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A review of "Spookies" (1986)

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Apparently, I came to the party late; Spookies is a cult classic with a pretty strong following already. I can't say it's undeserved.  Although the film is nonsensical and barely has an ending, it has so much ludicrous energy and so many fun effects that it'll drag you into its bizarre world whether you like it or not.  By the end of the movie, I was completely won over and I'm thinking I need to get a copy of this to screen for friends.  The best way I can think to put it is "Evil Dead II without the character development" - and that's surprisingly not a bad thing.

My Rating: 4 / 5 (Not Actually Bad Movie)

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

So... this is a little hard.  Not long ago I bitched that The Power was a structure-less mess, and Spookies has many of the same problems.  Perhaps more so.  It's hard to even know where to begin.

I guess if there's any through-line in this movie, it would be the main bad guy, Kreon.  Kreon is a nebulously magic dude of ill intent who lives in an enormous mansion hidden away in the woods.  He appears to be ancient and is pining over his long-dead lover, who may not actually be 100% dead.  Her body appears to be in a state of suspended animation, and Kreon keeps babbling about reviving her through some sort of ritual.

Anyway, then a kid shows up and goes into Kreon's house.  The kid sees a bunch of decorations that look like it's his birthday party, and he gets psyched up.  Then he finds a severed head and runs away into the woods, where he's attacked / buried alive by Kreon's weird assistant who looks vaguely like Nightcrawler and who I think is named Korda.

Now, pretend you didn't read that last paragraph, because it means nothing and never gets referenced again.

We cut away to a couple of cars filled with various one-dimensional deadmeats whose names are mentioned briefly, but which I can't remember. So I'll just call them by their character type.  You have, at a minimum: Tough Guy, Low Self Esteem Girl, Wacky Guy, Snooty Guy, Snooty Girl, Average Guy, Average Girl, and Spiritual Girl.  I may have missed one or two.

It seems like the whole gang was just at a party of some sort, but Tough Guy got into a fight with the host and was thrown out.  Tough Guy said he knew of a better party and invited the gang to follow him to it, so now they're all out on the road looking for some antics.  Or something

To be honest, I'm not sure I understand what's actually going on.  Tough Guy actually just seems to be driving aimlessly through the woods while everybody follows him, so maybe it's a case where he's too proud to admit he doesn't have anywhere cool to be, but he needs to feel like a leader.  I'm also not sure how old everybody's supposed to be.  They act like they might be in college, but one of the guys looks like he's in his mid-thirties or maybe even his forties, so who the hell knows.

(Sadly, Wikipedia is of no help, as it just says "some teenagers and some older adults," which is actually even more confusing.)

I guess it doesn't really matter why they're all out in the woods, since that's not what Spookies is all about.  You might have picked up on it already, but this is not a particularly exemplary feat of story or character.

The point is, a bunch of these goofballs are driving out in the woods when Korda throws a huge log down on the road and traps them in place.  They get out and Tough Guy notices Kreon's mansion in the distance.  He shrugs and decides they might as well go crash the house and have an impromptu party.

I guess that's a thing people did back in the '80s?  "Well, I've got some beer and there's a house there.  Let's just break in and drink."  Makes sense.

Anyway, they go inside and party for a bit, and then Spiritual Girl finds a Ouija board.  She starts asking it spooky questions, and then the board tells her that everybody's going to die.  Everybody thinks she's just goofing around... until her body transforms into a hideous witch-monster and she attacks them.

The gang runs away and tries to escape out the front door, but an army of horrific zombies has risen up outside and is advancing - they're trapped!

And that's about all you really need to know of the plot, because the rest of the movie is basically just one really fun creature effect after another as the gang is killed one-by-one by a variety of monsters.  Each time they explore a new room, there's some new horrible thing waiting to attack.  So... let's talk about that.

The Part About the Creatures

One of the most memorable scenes, based on what various Internet blurbs have taught me, seems to be a sequence in which Tough Guy and Low Self Esteem Girl go to the basement to find a place to have sex.  (Yes, this is after they find out about the zombies outside.)  Tough Guy finds an ancient, cobwebby bottle of wine on a table and immediately starts drinking it, and then the wall smashes open and a bunch of shit monsters (they're called "muck men," but make no mistake, they're shit monsters) fart their way out of a hidden chamber and try to kill them.  Tough Guy manages to get the upper hand when he smashes open a giant barrel of wine that dissolves and kills them.  This is actually probably the most logical scene in the entire movie, if that tells you anything.

