Written by: William M. Miller, based on a novel by Brian Keene
Directed by: Gregory Wilson
Nolan Gould as Timmy Graco
Trevor Harker as Barry Smeltzer
Jacob Bila as Doug Keiser
On this installment of Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theatre...
You may remember me raving about a movie called Spring a few weeks back. No, nothing has changed about that. It's still a movie full of great beauty and imagination and you need it in your life yesterday. On the disc were several trailers which looked intriguing enough on their own, and based on the quality of the following film, I was definitely interested in checking out. One of them was Why Don't You Play In Hell?, which I have since heard some good stuff about. The other was Ghoul. Now, on its own merits this trailer probably wouldn't have registered with me, but after the first few seconds it dawned on me that this movie was based on a book that I happened to have read last fall and quite enjoyed so I was excited to check out the movie. It felt like someone offered me some really good chocolate, and then hung me by the ankles and shit directly up my nose.
Brian Keene's Ghoul is the tale of three best friends dealing with their personal demons one summer. Timmy's grandfather dies, Barry's dad's abusive alcoholism reaches new heights, and Doug's mom gets drunk and has her way with him because his dad left and she went so far around the bend she met herself coming back the other way holding a pair of He-Man underoos in one hand and a bottle of Absolut in the other. As if all that wasn't bad enough, there's a real life demon living in the cemetery, and thanks to a steady diet of horror comics the boys are the only ones in town credulous enough regarding monster lore to do anything about it. It's the kind of story Stephen King is a master of.
Since I finally started to find some purchase as a writer within the last year, I'm loath to be too critical of other writers' work who are obviously talented but a little rough here and there. I've been writing stories since I knew how to put words together. I have vivid memories of having to go to work at the bank with my mom occasionally as a very young kid after doctor's visits and such, and entertaining myself by sitting down at an empty desk with a typewriter and writing stories about dinosaurs. After something like two and a half decades of working on my craft, I can still barely make my way through a short story, let alone a novel. I'm a hell of an idea man if I do say so myself, and I've been told I write good dialog, but in the realm of character development I'm awful, and I'm so impatient to get from one bit of action to the next that I have precious little talent for structure. Point is, I know how herculean a task actually sitting down and finishing a novel is for someone who actually cares about what they're doing, and Keene is fairly prolific so good on him. That said, Ghoul certainly falls short of King-level greatness, but it's definitely a fun read that packs a punch where it should and earns the right to talk about such horrible topics as drunken wife beating and sexual abuse without coming off like shock for shock's sake.
It's a damn shame then that the movie ABSOLUTELY FUCKING SUCKS!
Most of the main plot points are hit. Not everything, as you would expect from an 80 minute adaptation of a 300+ page novel, but enough to let you know what's going on. I was expecting them to maybe gloss over the nasty Doug/Doug's mom stuff but it's there, albeit not nearly as focused on as it is in the book. But then a scene came up that I didn't remember from the book. Some bullshit about how Barry's dad is a nasty alcoholic because he used to be in charge of some guys at the local mine years ago, and made one guy go to work when his wife wasn't feeling well so she drowned their twin babies and hung herself because I guess that's better than having to change diapers when you have the flu. As stupid as that is, it's setting up something even more stupid.
THERE IS NO FUCKING GHOUL! I don't give a shit about spoiling the ending because in case you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm encouraging you to skip this piece of crap movie and read the book instead. I had my suspicions that something was up, and finally about ten seconds before the reveal there was a flash of two effigies in the lair representing the murdered twins and I yelled, “OH FUCK YOU, MOVIE!” so loud I scared the dogs. Yes, the guy who lost his family went insane and has been living all these years under the cemetery in a warren of tunnels that were apparently dug by really fucking big gophers or something. You see, it makes sense in the book because there was an ancient supernatural creature causing all of this. In the book, Barry's dad is in thrall to the thing and helps it cover its tracks in return for jewelry it takes from the buried corpses. In the movie, Barry's dad still gets the loot, except it makes no goddamn sense for a crazy feral man to be able to hold him in thrall much less reward him with treasure! If he's supposed to be operating out of guilt, fine, but leave it at that. They even leave in the stuff about the ancient marker with the occult runes on it being broken, which is what allows the creature to wake up and start killing again in the first place. WHY THE GODDAMN FUCK WOULD YOU LEAVE THAT IN IF YOU WEREN'T GOING TO HAVE A MONSTER!? It just acts as a bullshit red herring to make you all excited for a monster which never shows up, but otherwise it makes no fucking sense at all! AAAARGH!
What's worse, Timmy has dreams about the ghoul, so they even created a monster makeup and then had it all be in the kid's head! Granted it looked like something out of an episode of Goosebumps, but it's still a hell of a lot better than some asshole covered in moss stabbing people with a knife! And as one extra little fuck you to the people who read the book and came to the movie hoping for a faithful adaptation, mossy asshole sometimes drops a very cobwebby-looking net on his victims before stabbing them. In the book, the creature extrudes a sort of cobweb stuff all over its lair and its victims. So clearly the screenwriter read the book, and this whole thing was just him telling Brian Keene's fans to go fuck themselves. I blame the writer particularly because the director also helmed the film adaptation of Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, which was really good (except for the idiotic “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handy” bookend pieces). I have a feeling what we're dealing with is a competent filmmaker who just shoots what he's given, and he didn't know any better that this movie was supposed to have an actual monster in it. If he did, fuck him too, but since he's done at least one other thing that was really good, I'm willing to give him the benefit of doubt.
If I were Brian Keene I'd be absolutely furious about this movie.
Another thing I wish I'd known beforehand is that this was a made for TV movie. It was made for Chiller, whatever that's worth, but now I have no desire to ever see anything else from that channel. I'd rather watch a dumbass Sci-Fi Original from Asylum than an infuriating heap of festering shit like this.
William M. Miller, Fenrir is going to use your dick for a chew toy.