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Ghouls – “The dead are waiting”

Ghouls represents the what I see as the fourth and last major sub-division of the horror genre (the four being, in the order they are presented in this blog, thriller/suspense, creature, disaster, and supernatural/paranormal). And while it is true that many genres share some of these themes and characteristics, I would argue that it is also true that any movie within the wide and welcoming genre known as “Horror” fits relatively easily into one or more of these categories.

Ghouls is a modern retelling of a time-honored classic. Jennifer (Kristen Renton, Sons of Anarchy, Days of Our Lives) travels to Romania with her father Stefan (William Atherton, Life, Die Hard) and his girlfriend Liz to attend the funeral of Jennifer’s grandmother, Stefan’s mother. As she meets his family, she soon realizes that something is amiss in the village. One of the men at the funeral asks to meet her, but when he fails to show up, she goes looking for him, finding him being eaten by one of the ghouls. Enter Thomas (James DeBello, Cabin Fever, Scary Movie 2), the last of the Druids, a group dedicated to fighting the ghouls and stopping the release of the Ancients from the spirit world that has held them for 1500 years. As she learns more about the history of the village and her family, she soon realizes that she was brought to Romania to become the earthly incarnation of the ghoul-queen, bringing about the return of the Ancients and the destruction of the world. Just like the stories your parents probably read to you growing up.

Top left – Jennifer; top right – Stefan and Jennifer; bottom left – Jennifer and Liz; bottom right – Thomas

Although SyFy Channel is known for really bad CGI, this movie had some of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. The ghouls can take two forms, one of them corporeal, the other as phantoms flying around. For this latter form, it looked as though SyFy was aiming at a throwback to one of the old Star Trek episodes, “Catspaw“, only with lower production values. So there was definitely plenty of poorly-done special effects. The acting was also noticeably sub-par, though not as terrible as other movies reviewed on this blog. And, in classic cliché fashion, our last remaining Druid recently came into possession of a mystical knife that was used in the original battle to defeat the Ancients. Except it’s hard not to look at this knife and wonder how many times you’ve seen the same thing at costume shops come Halloween, though probably more lifelike in the shops.

Top left – witches from “Catspaw”; top right – phantom ghouls from Ghouls; bottom – corporeal ghouls from Ghouls

Speaking of clichés, what is it with eastern Europe having all of the ancient secrets and terrible curses? Romania alone has been stuck with vampires (including Dracula), werewolves, zombies, and all manner of other creatures and beasties. Can’t we agree that, as far as places of the occult go, Romania’s pretty much been done to death?

Anyway. There’s a moment in the movie when Jennifer starts to figure out what’s going on, and then she meets Thomas. After he rescues her from a ghoul, he takes her to a secret room in a crypt in the village cemetery, wherein she voices her concerns about the presence of spiders in the crypt. She just saw a guy getting his arm eaten by an undead ghoul, she’s in a crypt standing next to a sarcophagus with a skeleton in it, and she’s with a strange man dressed, as she put it, like he’s attending a Lord of the Rings convention, and she’s worried about spiders? Moreover, once she realizes that her entire family, father included, is working to make her the carrier of the spirit of the ghoul-queen, she maintains remarkable composure. I’d imagine that, were I in her situation, I’d be freaking out hard core. But she keeps a very level calm, almost like she knows she’s in a movie…

Because eight legs is freakier than this.

Though this does bring me to one of the pleasant surprises in this movie – our heroine is more than a helpless woman who needs to be rescued by the strong, heroic man (though Thomas does rescue her on multiple occasions) – when it comes to protecting herself, she goes so far as to shoot a guy with a shotgun. So she’s not completely helpless. Also, when she and Thomas take refuge in a church, she has sufficient wariness to not trust the priest just because he’s a priest. It was refreshing to see some modicum of common sense in a horror movie, however fleeting it may have been.

Though honestly, with ghouls for servants (top left), who wouldn’t want their daughter to become possessed by a ghoul-queen (top right) to help cause the destruction of the world (bottom)?

In the end, Ghouls is more than a clichéd, unoriginal made-for-tv movie; it’s also a cautionary tale for parents. Specifically, it warns that, if you don’t want your daughter to rip your heart out through your chest while her undead servants feast on the flesh of your extended family, don’t encourage her to take in the ethereal essence of a hellish ghoul-queen for the purposes of allowing her to bring down a reign of terror onto the entire world by releasing a primeval race of undead demon-spawn from their eternal prison.

Who knew?