But there's so much more to Spookies than farts and zombies.  Each character dies in a unique way, and each character faces off against a unique creature.  There's a fantastic sequence in which Wacky Guy chases a mysterious woman down into a catacomb that is apparently hidden under the mansion, thinking she's going to show him a way out - and then she transforms into a hideous spider demon and sucks his blood out, which leads him to comically deflate like an empty balloon.  It's great.

There's also a wonderful part where Snooty Girl fights with a bunch of Ghoulies-like gargoyle things and trashes the set, turning every piece of furniture she can into a shield and/or weapon.  That's one of my favorite parts and one of the few times the humans actually get the better of the monsters.

There's another great sequence where Snooty Guy is fist-fighting with the Grim Reaper.  He gets the upper hand when he punches the Reaper off the roof of the mansion.  The Reaper falls to the ground... and explodes!  Not like "cloud of blood" explodes, but actually erupts-in-a-fireball explodes!

By the second or third encounter, you realize that what's so great about Spookies is that it really just wanted to be a haunted house.  Note that I didn't say a haunted house movie - it wants to actually, literally be a haunted house that you can just carry around with you in VHS format and throw up onto a screen at will.  By the time Snooty Girl was destroying the library, I realized I wasn't watching a normal horror movie: I was watching pure, unadulterated Halloween Horror, and I was loving every minute of it.

"Halloween Horror," longtime readers may recall, is a phrase I use when describing films that are more in love with the tropes of horror than they are interested in actual tension or fear.  It's a subgenre that is marked by kitsch, melodrama, and practical effects that look "cheap" without actually looking cheap.  It's not exactly funny - although it can be - and it's definitely not scary.  It's just a relaxed state of horror that puts you in the right frame of mind for the macabre.

I talked about Halloween Horror last week when I reviewed Ritual, the not-really-Tales-from-the-Crypt-like Tales from the Crypt movie, because I always thought of Tales from the Crypt as the best go-to example of what the phrase means.  But now that I've seen Spookies, I think I have a new winner.

Friends, if you are fans of Halloween and you need something to get you in the spirit of the season, look no further.  Spookies is where it's at.  (How perfect that this review is coming out on October 1.)  This is some of the best fun I've had watching a horror movie all year.

Something Stupid I Noticed

Is it just me, or does the bad guy in Spookies look like Martin Short when he wore old man makeup in Clifford?

The Obligatory Part About the Production History

Here's one of those magical things that happens when I watch a movie out of context, write my notes, and then start doing research.  I love it when I get to feel like I "discovered" something rather than having it explained to me, and this is a perfect example.

One thing I have neglected to mention so far is that there's quite a bit of footage about Kreon's sorta-not-dead wife/girlfriend/mistress.  She actually does get revived at a certain point and spends the rest of the movie running away from Kreon.  At one point you think she might cross paths with The Gang and help them to defeat Kreon, but that never happens - in fact, neither Kreon nor his lover nor Korma ever interact with the protagonists.  They seem to be having this weird adventure of their own on the side.

I was going to write about it and say something to the effect of "it seems like a separate movie," when lo and behold, I find an interview on The Dissolve that explains that that's actually what it was.  Looks like this is one of those situations, similar to Night Train to Terror, where the director with final cut had footage from one movie, then started a new production with a completely different cast and crew, and just threw it all together at the last minute and hoped nobody would notice or mind too much.

Spookies is much better put together than NTtT, though.  NTtT is a complete mess - an hilarious mess, sure, but still a mess.  Spookies at least has some semblance of continuity even though the structure is all over the place.

But what I think is really ironic about learning that it was two different productions is that the stuff that was added later - Kreon and all of his nonsense - actually gives the movie more logic than the footage we see from the original production, Twisted Souls.  It's hard to say what Twisted Souls would have looked like if it was just finished on its own without any meddling, but the most unbelievable aspects of the movie all have to do with the human protagonists.

I guess this is just a long-winded way of asking: why the hell did they go inside the mansion in the first place?

With the Kreon stuff added in afterward, you can kind of half-explain it away by saying that he cast a spell to enchant them to come in.  The scene with the boy at the beginning adds some credence to that idea, because it seems like the boy is enchanted by wish fulfillment of his own - "I wish I had a birthday party - hey, look!  A mansion with a birthday party!"

Without Kreon, there's actually just no good reason for them to all be there.  At least, not in this context.  For all I know, Twisted Souls actually made sense.

It's kind of a shame.  In both this movie and Night Train to Terror, there's a much better movie buried within that you don't quite get.  I guess we'll have to settle for the morsels left over from the editing process - at least they're still fresh and fun enough that it's worth your time.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled, you can find this on Youtube.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)

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