Director: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, Genie Joseph (as Eugenie Joseph)
Screenplay: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, Ann Burgund, Frank M. Farel
Starring: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Dan Scott, A.J. Lowenthal, Peter Iasillo Jr., Lisa Friede, Joan Ellen Delaney, Nick Gionta, Peter Dain, Alec Nemser
Country: USA, Netherlands
Running Time: 85 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Spookies originally went into production under the title of Twisted Souls. The relatively young and inexperienced writing, directing and producing team of Frank M. Farel, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner were backed by British video distributor Michael Lee (founder and manager of VIPCO) to make a rip-off of various popular horror films. The team thought this would be fun and a great chance to get a name for themselves, though they were concerned about Lee’s request to tone down the sex and violence to allow for a wider audience and avoid the British censorship issues he had faced with his VIPCO releases.
Nevertheless, Farel, Doran and Faulkner ploughed on with production. They seemed to have a lot of fun on set and came to the edit suite with footage for a film they admit wouldn’t be a classic, but they were proud of.
However, when the team screened a rough assembly edit (basically all the scenes played out without any trims), Lee panicked. He hadn’t been involved in a feature production before so didn’t understand how poorly a rough cut usually plays out, before it’s tightened up and sound and music are added. He thought the film was a disaster and, after much arguing with the directors, they quit/were fired (it’s not quite clear) and Lee brought in Genie Joseph to direct some reshoots and re-edit the film.
After the fall-out though, Doran and Faulkner had contacted the rest of the cast and crew and told them about the situation. Loyal to their directors, barely anyone agreed to be involved with Lee’s reshoots. So, Joseph ended up shooting totally new and unrelated material, half a film’s worth (1 minute over half, in fact, to get lead director credit) and spliced it together with the original footage.
The resulting mess was released into the world in 1986, when it had a brief limited theatrical run before hitting video shelves. By all accounts, it did OK business, not much more or less than any typical cheap horror movie made in the 80s. Over the years, however, Spookies has developed a bit of a cult following, aided by the real horror story of its production.
In news that was sure to have pleased the film’s fans in the UK, 101 Films announced that they would release Spookies on limited edition Blu-ray as part of their impressive burgeoning Black Label collection. I hadn’t seen the film before but was intrigued, as it sounded like the kind of goofy horror movie I enjoy. Plus, the special features listed sounded mightily impressive. Below are my thoughts on both Spookies and the several hours worth of added material in the set.
Spookies opens with a young boy, Billy (Alec Nemser), alone in the woods one night after falling out with his parents on his birthday. He happens upon an old, seemingly abandoned mansion and goes inside. There he finds a birthday party all set out for him, but discovers it’s a trick and is chased by a strange cat-like creature (Dan Scott), who catches Billy and buries him alive.
Meanwhile, a large group of young people (and a couple of older ones) are heading out to a party that same night but get lost and end up at the mansion too, looking for a good time. However, they get trapped there and, after one of their party gets possessed by a demon, they get attacked by several different creatures over the course of the night.
All of this mayhem is watched over and controlled by the sorcerer Kreon (Felix Ward), who is using the souls of mortals to keep his dead bride Isabelle (Maria Pechukas) preserved and alive in some sort of pristine zombie state.
Spookies is utter nonsense, as you might have gathered from my synopsis and guessed from the disastrous production. Farel, Doran and Faulkner’s original film just involved the young people getting terrorised in the mansion in a simple haunted house/Evil Dead setup. All the sorcerer, bride, cat-man and Billy material was added in later and it shows. Not only do these characters never share a scene together with the main protagonists, but their connection is pretty tenuous.
As such, the film is quite a mess and often makes little sense. However, that’s also part of its charm. Spookies is laughably bizarre at times, and not just due to the tacked together dual nature of its elements. Even the original scenes with the young people are pretty bonkers. For starters, the group itself is bizarrely cast. You’ve got the aggressive jock Duke (Nick Gionta) and his party-loving friends mixing with some straight-laced twenty-somethings and then, most bizarrely, a guy who looks like one of their dads. Why this motley crew would ever hang out and party together is anyone’s guess. Then you’ve got Peter Iasillo Jr. playing the comic relief, Rich, who spends much of the film with a glove puppet on his hand. He’s a little gratingly ‘zany’ but the puppet is so odd it makes up for it.
The monsters are wildly varied too. You’ve got the ‘Muck Monsters’ that rise up out of the earth in the basement and look pretty cool but make ridiculous farting noises all the time (reportedly this was one of the additions Lee made in the latter stages with the sound designer and even Joseph wasn’t happy about them). There’s a grim-reaper-like figure who doggedly pursues our protagonists too and explodes in flames when he dies. Some smaller foes appear in the form of little fish/lizard creatures that terrorize two of the characters. Then there’s the ‘Spider Lady’ who ensnares Rich later on in the film.
These monsters are actually pretty decent, given the era and budget of the film. The Spider Lady, in particular, is very impressive when she transforms from actress Soo Paek into her true form. Some effectively stylised lighting helps sell sequences like these.
However, some of the other creatures are less effective, largely those added in by the second crew. A horde of zombies appear at the end and though their volume and relentless nature are suitably intense, the makeup is pretty poor. Also, there’s the cat-man who is laughably bad. His makeup is pretty basic and his costume looks like some kind of pirate get-up you’d buy for a pre-schooler.
