Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: Jim, in the course of Bad Movie Diaries’ three-year experiment, we’ve followed a few groups of horny young white people to their untimely demises before. I submit to you that 1986’s Spookies presents to us the group that I have most fervently hoped would die and die quickly. This is an interesting conversation piece you’ve found for us here. Recall that we also have watched Home Sweet Home, with the unforgettable Mistake.
Jim: That was a character literally named “Mistake,” who wore KISS facepaint and pranced around with a guitar and a backpack amplifier, fully dedicated to the annoyance of everyone around him. The character “Duke” from this movie gives him a run for his money, though.
Ah, Mistake, how we miss thee.
Ken: This is one of those cases, Jim, where a movie is exceptional in some ways and bizarrely bad in others. Maybe you should tell us a bit about it before we do a deep dive into the barely distinguishable characters.
Jim: You are right on the money in that assessment, Ken. This is one of those movies where they clearly spent all the budget in one area (monster FX), and turned out pretty good results there, but the entire rest of the film is an unforgivable mess.
Let me explain something that will probably make Spookies make much more sense to you, if you didn’t do any reading about it yourself. This movie was primarily shot in 1984, as a horror film named Twisted Souls, about a group of “young people” who go to a haunted house to party and are then killed by a bunch of monsters. However, some kind of dispute in post-production ended up in the film being unfinished, so the financial backer then hired a different director to come in and shoot new material with entirely different performers. Some enterprising editor then stitched the whole damn mess together and attempted to pretend that it was all one connected narrative.
Ken: Whoa. We must explore this as we summarize this beast, because stuff is so disjointed.
Jim: Things coming together now? I thought it would be interesting to not tell you this in advance, although I hadn’t actually watched this movie before, either.
Ken: I got the sense that there was at the very least some scheduling silliness given the chief antagonist and the characters never once show up together, and there’s an extended portion at the beginning with a character who just dies and is never mentioned again.
Jim: Now you’re gettin’ it.
Ken: I didn’t have an inkling that the thing was any more than supremely poorly planned, though.
Jim: It could best be thought of as “Movie A” and “Movie B,” I think. Movie A is the portion with the “teens” in the two or three cars who arrive at the house. Movie A has the ouija board, the possessed friend and most of the monsters. “Movie B” has the birthday kid, the warlock and his wife in the basement, the werewolf/were-cat and the zombies at the end. And never the two shall meet!
Ken: This is insane. My brain is now noticing cheats it didn’t before. But let’s bring our dear readers up to speed with what we’re talking about, Jim. Set the stage for us as we meet these (very gnarly, moist, really well-crafted) Spookies.
Jim: The framing device (added in by the second director in Movie B) is that there’s an elderly warlock (the credits say his name is “Kreon,” but this is never mentioned) in the basement of an old mansion, and he wants to revive his beautiful dead/undead wife. But in order to do this, he needs various sacrifices of young people to keep her alive/youthful. Thankfully, several carfuls of “teens” from Movie A arrive at the seemingly abandoned mansion to have a party. It’s a very Evil Dead/Night of the Demons setup. You immediately understand that all the kids will end up getting picked off over the course of 90 minutes.
Just a warlock and his faithful were-cat.
Ken: Quite at the same time, the movie opens with some kid running away from home. He encounters a creepy vagrant, then wanders into the same mansion, where creepy magical temptation illusions like a birthday party and a toy robot and candles that light themselves all lure him in. You get the impression that he’ll interact with the douchey teens (who look 40). But that is not what happens, is it Jim?
Jim: Not in any way, shape or form. Instead, he receives a scare from the classic “head in a box” trick and runs out of the house before any of the teens arrive. He’s pursued by what I was sure was a werewolf, but is actually apparently a WERE-CAT?
What follows is one of the strangest horror movie kills I have ever seen, on multiple levels. He’s raked a few times by the were-cat’s claws, during which time you notice that the monster for some reason has a hook for a hand? But you hardly have time to focus on that because the were-cat then pushes the little boy into a hole, grabs a shovel and then just buries him alive, one shovel full at a time, while the boy lays there squirming around. To repeat: The WERE-CAT MONSTER chooses to GRAB A SHOVEL and then BURY THE CHILD ALIVE rather than just rip him to shreds.
The were-cat carefully considers the best possible way to get hold of a shovel and bury this stupid kid.
Ken: We learn later that the entire ground on which the mansion rests is apparently a zombie spawn point, so in retrospect this sort of makes sense. But it is weird, nonetheless. Like what, maybe if we don’t actually show the kid at the moment he dies we’ll get a softer rating? (Actually that makes perfect sense…)
Jim: It plays like that scene from Step Brothers where Will Ferrell buries John C. Reilly alive in the front yard.
Ken: Once we dispense with this nonsense, we meet our teen sacrifices. They’re 30-ish. And my goodness, Jim. I can’t remember individual names, except for Duke. Describe what he’s wearing for our readers.
