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That Sexy Tickle Moment in The Horror Classic Ghoulies (1985)

Ghoulies is a 1985 horror film about a young man and his girlfriend who try to summon demons in an old mansion and deal with the consequences with what happens when (big surprise) they actually do. Panned by critics, it was more famous for its marketing campaign than its scares. Seriously, we all checked our toilets when this thing came out.

MV5BMTU1MTgwMzY4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDE3Mjg0NA@@._V1_SX214_AL_After nearly being sacrificed in a gruesome satanic ritual in which his own father attempts to kill him, Jonathon Graves (Peter Liapis) grows up in the care of another and eventually inherits the family’s mansion where, after moving in with his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan), discovers the black magic books his father left behind. Naturally, he decides to try an incantation that will give him supernatural powers because, duh. But instead, he unleashes tiny, toothy, demons that proceed to attack everyone in the house on his command. Guess that counts.

This horror comedy is ultra-low budget and features truly comical puppet monsters that are far better known for the film’s poster and trailer than the actual film due to the clever images of one suspenders-wearing ghoulie popping up out of a toilet, which, iconic now, was the center of a massive controversy and letter campaign that had parents protesting because their children, after seeing the commercials and posters, were too afraid to go to the bathroom. Letter writing. Ah, life before the internet. More notable now though is the film debut of future television star Mariska Hargitay, playing saucy girl, Donna. We all start somewhere.

Ghoulies suffers from some bad writing and silly action, but sadly, has little charm, never truly embracing the premise and letting the comedy be inventive or clever like the film it tries hard (and) fails to emulate, Gremlins (1984), the Steven Spielberg classic that made little nasty monsters fun. Still, it spawned three sequels and has become a bit of a cult favorite, especially round Halloween. And like every movie, it has one (kinda) great-ish moment.

Tickling By The Pond

This movie is about, well, cheap scares, which the film tries to deliver throughout with tongue firmly in cheek but with silly dialog and actors that seem to take it far too seriously, as every “scare” is lost under the weight of too much set up, predictability, and aimless direction. Under Graves’ control, who has become a sort of possessed demon lord, he takes demon control over Rebecca using two little people dressed in medieval garb that he summoned earlier, and then throws a party with friends who become fodder for the possessed. What fun. But in a film called Ghoulies that features a ghoulie on the poster, there is (perhaps happily) only a few scenes with actual ghoulies as the film is more about the dark arts and teenagers doing what filmmakers think teenagers do only far more exaggerated and not really at all what teenagers do.

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Speaking of that, in the backyard, after nightfall, Mark, aka Toad Boy (Ralph Seymour) takes the lovely Donna (Hargitay) out for a walk by the marble pond where the young horny teens sit by the edge and act awkward. This is normally the part in horror movies when the the boy does his level best to get the girl to strip off her top, but Toad Boy doesn’t seem to understand his role in all this and when he makes his move on the willing girl, it isn’t exactly with the gropy hands we might expect. Instead, with a creepy high-pitched clown voice, he eyes her midriff and says, “Is that a little girl’s tum,” and starts to, well, um, tickle her? Yes. You know, like what all adults do when they want to show another how much then want to have sex. Don’t pretend you don’t. 

Ghoulies
Ghoulies, 1985 ©Empire Pictures

Donna responds with ear-splitting screams of laughter that sounds suspiciously like ear-splitting screams of sexual pleasure to their nearby giggling and inebriated friends just out of sight. But then, Donna’s bracelet slips off and plunks into the water, which gives Mark the chance to be a hero and retrieve the jewelry and win her heart, or at least some other parts of her body. He hopes.

Of course, we as the audience already know that this is the very same pond that Jonathon used to summon the little creatures and when Mark sticks his hand inside the water, there is little surprise in seeing tiny green monsters emerge and start biting away at his doughy face while the stunned Donna strikes the obligatory girl-in-horror-pose and screams before they descend upon her as well, fooling the party-guests into thinking the two are engaged in even wilder sex rather than murderous carnage. Apparently, both sound similar.

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The moment is quintessential cheesy horror fodder with an overly nerdy boy and super hot girl alone in the moonlight moments before attack. While the film avoids the horror trope of girl nudity and actual (movie) sex, the film prefers to rather play it tame and suffers for it, the overly-campy and awkward tickling no substitute, yet somehow the setup and goofy cutaway of the wasted friends believing Toad Boy and Donna are actually doing it is so perfectly on the nose in terms of B-horror, it’s hard not to appreciate the lunacy of it all.

Of course, the real problem is that the ghoulies themselves are so small and look so completely non-threatening, it’s unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) funny to see them at all, let alone watch them attack any human being, when clearly anyone could toss them aside like a sock puppet, stomp on their faces with a blunt shoe or just plain ignore them by walking away. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see Hargitay in the role and she clearly shows the talent that would make her such a star years later. Ghoulies is a subpar horror film but harmless campy fun just the same. Check your toilet.

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