Spookies (1986) Retrospective

SUMMARY

A 13-year-old boy named Billy runs from home as his parents forget his birthday. Making his way through thick woods, he encounters a drifter who is violently slashed to death after Billy leaves. Billy stumbles on an old mansion where a room is decorated for birthday celebrations. Thinking it is a surprise by his parents, he opens a present to discover a severed head. Running away, he is attacked by the drifter’s killer, a werecat with a hook on one hand, and subsequently buried alive.

Meanwhile, a group of teenagers and some older adults come across the mansion intending to have a party, believing the mansion to be abandoned. However, a warlock named Kreon resides there, keeping watch over his bride who he has kept preserved for over 70 years using an unrevealed method, but it is known that he needs human victims in order to do it. He possesses one of teenagers in the group to use a Ouija board and summons a variety of monsters to pick off the group one by one. These include muck-men, small reptilian demons, giant spiders, an arachnid woman, an octopus-like creature with electric tentacles, a skeletal witch, a Grim Reaper statue, a vampiric boy in a monk’s habit, and a large group of zombies.

Eventually, the entire group is killed by the monsters and Kreon hopes to preserve his bride for longer, but she escapes by killing him and trying to outrun the zombie horde around the mansion. The bride eventually is saved by a man who drives her away in his car. Kreon regenerates out of a coffin as it is revealed the man in the car is actually the werecat. The camera pans on Kreon’s laughing face and the credits roll.

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DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION

Spookies was originally shot in 1984 under the title Twisted Souls by first-time filmmakers Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran. Principal photography for the film began at the Jay Estate in Rye, New York in late summer of 1984 and finished in October of that same year. Tom and Brendan directed scenes for an exploitation movie called Igor And The Lunatics, as well as several horror films that were never completed. While making a demo reel for their project Hell Spawn, they met a British film distributor named Michael Lee who was eager to finance a horror movie. Lee dangled the possibility of bankrolling Hell spawn if the two could make a more conventional feature, and after hammering out a script in two weeks, it was off to the races for Twisted Souls.

Twisted Souls was being edited when creative and legal issues between the producers and the financial backer prevented final post production work (final editing, scoring, post-effects, etc.) from being carried out. The original Twisted Souls footage directed by Faulkner and Doran consists of all the travelers who arrive in two cars and all the monsters and effects they encounter within the house. The monsters include: the demon ouija girl, the muck men, the spider woman, the snake demons, the hallway demon and the Grim Reaper.

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In 1985, the financial backer of Twisted Souls hired Eugenie Joseph to direct more footage, which was pieced together with the finished footage from Twisted Souls to create Spookies. The added scenes, written by Ann Burgund (under the name Joseph Burgund), feature an entirely different cast and include all the footage of the boy looking for his birthday party, the man in the tree, the cat-man, the old magician, the girl in the coffin, zombies, the witch in the basement/cave and the little blue boy.

Al Magliochetti & Brendan Faulkner
Al Magliochetti & Brendan Faulkner

BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS: Visual FX Supervisor Al Magliochetti

What were your title and chief responsibilities on Spookies?

AL MAGLIOCHETTI: My original title was visual effects supervisor, and I was to provide animation and optical effects, similar to what I was doing on Hellspawn. However, I was never given the script until they were in actual preproduction, and I was somewhat horrified to see a lot of effects written in, which was a little disconcerting, considering that the entire budget was $300,000. Apparently, they thought that since I was doing the effects for Hellspawn for free, this new project would be no different. But Hellspawn was shot on 16mm, and I had access to a 16mm optical printer through a school I was working with. Since Spookies was being shot on 35mm, we had to use an actual optical lab, which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Since they’d only budgeted $10,000 for all the animation-a number they just made up without doing any research, I might add-my only alternative was to create a system to do the effects in camera. I spent about a month building projection screens and giant frames to hold matte-painting glass, and Ken Walker mechanized a 35mm projector so it would work in single-frame mode. We shot a test that worked pretty well, but then the producers completely changed the schedule and moved all the scenes needed for animation to the end of the shoot. Since I couldn’t do the animation without having the backgrounds pre-shot, there wound up being no time to actually film it.

Arnold Gargiulo and Tom Molinelli touch up the Hallway Demon.
Arnold Gargiulo and Tom Molinelli touch up the Hallway Demon.