Jim: I legitimately do not know what it is; I will have to go back and study it more to even make a guess. In my notes, I wrote “he’s wearing a garbage bag?” It’s like a black plastic top with shoulder pads and racing stripes. As you say, most of the teens are 30-ish, except for the guy in the suit and tie, who is at least 45 or 50.
Judging from his outfit, Duke appears to be a C-tier member of The Avengers.
Ken: Much like Mistake, Duke is our clear antagonist. Like the evil warlock in this movie, I imprisoned my own paramour (which is to say my long-suffering fiancée) with a screening of this film, and the entire time we were baying for his blood. I was inventing douchey mob-flavored monikers for him like “Johnny Bonnadouchebag” or “Tony Dresses-Like-Black-Adam.” He’s fake-accented, drunk, abusive, and generally in a bad mood about everything. He codes as a guy who lasts about 10 seconds in an early season of The Sopranos.
Jim: When you’re immediately more hate-able than the comic relief character who’s literally carrying around a puppet named “Mook,” then you must be very annoying indeed.
Ken: Oh god, the puppet guy. We have a huge cast of sacrifices here. The dorky comic relief guy just pulls faces and makes jokes and I swear talks through a hand puppet. There’s also one couple with an emasculated guy and his icy British girlfriend.
Jim: Speaking of bad accents, I enjoyed the incomprehensibility of the warlock/Kreon, whose every line sounds like it’s somehow coming through a gas mask. In the rare moments he is more legible, he’s speaking cartoon German, with lines like, “I am a zlave to zat vich I vill never pozezz.”
Ken: That was funny. I will say that his unwilling wife—and that whole plotline—was actually the most coherent part of the movie. And now of course I see that this is because it is a separate movie.
Spooky, marital bliss.
Jim: I will give them a little bit of credit; even though they keep the characters in the two movies entirely separate, it at least feels like the same house. And they manage to make the two seem more connected by making it look like the warlock is speaking through the teens’ possessed friend Carol—who looks suspiciously like Linda Blair for someone who is not in fact Linda Blair.
Ken: Yes. I think we need to give some credit where it’s due: The guy who stitched this homunculus together made the best of what he was given. Too bad the original footage he was working with was so Abby Normal. Anyway, Carol, Duke and the rest all settle into this house like they aren’t trespassing and it isn’t a creepy death mansion.
Jim: Which brings us to the actual thing that Spookies has going for it: the monsters! So many monsters!
Ken: These are good monsters, Jim.
Jim: They’ve got some quality and some quantity. A bit from both columns, with a few big stand-outs.
Ken: If these were in a better-produced movie, it would be a standout flick.
Jim: With that said, the monsters just show up totally at random as one or two cast members wander around the house, so trying to summarize them all seems both impossible and pointless. Instead, I’ll just ask about your favorites of the monsters.
Ken: I have to give my props for the tentacle thing that ices Inexplicably British Henpecking Girlfriend. So gross! So detailed! And then the girlfriend boils away into bloody soupy bullshit. It’s aces.
Jim: My A-1 selection has got to be the spider-woman. She transforms into a massive spider creature and then sucks the comedy relief guy dry like she’s the Brain Bug in Starship Troopers. His desiccated face is hilarious.
Ken: Her original form is a mysterious evil Asian lady, so we can check that problematic box!
He may need a moist towelette.
Jim: Of course, not all the monsters can live up to this level. You have the extremely confusing were-cat, with his hook hand, frilly shirt and gold vest. I have no idea what was going on with that concept. And … and … you have the “muck men” in the basement, who attack Duke and his girl, but are mostly notable for the fact that they’re making ear-rattlingly loud farting sounds every five seconds the entire time they’re on screen. It’s funny less for the intended “ha ha fart noises” reasons, and more because it’s hilarious to think that this was their idea of great comedy. Dozens and dozens of fart noises. Several minutes straight of sustained farting.
Ken: My fiancée and I lost it during that scene. Jim, they fart SO MUCH. The farts don’t stop! They’re long, wet rips, and they just keep going! They made their point long ago, but they are still breaking wind, Jim!!
Jim: It’s hilariously excessive, and inconsistent as well, given that there’s not much comedy in the movie. It’s so out of nowhere.
Ken: It’s all the more hilarious that it was clearly just added in post and there’s no indicator in the scene that all the farting is happening. The audio editor was like, “You know what!”
Jim: PUNCH THIS SHIT UP!
I made a full list of the film’s monsters, by the way.
Ken: Roll call!
Jim: They include: Were-cat, little blue-faced jawa boy, possessed Carol, flatulent muck men, gargoyle reptile puppets, electrical tentacle hallway demon, basement puppet witch, spider woman, grim reaper skeleton, and about 100 zombies.
Ken: Some of the tussles the teens get in with these baddies are pretty tactile, to say the least.