When the monsters are off-screen the film is a little dull. The performances are partly the issue, with only Gionta and Iasillo Jr. registering in a memorable way. Neither are what I’d call good actors, but at least they make an impact. Not helping matters is the dialogue, which is terrible, albeit amusingly so at times – “the dead? But they’re dead!”
So, though I found Spookies goofily entertaining and enjoyed its anything-goes attitude, it’s not a well-made film by any stretch and its scattershot approach only hits the target now and again. It’s debatable as to whether, kept in its originally intended form, the film would have been much better, but if you know what you’re going in for and just run with it, there’s fun to be had with the compromised version.
Spookies is out on 26th April on Limited Edition Blu-Ray in the UK, released by 101 Films as part of their Black Label range. Order it here. The picture quality is very good. The print is clean, sharp and detailed and there’s a healthy, natural-looking grain. I’ve used screengrabs in my review to give you an idea of the picture quality.
The audio is likely as good as it can be, given the source material. I found in some portions, particularly early on, the dialogue wasn’t always that clear, but I imagine this was how it was originally recorded and mixed. It was a low budget, poorly edited film, after all.
There are some very impressive special features included in the Limited Edition package:
– Audio commentary with FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy and filmmaker Sean Hogan
– Limited edition booklet: Includes A Twisted History: Vipco, VHS and Spookies by Scott Harrison and Your Future Belongs to Us: Reaganite Terrors in Spookies by Liam Hathaway
– Twisted Tale – The Unmaking of Spookies – a feature-length making-of documentary, including a commentary track with documentary co-directors Michael Gingold & Glen Baisley and extensive deleted scenes
– VIPCO: The Untold Story, a brand new, extended version of the feature-length documentary on much-loved UK film distributor VIPCO
– 2015 Alamo Drafthouse screening introductions with Spookies director Thomas Doran and co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel
– Archival locations featurette with actor Peter Iasillo
– Outtakes and bloopers
– Behind the scenes still gallery
– Theatrical trailer
The making of documentary, ‘Twisted Tale’, is the star here. It’s longer than the film itself and covers all stages of the making of Spookies, from its inception to production, post-production and its release. There are plenty of eye-opening stories to tell about the pranks and mayhem on set, as well as the mess made after the original shoot, which is a shocking tale in itself. Two of the actors revisit the house too, which provides a nice little diversion. It’s now a tourist attraction, as a restored old stately home, not as a horror movie location.
There are some very funny contributions at times too. The sound designer is hilariously bonkers, in particular. The film is also quite sad in showing how disappointed the team were by all their hard work being completely wiped out. They claim to have done some good work on the film but weren’t even able to take copies of certain scenes they were proud of. We also see the touching moments when the late co-director Tom Doran’s ashes are spread around Scotland and the cast and crew speak fondly of him.
The team are honest about their problems with Michael Lee too. He’s very much made out to be the villain of the disastrous production. It’s a shame neither he nor the new director Genie got a chance to provide their perspectives though.
The honesty about what went wrong and the fact the end product is a mess makes a nice change from the usual over-affectionate back-slapping approach taken by most ‘making-of’s. In fact, none of the contributors to any of the features claim this is a great or misunderstood film.
Surprisingly, ‘Twisted Tale’ also has its own commentary, which only runs for about 45 mins but offers a fun chat about how the piece came together and the reasoning behind the makers’ approach. It’s well worth a listen. A few deleted soundbites from the documentary are also included and add some enjoyable anecdotes.
Paul McEvoy and Sean Hogan’s commentary on Spookies itself covers some of the same ground as the documentary, but it’s nice to hear the stories from impartial contributors. There are plenty of new tidbits too and the pair have an enjoyable rapport, never taking the film too seriously, so the track is a pleasure to listen to.
The locations featurette is short but sweet, offering descriptions of how some of the scenes were made as well as letting Peter Iasillo Jr. ham it up a bit. A fair chunk of the piece is re-used in the making of though.
The Drafthouse introductions are brief but fun and skim over the story behind the production.
Everyone wears clothes pegs in their hair or on their faces in the outtakes, which is strange but explained in the documentary. It’s quite a fun reel (if a little overlong) and it looks like it was an enjoyable set to work on (in the first shoot at least).
The VIPCO documentary gives Lee a chance to tell his story (not about Spookies as such, but his career and label in general). He and the other contributors don’t paint much of a different picture to that described by the makers of Twisted Souls/Spookies, as Lee spends most of his interview boasting about how much money he made and the dodgy wheeling and dealing he did to make his millions. It’s an affectionate film with regards to VIPCO though, discussing how it came about and the impact it had on the home entertainment industry in the UK.
The documentary is quite loose, jumping around a lot in structure and repeating itself occasionally, but it remains an engaging and enjoyable film and covers a lot of ground in its near-140-minute running time, so is another fine addition to this excellent set.
So, though the film is not particularly good, the overall package is fantastic. The various documentaries included are strong enough to easily recommend a purchase. As such, in case the disc 2 extras aren’t available in a future standard edition, I’d recommend you pick up the limited edition set as soon as you can, before it goes out of print.