On top of the optical work, there were quite a few practical effects, such as spark hits, explosions, dissolving muck men, smoking reapers, melting statues, etc. Some of them overlapped with the animation I was supposed to do, so I inquired as to who would be providing all that. I was told by the directors (Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner] and producers that they’d “kinda hoped” I’d do all that additional work as well-without an increase in pay, of course-since they couldn’t afford to hire a practical effects person. I even had to spray fake cobwebs all over the sets at first, since their original art director didn’t have any practical experience with such things.

On top of that, the directors had a penchant for coming up with last-minute effects, such as “We need a full moon to be reflected in the puddle before the hobo steps in it,” or “Hey, by the way, we’re shooting that scene tomorrow where the dozen torches all burst into flame sequentially.” In most of those instances, I had to drop whatever else I was doing and address those effects immediately with whatever materials I had available-which were usually inadequate.

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What caused the film to become so fractured?

AL MAGLIOCHETTI: In my opinion, it was a combination of a few things. First of all, Tom, Brendan and Frank Farel wrote a script that was not even remotely affordable for the money they had. They weren’t exactly inexperienced, as they’d shot trailers and sections of other films that were never completed, but they never took into account not only how long these effects would take to build, but how long it would take to shoot them. I believe the investor was insistent that the film be so populated with creatures and effects, but it simply wasn’t possible on that budget.

Another major issue was the cinematographer they hired. He was brought in because he had all of his own lighting and grip equipment, but not only was he incredibly slow at lighting the shots, he was an ex-Green Beret and kind of a bully to just about everyone. It wasn’t unusual for him to make fun of the actors at the end of a take or run down to the beach to go windsurfing for an hour if one of the effects setups was taking too long. I have no idea if the producers ever tried to speed him up or get things back on track, but as he was so intimidating and literally owned every piece of equipment on the set, I speculate they were too afraid to piss him off, so the original six-week shoot stretched into 11 or 12.

Yet another problem involved the schedule being changed so the animation could no longer be completed on time. Originally, I came up with a plan to shoot all the backgrounds first; they were all night exteriors, and during the first few weeks of summer, they could’ve easily been finished in a couple of evenings. Those sequences could then be edited while the rest of the movie was being filmed, and I would be able to animate the ghosts while shooting continued.

What got me somewhat riled was that one of the directors publicly blamed me for the film’s failure, which I found kind of annoying. The contracts were written in such a way that there was no contingency for budget or time overages-or to put it simply, if money ran out, we were all expected to continue working for free until the movie was finished. Since visual effects are always the last thing to be completed on any film, I was blamed for not having my work done on time, despite the fact that I physically couldn’t do the work because of their incredibly shortsighted schedule change. Not only could I not afford to work for free for a month or two, we now had to rent a facility to shoot the effects, since we no longer had access to the mansion location and its dozens of empty rooms, one of which I’d turned into a studio but never got around to using because of the lack of background footage.

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The flick’s highlight is definitely Gabe Bartalos’ makeup FX. Didn’t he have to take the reins after the initial supervisor had a total meltdown?

AL MAGLIOCHETTI: Gabe had easily the most difficult job, as many of the effects hadn’t even been started, and a few had to be completely redone from scratch. The breaking point for the earlier supervisor came when he turned in his version of the muck men suits. The first one he made was literally a pair of painter’s coveralls with some uncolored foam splashed on them, a couple of oversized plastic eyes glued onto a face piece with goofy-looking buck teeth and green blobs that looked like broccoli.

Besides remaking three of those suits from scratch, Gabe had to build the dummy that fell out of the closet, create Peter Iasillo’s vacuum-actuated spider death which had Gabe calling Chris Walas for advice, since the effect was similar to the shriveling Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark-make and apply Anthony Valbiro’s clawed-face appliance and dozens of other things. Mind you, all of this was being done while we were shooting. Gabe also had time to add a subliminal to one of my shots: He painted the word “SEX” in blood on the reaper’s blade on only one frame in the animated shot where it goes through Duke’s (Nick Gionta) head.

Why was the title changed?

AL MAGLIOCHETTI: Twisted Souls referred to the creatures summoned from the spirit board by the possessed Carol character. In the original script, she even says, “Arise, twisted souls, and be free!” at one point. The investor, being British, had a somewhat different perspective: He was convinced that he had to have a simpler one-word title to be successful, since this was the era of Gremlins and The Goonies. He seemed particularly fixated on Ghoulies, which was getting some buzz; in his mind, they were very similar films, so Twisted Souls was thrown away and he used Spookies instead—which doesn’t mean a whole lot to the American audience, since it’s more of a British term.

