I’ve seen Spookies at least four times in the last year and I still have no answers for so many parts of the movie’s plot, motivations or reasons for existing. Hours of research have been spent reading up on the film, looking for the truth as to how such a strange movie escaped from some wall beyond sleep to infect my waking life.
There are moments of Spookies that are utterly terrifying — an incredibly realistic looking grim reaper, a spider sucking the life out of a man and zombies good enough to fit into a Fulci film. Then there are farting monsters, a wolf boy and acting on sub-Ed Wood level. How can all of these pieces fit into one movie?
That’s because, well, Spookies is more than just one movie. And despite its flaws, I love it.
Much like another of my favorite bits of 1980’s video insanity, Night Train to Terror, Spookies has its roots in a strange fashion. Whereas the former film is three movies all stitched into one, Spookies is a movie that was finished, then torn apart and finished again by a totally different creative team.
Spookies was once a movie called Twisted Souls, which was written and produced by Frank Farel, Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran, with the latter two men directing. It was filmed at the home of James Jay — one of the Founding Fathers — in the summer of 1984 before the producers and their financial backer ran into artistic differences. That meant that while the film was shot, the editing and post-production was never finished.
How much of Twisted Souls is left? Everything where the people arrive in two cars, as well as the monster attacks in the house came from this footage, including the demon girl with the Ouija board, the muck men, the snake demon, the grim reaper and the muck men.
A year later, the financial backer hired Eugenie Joseph to direct more footage and splice it into the original film. She hired an entirely new cast, which would be the scenes where the boy looks for his birthday party, the guy in the tree, the cat boy, the old magician, all of the zombies, the blue boy and the witch in the basement.
This would all make some semblance of sense if any of these multiple plot points and characters ever crossed over. But they really don’t. Unlike Night Train to Terror, which at least attempts to weave its three stories into one portmanteau narrative, Spookies just throws things at you until you really have no idea what’s next. Imagine if Evil Dead made even less sense and changed its tone and narrative every five minutes and you’ll gain some idea of what this movie is like. Think Demon Wind, but someone here more rambling insanity, more characters and way better effects.
Here’s the best I can do at summing it up: Billy runs away from home when his parents forget his birthday like he’s Samantha Baker or something. As he goes through the woods, he meets a man who is soon stabbed by a werecat dressed like Adam Ant and then finds an old mansion decorated like a birthday party. Thinking it’s for him, he opens a gift and finds a severed head before the werecat buries him alive.
We’re never going back to Billy. Seriously, that’s it.
A group of teenagers — along with some adults who are way too old for them to all be hanging out together — come across the mansion and decide to party. There’s Duke, who claims to be the leader and brags that he’s a horny ghost. Linda, his girlfriend. Her friend Meegan and her older boyfriend/daddy figure Peter who seems exasperated by the teenage antics. Then there’s Rich, who wears a t-shirt of himself and only speaks through a hand puppet. Oh yeah — and Carol, who gets possessed by the Ouija board. And a British woman and her American husband. I may have missed or combined a few characters, because watching this movie is very much like doing a gravity bong hit and then trying to describe everything that happened in the last twenty minutes you spent lying on the floor and attempting to stay within this plane of existence.
None of these mismatched pals counted on battling Kreon, an ancient warlock who has kept his dead wife Isabelle preserved for seventy years. He needs human victims, so he uses his bootleg Ouija board and an army of demons of all shapes and sizes to kill them off. We’ve covered some of them above, but there are also an electric octopus, a skeleton witch and reptile demons. Oh yes — I nearly forgot that an Asian woman becomes a spider.
Everyone finally dies, but Kreon’s wife runs away, chased by zombies in a scene that actually approaches true fright. It’s seriously one of the best parts in the film. She escapes to a car and a man drives her away, but he’s really the werecat. A man bursts from his grave and it’s Kreon, who laughs as the credits roll.
I have so many questions.
Why does Kreon burst out of the ground other than to just act cool? I mean, is bursting from your grave cool?
Why do the muck men — who appear terrifying — fart?
is Korda the werecat the son of Kreon and the queen who has been trapped for seventy years?
How did they talk Richard Corben, the noted comic book artist and painter of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album cover to do the poster for this?
Why does the grim reaper explode?
Why does RIch have a hand puppet that he talks to?
Why has this never been released on blu ray in an era where every film has been rediscovered?
To answer some of that, this movie ran mostly on USA between 1988 and 1991. There was also a Sony Video VHS release. In 2003, UK company Vipco Entertainment released a Region 2 PAL DVD mastered from that VHS. My copy is one of the ones released in 2017 by French company Intercontinental Film and Video under the title Les Spookie, which claims to be from a new 2K scan. It still looks beat up and worn, so who knows.
This article at The Dissolve gives some answers, though.
From the film’s ex-Green Beret cinematographer’s son dying from crib death on the set to the film’s original FX guy getting fired (he was replaced by a 16-year-old Gabe Bartalos (who created the Leprechaun) and future Emmy Award winner Jennifer Aspinall), it’s packed with info. And the blame for the farting zombies lies with executive producer Michael Lee, who wanted to call the movie Bowel Erupters. And somehow, out of all of this, Errol Morris’ cinematographer Bob Chappell ended up shooting the new footage (much of the crew went on to work with J, Michael Muro on Street Trash).
This is truly a lost film, despite what the back of the French release claims (“We have found the lost film!”). The original ending has never been seen, although Al Magliochetti, the visual effects artist, has an interpositive of it. And the rights, which were owned by Michael Lee, Sony, then Vestron, and then Lionsgate, are murky. No negative or print has been found.
This movie is well overdue for a fancy blu ray release, but until then, you can grab a copy from the VHSPS. Here’s hoping you’ve never encountered this movie before and get to have a first time experience like I had, being amazed, bewildered and overwhelmed by just how strange this movie is.
Heck, just watch it on YouTube and get back to me.
UPDATE: You should totally buy this from Vinegar Syndrome!