Creature-Feature Conversations is a series of movie reviews as dialogue between horror authors, with a focus on unique, engaging, or cult-status horror films.
Spookies (1986, directed by Eugenie Joseph, Thomas Doran, and Brendan Faulkner)
With guest reviewer Patrick Lacey
JONATHAN RAAB: Have you seen this before? And if so, what the hell?
PATRICK LACEY: Yes but only ten or so times. Used to stare at the cover in the video store and think “I’m not ready for this.” And when I was, I could never find a copy until years later at a con. Bootleg DVD rip from a VHS. But it did the job just fine even if it was hard to hear the muckmen fart over the hiss. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
JR: I’m not sure what that cover looked like, but the title card itself is pretty great. It has a “Halloween Party Superstore” vibe to it, especially with the winking skull. My first exposure to this was probably the Red Letter Media episode where they discover this gem, then later a House by the Video Store retrospective, so I had some idea of what was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for how incompetently made the movie was—and how charming it ended up being.
PL: The incompetence is what makes it interesting for me because, you see, the movie is really two movies stitched together, two entirely different productions.
JR: Right, the other abortive film being something called Twisted Souls. Remembering that is sort of key, as one film is about the group of party people trapped in the haunted house with a bunch of crazy monsters, and the second is about a weirdo in terrible-old-guy-makeup and his cat-man (?) sidekick. That second movie is noticeably less interesting than the first, and involves the old man trying to resurrect his bride through… some means or another, means somehow related to the weird monsters stalking the halls of what is an otherwise cool mansion set. I honestly don’t feel like there’s much to talk about concerning that guy and his friend in terrible Halloween makeup, because the real fun comes from the baffling acting of the main cast and the often-inspired creature design of the ghoulies that hunt them down.
PL: I will say: the creature effects are way better than they have any right to be, and let’s be honest, that’s the main draw. People aren’t coming here for the weird Sleeping Beauty bit. But I submit to you: would this film be as infamous, as coveted, as it is now if it weren’t for that segment? If it were, say, a decent creature feature with great puppets, would we be having this discourse? I think not. And because of that, I salute you, weird German guy. And you too, Wolf Boy.
JR: I don’t know. I think if the original version had another creature kill scene or two and was feature length, this film might still be in the conversation. I found the film to be generally very entertaining in a car-wreck sort of way, but every time the horrible old man and his horrible dialogue came back, the film lost all momentum. I think it’s best to focus on the creatures and their set pieces.
The spider-lady scene was genuinely gross in a cartoonish sort of way, despite the racist soundtrack cues; the grim reaper was a fabulous yard decoration come to life, and the slime-oil creature grossed me out. That one felt like a leftover from Galaxy of Terror, and I say that in the best way possible. What were the standouts for you?
PL: I’ve got to give props to the GHOULIES-esque puppet, the knock-off deadite, and the aforementioned muck men. That’s the best sentence I’ve written in ages and another reason why I love this film so much.
There’s so much constantly assaulting you that sometimes you’re not sure if it happened in the first place. It’s a fever dream, a movie best watched when you’ve eaten too much junk food and your eyes are getting drowsy. To be honest, I’m not sure if Spookies actually exists or if it’s a nightmare we’ve collectively shared. Either way, it rocks.
JR: The whole thing really does have to be seen to be believed, and just talking about it doesn’t do it justice. It’s an incompetent mess with bright moments of inspired design and oddball, unintentional humor. Grab some friends and your favorite mind-altering substance, and give Spookies a try.
Patrick Lacey spends his nights and weekends writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, his daughter, his oversized cat, and his muse, who is likely trying to kill him. Follow him on Twitter (@patlacey).
Jonathan Raab is the author of numerous short stories, veteran advocacy essays, and novels including Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization and The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre. He is the editor of several anthologies from Muzzleland Press, including Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror and Terror in 16-bits. He lives in Colorado with his wife Jess, their son, and a dog named Egon. You can find him on Twitter @jonathanraab1.