I’m man enough to admit that, as a kid, Ghoulies II traumatized me. There’s nothing like a seven-year-old boy watching monsters peer out of a toilet just as a man sits on it to make him never want to use a toilet again. It’s effective as an instrument of torture for small children, but I thought now was a good time to revisit it as an adult. And guess what? It’s a terrible film, naturally, but it’s not terrible in the fun way one might expect it to be based on the iconic posters for the first two films.

The plot revolves around a California carnival, but the film was shot in Italy. Director/producer Albert Band spared every possible expense in trying to make Rome look like California. The fact that everything in the movie looks distinctly Italian — from road signage to automobiles to extras — lends a bizarre charm to the film, but that’s really the only charming thing about it.

Larry (Damon Martin) is apprenticing at his Uncle Ned’s (Royal Dano) attraction, Satan’s Den. Have you ever been to Wisconsin Dells? On every street, you find chintzy haunted houses put together by exploitative citizens banking on tourists wandering around and saying, “Ooh, a haunted house.” As a tourist who has uttered those words on no fewer than 800 occasions, let me tell you from experience: they’re not scary. At all. And that’s pretty much Satan’s Den, a scare-free haunted house that doesn’t even have the good sense to be a house.

Not surprisingly, the ghoulies (think Gremlins, only with worse puppetry and no amusement value) stow away on Uncle Ned’s truck and start attacking people who visit Satan’s Den. For some reason, these murderous trolls draw a huge crowd to Satan’s Den, making it one of the dying carnival’s few profitable attractions. The carnival’s sniveling new owner, Hardin (J. Downing), wants to capitalize on this by exploiting the ghoulies. Larry protests, but Hardin insists the ghoulies aren’t the ones killing people. Until he sees them kill people.

Eventually, the ghoulies break free of Satan’s Den and attempt to wreak wacky havoc on the entire carnival. Again, think Gremlins, only without the brisk pacing and satirical component that made their havoc so much more entertaining.

Obviously, Ghoulies II is a crass, awful cash-in that should have been a lot more fun than it is. After all, it’s a movie where the dorky hero is dating a burlesque dancer (Kerry Remsen), and a diminutive stage actor (Phil Fondacaro) laments that he’s not performing King Lear while going in and out of a British accent, depending on the scene. This is the sort of material that’s too bizarre not to entertain, yet the movie lays there like a ghoulie in a toilet.

This pathological inability to amuse or delight must be blamed on Band, a veteran in the schlock horror industry (producer/director of Dracula’s Dog and producer of Troll). His bland, workmanlike direction and Bert I. Gordon-esque pacing force innumerable goofy ideas to fall flat. Even the film’s money shot — Hardin’s death by toilet attack — doesn’t quite satisfy the way I would have liked. In better hands, Ghoulies II could have had the depraved whimsy of a Joe Dante film; in worse hands, it could have had the inept charm of Monster Dog. Band’s relentless mediocrity does the film no favors.

In short, the movie is no fun. Even reliving the weird childhood trauma of catching the exact wrong moment of this movie on TV isn’t enough to make it watchable. It’s schlock without heart, and what’s the point of that?

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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