The Garbage Pail Kids came out in 1985 from Topps and were created by Art Spiegelman. Yes, the same cartoonist who made Maus. He and Mark Newgarden worked together as the editors and art directors of the project, with Len Brown — the same person who Wally Wood named T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dynamo after and one of the creators of Wacky Packages and Mars Attacks — as the manager and art by John Poundart for the first series, then Jay Lynch, Tom Bunk, James Warhola — the nephew of Andy Warhol — and more.
These cards were a huge success and sold worldwide (they’re called Mr. Creepy in Japan, Totally Broken Kids in Germany, The Filthies in France, Snotlings in Italy and The Garbage Gang elsewhere). They were quite controversial and banned in many schools. And then Original Appalachian Artworks — the same Xavier Roberts who stole the look of Martha Nelson Thomas’ soft sculptured dolls that came with a birth certificate — sued and they had to change the logo. But by 1988, the kids were gone. yet they came back in 2003 and never went away. You can even get blockchain backed high-end versions of them now.
Look, I’m someone who doesn’t believe that there’s “so bad it’s good” and has found the light in the darkness within so many so-called bad films. This one challenged my will to live, but there are times during it when the overwhelming badness of the film approaches surrealist art and I laughed so hard that my head began to throb and I was sure this was the stroke that would wipe out my lifelong hard-earned knowledge of Mattei, D’Amato and lesser scumbag directors.
Dodger (Mackenzie Astin) works in the junk store of magician Captain Manzini (Anthony Newley) and is also the target of a gang of toughs led by Juice (Ron MacLachlan) while loving that bad dude’s girl Tangerine (Katie Barberi) from afar.
To break up all that preteen angst, a garbage can falls from the sky containing green ooze and the Garbage Pail Kids: the always snotty Messy Tessie; the Hawaiian shirt-wearing flatulent Windy Winston; the throw up on command Valerie Vomit (played by Debbie Lee Carrington, memorable as the small-statured Martian rebel in Total Recall); the whining baby Foul Phil; the acne-scarred superhero Nat Nerd and the toe eating reptilian hybrid nightmare called Ali Gator. None of these characters are in any way endearing or cute ugly. They’re borderline upsetting and the more I think about it, the more I love this movie for being so dead and vacant.
After having our protagonist covered with sewage and abused by the gang, only to be saved by the Kids, it still has Dodger in love with Tangerine, who wants to be a fashion designer and puts the GPK into service as pretty much slaves. The kids steal a Pepsi truck — I can’t imagine Pepsi would have loved how they’re presented in this — and then go to a Three Stooges festival which makes them so insane that they drink beer with bikers and Ali Gator gets to eat some toes. Despite being babies and children, the GPK get drunk on beer, which is encouraged by the film, and sing songs so inane that I again started to laugh the kind of frenzied guffaws that only happen when I endure serious physical pain.
Despite the kids being put into the State Home for the Ugly, a place where Gandhi and Santa Claus are executed because this is a movie for children, they escape, ruin a fashion show and refuse to go away, not even following the rules of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
If it seems like Dodger and Tangerine seem on again, off again and ill-matched, well — Astin and Barberi dated and broke up mid-movie. That wasn’t Austin’s only issue. He got the movie without telling his father, John Astin, who tried to get his son out of this film.
Rod Amateau directed and co-wrote this and his career was, well, something. He started his career doing stunts in movies like Rebel Without a Cause and Mighty Joe Young (he was also a stunt driver for Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker and Thunder Run after this directing career took off) and then wrote and directed episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, produced and directed 78 episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, produced and directed The New Phil Silvers Show, directed nearly every episode of My Mother the Car and also made The Statue, one of the few movies Roger Ebert ever walked out on, as well as High School U.S.A., the movie that convinced Joel Robinson to leave Hollywood, Son of Hitler, a Peter Cushing movie that never played outside of Germany and wrote Sunset, one of the many Blake Edwards films — and mistakes — that a nascent Bruce Willis would make.
I can’t even imagine the horror movie that John Carl Buechler — who did the effects for this as well as TerrorVision, Dolls, Hard Rock Zombies, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and many, many more, as well as directing Cellar Dweller, Watchers 4 and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood — had planned.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie made just $661,512 during its opening weekend and eventually $1.6 million on a million dollar budget, but was still seen as a major disappointment. Astin told Mental Floss, “The heroes of the entire experience are the seven little people actors in costumes every day in triple-digit heat in the San Fernando Valley. They couldn’t see or hear. There was only so much time they could have the heads on before they ran out of oxygen.”
Effects artist William Butler went even further: “I think it was a stupid idea of a stupid screenplay, with stupid designs, that made for a cacophony of stupidity.”