulishness nothing I envision involves a nice sunny day. I don't know if this was a tactical mistake on the part of Jones or something he was forced to do for budgetary or time restraint reasons or if all these day scenes were mandated by the Sci-Fi Channel brass; I've been told in the past by some individuals who have worked on Sci-Fi Channel movies that Sci-Fi doesn't like nighttime settings because they claim their marketing research indicates viewers are more likely to flip the channel if they come across a movie taking place at night.
An hour in I came very close to dropping Jones an email to ask him why a movie about ghouls takes place primarily in sunlight. I'm sure there's a reason. Regardless, the daylight destroys any semblance of spooky atmosphere you'd expect from a movie called Ghouls. Not that these ghouls ever do much that's scary anyway.
The other problem with the daylight setting is it exposes the obviousness of the make-up and CGI used to bring the ghouls to life. When the ghouls fly they do so in the form of what looks like cloudy bits of swooshing digital effects. If it was nighttime those effects would partially blend in with the darkness. In broad daylight, all you see is an eyeful of some really shoddy computer animation that stands out like a sore thumb in front of a bright background. The ghouls in their physical form would be eerier looking shrouded under cover of night unlike the near constant daylight that only goes to point out they’re just actors in make-up with their rubbery rib cages exposed.
The bigger problem though is everyone has to work from a screenplay that didn't try to do anything other than the bare minimum. Lacking in imagination or inspiration, unfolding in the flattest manner possible; it makes for one of the lamest Sci-Fi Channel originals in recent memory. I hesitate to point any fingers at the three credited writers because I have a sneaking suspicion they were at the mercy of the producers. I really have a hard time imagining the writer actually had much say over the script. It feels more like the producers dictated the story in mere moments and then left it up to the writers to fill in the names, dialogue, and decide how characters would die. I can almost hear that producer talking now.
"There's this hot college girl whose granny from the old country dies. She travels to the tiny Eastern European village with her dad and step mom for granny's funeral where the townsfolk all act suspiciously except for the one 'uncle' who is really part of a cult that needs the girl because she's the last of her bloodline for a ritual that involves these ghouls that fly around killing people at random. Make sure to give us plenty of that black mass stuff and show the ghouls eating a person or two. And we need some sort of cursed object, an obelisk maybe. And be sure there’s a magic dagger that can potentially end it all. The girl needs a love interest so be sure to throw in some young guy who has to save her from the cult. Make him a young ghoul hunter or something like that. Yeah, that'll work. You can fill in the rest of the blanks. And I'll need it by this weekend."
All snark aside, two people are credited with coming up with the story and that's in addition to three different screenwriters. It seriously took two people to come up with that paragraph above? Two people to conjure up a plot we've seen a million times before? I realize nobody set out to reinvent the wheel with this film, but good grief; this is so formulaic that calling it formulaic is a gross understatement. Ironically, the only thing keeping Ghouls from achieving unwatchable status is that it's such a straightforward retread of all-too-familiar territory it leaves little wiggle to sink any further. That also leaves little wiggle room for any embellishment that might liven up the same old, same old.
Though there are those scenes where people try to fight the ghouls with shotguns and grenades. Again, call it my preconceived notions of what a ghoul is, but trying to shoot and blow up non-corporeal phantasms just doesn't seem like the most effective means of ghostbustin'. Yet you'd be surprised how effective those weapons can be at times. A friend walked in right in the middle of a scene early in where two guys in trenchcoats were running around a forest in the middle of the day attacking the ghouls and commented upon realizing they were blasting away at these ghostly ghouls with conventional weapons, "That's just stupid." I couldn't agree more. But when a movie is as leaden as this those tiny fleeting moments of stupidity are a welcome reprieve.
1 out of 5