Spookies (1986)

Gremlins unleashed a slew of little vicious creature movies in the 1980s.  Critters is the most memorable, followed by low-budget fair such as Troll and Ghoulies that, while not great films, at least provided some decent effects and were passable enough to watch on cable during Halloween.  They all made a bit of a profit even if it came from video sales and cable repeats, but they became part of the background of an '80s childhood.

Into this line of films came Spookies, with a title that was an obvious attempt to keep riding out the trend.  Originally called Twisted Souls, the movie was written by Thomas Doran and Frank M. Farel and directed by Doran and his film school friend Brendan Faulkner.  It does include a slimy reptilian monster similar to the creatures in Ghoulies or Troll, but that's as far as the comparison went.  Instead, this turns into a bad zombie flick toward the end instead of the House ripoff it seems at the beginning. 

Billy (Alec Nemser) runs away from home after his parents forget his 13th birthday.  Along the way he stop at an old mansion with a cemetery out front and is lured within.  He finds a table set with presents and a cake and, thinking his parents tracked him down and planned a surprise party, is lured in.  It turns out that it is a trap set by a sorcerer named Kreon (Felix Ward), who has been stealing the souls of young people in order to resurrect Isabelle (Maria Pechukas), the woman he loves.

When a group of partygoers arrive soon after they find themselves trapped in the house as well.  They discover a strange Ouija board in the possession of a dead body and they start to play with it.  Soon their friend Carol (Lisa Friede) is possessed by Kreon.  This leads to the death of one of their party as they try to escape and Carol's disappearance.  Unable to leave the house by the front door the visitors go in search of an exit, each running into creatures brought to life by Kreon.  Soon Isabelle is resurrected, but spurns Kreon's advances and finds herself trapped as well. 

Doran and Faulkner directed all the parts dealing with the partygoers and the creatures they run into.  The house, the family home of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, served as the location, provided cheap to the crew as the owners were hoping they would trash it.  Instead, they restored it to a livable condition, and went about making a movie with a number of great creature effects, including reptilian snake monsters, a spider woman, "muck men" and an animated statue of the Grim Reaper.  I am not able to find the original script online or any information saying the original footage, which was pretty much in the can and ready for post-production adding of a soundtrack and polishing effects, exists.  What I can piece together from what did make it in the movie is it probably involved an evil, killer Ouija board that possessed Carol and then used the creatures to take everyone else's souls.

The reason it is so different from what intended is that, instead of letting Doran and Faulkner finish their movie, producer Michael Lee snatched the film from them and hired Genie Joseph to direct the parts involving Kreon, Isabelle, Billy and the zombie attack at the end.  Other characters thrown in were a werecat (Dan Scott) doing Kreon's bidding and Kreon's son Korda (A.J. Lowenthal), whom he was breeding to take over.  Parts of what had already been filmed were spliced with this, with the result that it feels like Kreon exists somewhere in the house but outside of time.

Because of the tampering trying to make sense of this movie is impossible.  Even as Twisted Souls the highlight would have been the creature designs by John Dods, as there are no characters to root for.  There is a greaser named Duke (Nick Gionta) who is constantly fighting with Peter (Peter Dain), who despite everyone else (including his wife) being 20-somethings, appears to be in his 40s.  Peter Iasillo Jr., as the comic relief Rich, is memorable, but not in a good way.  The whole point of the film was to make a traditional horror film after which Lee had promised Doran and Faulkner that he would fund the movie they wanted to make.  This never happened, and things soon fell apart between them and Lee because the interference started even before the film was finished.

So what we do get is Felix Ward overacting, Maria Pechukas barely emoting when reading lines, other characters looking and sounding like they are seeing their lines for the first time on cue cards just out of the shot, as well as a movie largely constructed of people wandering around the house followed by a terrible ending.  I can understand why this has become a cult hit, as I am sure that getting the right group of people together with the right "enhancements" would allow for having a big laugh at the film's expense, but it is not even a watchable or enjoyable bad film.  In its current form it is annoying and boring and just this side of unwatchable.  It is bad enough that a flatulence joke, insisted on by Lee, doesn't even liven things up.  

Spookies (1986)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Lisa Friede
Directors: Thomas Doran, Brendal Faulkner, Genie Joseph



  1. I wonder if it's licensing costs or just that it really is so bad it's not even funny that it hasn't been on Mystery Science Theater or Rifftrax yet. It usually doesn't work out when producers decide to make big changes to a movie shortly before or during production like Highlander II.

    1. Probably licensing. The producer's dead, but Vinegar Syndrome now owns the rights to the movie. Unfortunately, the only ways I could find it streaming was either sign up for Screambox or watch an old VHS rip on Internet Archive. Of course I did the latter. There is plenty here for RiffTrax to dig into.

    2. I know Rifftrax has done a couple of "Vinegar Syndrome" movies so maybe they'll get this one. Sounds like it has the potential to be as good as "Ghosthouse."


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