What’s the deal with the muck men’s flatulence?

AL MAGLIOCHETTI: Your guess is as good as mine. I knew nothing about it until the first time I saw the videotape release, and my mind boggled at the stupidity. I was told this was the financier’s idea, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.

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SPECIAL EFFECTS

On the unreleased Hell Spawn, friend Arnold Gargiulo headed the special effects crew. For Aspinall, it was her first real exposure to plentiful terror makeup. She recalls.”I worked on that picture about three years ago. A group of people are trapped in a house where [what else!) strange things happen. It was shot in upstate New York near Dobbs Ferry. I did a lot of sculpting but mostly assisted Arnold. The project has since taken a backseat to my latest feature, Twisted Souls. Production money had come through for that and the same people were doing both pictures. They fully intend on resuming with Spawn, just as soon as Souls is completed.”

The Anger was postponed and made way for Michael Lee to produce Twisted Souls. The folks from Hell Spawn, Brendan Faulkner and Tom Duran, were hired on as co-directors. Aspinall was originally hired as the straight makeup artist with Arnold Gargiulo pegged as head of the special effects work. When Gargiulo left the project, his assistant Gabe Bartalos filled that slot, and Aspinall, with ample effects work already to her credit, assisted him.”No one person was directly responsible for the effects on that film,” Aspinall explains. “There is a character we called ‘The Spider-Lady.’ And she actually turns into a giant spider. John Dods sculpted her and built the mechanicals but I helped paint it and did the application. Gabe had done all of the other mechanicals while I did a lot of the painting and some sculpting as well as the applying.”

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Twisted Souls features a trio of goo-ball monsters called Muckmen. These less than welcome buggers were a compendium of several artists’ work. Aspinall points out, “The muckmen are creatures who come out of the ground so they had to look real earthy and appear as though they were made out of mud. They actually grow out of the basement floor. The director described the concept to us. I sculpted one, Gabe another and the director did the third. The suits were put together by Gabe and we all kind of added things to them. As I had said, it’s difficult to give any one person credit as the production effects had elements of mine, Gabe’s and John Dods’ work.”

RELEASE/DISTRIBUTION

Spookies was given a theatrical release in the United States by Sony Video Software Company in January 1987. It grossed $17,785 in theaters. According to Frank Farel, it made somewhere between $2 and $3 million on video, and eventually became a mainstay of USA Network’s Up All Night.

PROMOTIONAL/ADVERTISING

To paint the film’s cover art, Sony hired none other than underground comic-book legend Richard Corben (Heavy Metal).

spookies Richard Corben

From watching the video, I got the impression that the movie wasn’t exactly tightly integrated. It was a parade of various monsters that menaced the lead characters. This was okay for me, as I had plenty to choose from to put in the art. It didn’t have any pretensions, and I didn’t either. I remember hiring a model for the figure with her clothes being torn. I bought a dress from Goodwill just for the purpose of being torn off the model. I took reference photographs at various stages of the tearing. It was great fun. – Richard Corben

CAST/CREW

Peter Dain
Peter Iasillo
Joan Ellen Delaney
Soo Paek
Nick Gionta
Anthony J Valbiro
Lisa Friede
Kim Merrill
Charlotte Alexandra
Al Magliochetti
Felix Ward
Alec Nemser
Maria Pechukas

Directed
Brendan Faulkner
Thomas Doran
Eugenie Joseph

Produced
Brendan Faulkner
Thomas Doran
Frank Farel
Eugenie Joseph

Written
Thomas Doran
Brendan Faulkner
Frank Farel
Ann Burgund (additional material)

Makeup Department
Jennifer Aspinall      makeup artist (as Jennifer Aspinal) / special makeup effects (as Jennifer Aspinal)
Gabriel Bartalos      special makeup effects
Arnold Gargiulo       special makeup effects (as Arnold Gargiulo II)
Vincent J. Guastini  special makeup effects (as Vincent Guastini)
Nick Santeramo      assistant makeup effects
Nancy Tong            makeup artist (as Nanxy Tong)
John Dods              prosthetic makeup artist (uncredited)

Special Effects by
Ken Brilliant             animation model construction
John Dods              creator: additional effects / special creature design and animation
Ken Walker             animation model construction
John Mathews         creature effects assistant (uncredited)

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Gorezone#44
Fangoria#43
Thedissolve

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