Jim: I will say, I wonder how Movie A was originally supposed to end? Because the surviving party-goers confront the possessed Carol (who must have been the main antagonist of Movie A because she’s controlling other monsters with the ouija board) and a very confusing scene happens where they try to destroy the ouija board, but all seem to die in the process. The actual end of Spookies then follows the ending of Movie B instead, wherein Kreon’s wife attempts to escape and is chased by zombies.
The villain of Movie A, presumably.
Ken: So let me ask something else: Do we see Duke die? I last remember the Death sculpture pimp-slapping him into some furniture and then that’s it. It didn’t look like the sort of impact that kills a character in a movie like this.
Jim: Yes, I wondered the same thing. The grim reaper thing swipes at him with the scythe, and he goes flying. I guess that’s what passes for a death, but given how much time the movie spends on Duke before this it’s weird that he doesn’t get a gorier demise. It could have been cut, I suppose.
Ken: Jim, do you think he was the honest-to-goodness survivor/lone hero at the end of Movie A, and the second director said “Fuck this noise?” Because if so, this is the best movie we’ve ever watched.
Jim: My favorite thing about Duke dying is that it results in the 45-year-old teen in the suit and tie somehow becoming the de facto hero after this. The grim reaper thing chases them out onto the roof and he grapples with the thing, overpowers it and throws the reaper off the roof, where it EXPLODES INTO FLAMES upon contact with the ground. Immediately afterward, he asks the rest of the group “how do we fight these demons?”, as if he didn’t just defeat one with his bare fucking hands.
The surprisingly combustible grim reaper.
Ken: My cut of the film hilariously lost audio right as they started leafing through the Necronomicon or whatever it is. OH NO, I thought, I’M MISSING THE INTRICATE EXPOSITION.
Jim: Not that it matters. Movie A really comes to a screeching halt there at the end.
Ken: Indeed it does. These chumps all die, and we’re left with the imprisoned wife trying to escape the warlock. She’s not a bad performer! And this actually was a coherent plotline and not an ill-considered one, I think.
Jim: Their conversations don’t really make any sense, though. Somehow, all of the demons and monsters around the mansion are their children, I guess?
Ken: That was confusing, but you could wave it away by saying the guy means they’re his creations intended to be adopted children, or that the weird spell he has over her is part of the creation process or something.
Jim: She has “Winona Ryder when she thinks she has to marry Betelgeuse” energy. Allow me to say, for the record: I absolutely do not want to discuss any part of this plot in any more depth than this.
Ken: I’m with you. This film is utterly without merit beyond the few plaudits we’ve given it here. The characters are shrill. The production quality outside the creatures is bargain basement. The 90-ish minute runtime feels too long.
Jim: It’s only like 85 minutes, but I was dying by the time the wife was trying to make her escape and being chased by all those zombies. They push and pull her around endlessly as she screams, for what feels like an eternity.
Jim: All in all, though, this feels like a very textbook example of low-budget 1980s horror. Movies like this were clogging the video shelves for decades afterward, mostly trying to distinguish themselves with VHS cover art.
Ken: It’s got a very “Thriller” vibe going. And Evil Dead, et. al. Do we know much more about the story behind the production here? Obviously they started from “gnarly monsters” and tried to build a film around that. Which, you know, isn’t a bad idea in theory.
Jim: I remember thinking, “This is ripping off Night of the Demons” in particular because that’s also “group of kids goes to party in a haunted mansion,” but turns out the latter wasn’t until 1988. So maybe they ripped off Spookies a bit? I’m afraid I don’t know much more, except that the original directors were fired and replaced. I do wonder how they got such crazy effects as the morphing spider woman, or if these monsters were all salvaged from other movies or something.
Ken: They look pretty bespoke to me! If they really are repurposed, it was great work.
Seriously impressive craftsmanship that is worthy of a much better movie.
Jim: It’s a mystery. This film wasn’t every well known until the last few years when it’s been rediscovered and got a new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, so its cult is just starting to more seriously grow now. Any final tidbits you enjoyed that you need to get out there?
Ken: I really think that beyond the effects, the captive wife (Maria Pechukas) deserves some credit. I didn’t hate her performance, and she was a sympathetic character who does actually take matters into her own hands at the end. But that’s just such a tiny bright spot in an otherwise thoroughly abrasive film.
Jim: I just want to say that the hardest I laughed in the movie was immediately after Duke is killed by the Grim Reaper, when the guy in the suit and tie (I still don’t know this dude’s name) chooses to exit the room by DIVING AT THE DOOR HEAD FIRST, smashing through it like a missile. It was amazing; I watched it three times.
Ken: That also inspired an instant replay on our part! We thought we’d looked away at a crucial moment, and he’d been launched, but no, he slams through on his own power and the magic of his sloppily loosened tie!
Jim: The door was made of popsicle sticks, I guess.
Ken: Jim, our next foray into horror couldn’t possibly be as bubbly and gross as this.
Jim: You have to know me well enough to know that I can only interpret that as a challenge.
Ken: It was intended as such. Until then, don’t go touching any strange Ouija boards, sir.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.