October 8th: Hobgoblins (1988)
Robert Zajonc, along with Greg Markus, developed in the ‘70s a theory he called the Confluence Model (this idea is sometimes referred to as “youngest child syndrome”). The basic idea is that birth order has something to do with intelligence. During development, the first-born child has the advantage of an all-parent environment. Subsequent children must compete for attention, and also have their older (still developing) siblings for intellectual models. While a problematic theory, there is some evidence to suggest that, statistically, the younger the child, the lower the IQ. The baby of the family has the extra disadvantage of having no younger siblings to “teach,” and often tests lower than the next-youngest child considerably. With this theory in mind, consider the fact that Gremlins came first in 1984, then Ghoulies in ’85. Critters followed in 86, Munchies in ’87. A year later, our severely disadvantaged subject appeared, a film known as Hobgoblins.
I saw Hobgoblins on the shelf at Astro Video probably ten times before I decided to buy it. Eventually me and my dollar bill parted, and Hobgoblins became mine. The film sat on my shelf for months, until I decided, today, to watch the damn thing. I had a bad feeling when I noticed the twin logos on the back of the VHS box: Trans-World Entertainment and Goodtimes. TWE and Goodtimes are two of the worst video distributors ever, companies whom often released films in EP mode to save money. T-WE is a bit more obscure, but anyone who’s ever bought a DVD at the dollar store may recognize Goodtimes’ logo. I once bought a Goodtimes release of Fists of Fury that didn’t include the entire film, just the 45 minutes of it that would fit on the tape. Over at Critical Condition you can find write-ups on both of these fifth-tier VHS villains.
When I began the film, things didn’t seem so bad. Old man McCreedy (Jeffrey Culver) is training a new kid on the lot. McCreedy for thirty years has been the night-watchmen at an unused Hollywood lot. Phasing McCreedy out, the higher-ups are hiring young punks to take his place. McCreedy tells the kid, “don’t go in the vault.” Kid goes in the vault. We don’t see how or why, but the kid ends up torn to shreds. Cue music, cue credits. So far so good. I can get on board with something dumb and derivative, as long as it's fun. The fun in Hobgoblins is extremely fleeting however; it ends here.
Its time for a new recruit, and a dude named Kevin (Tom Bartlett) gets the gig. Kevin’s a bit smarter than the other guys, but he still can’t stay out of the vault. When a prowler breaks in, Kevin accidentally lets whatever’s in “the vault” out, and we see the Hobgoblins for the first time, but unfortunately not the last. This scene explains why it took a half hour for the little trolls to show up. We see three or four inanimate dolls sitting on a golf-cart, cruising around to zany synth music. The Hobgoblins aren’t puppets, they’re toys. They don’t move. Let’s just say there’s a lot of scenes where characters catch the goblins when a prop guy throws them from off-screen and hold on to them while pretending to fight them off.
McCreedy tells Kevin that the beasts are from outer space, and that they use psychic powers to lull their victims into trances via there own subconscious fantasies. OK. So Kevin is given a group of friends (roommates?) who all embody cliché 80s personas, so that they may be “cleverly” flipped by the Hobgoblins to show us who they really are. The prudish girl wants to strip in a punk club, the nice guy wants to prove himself, blah blah blah. These characters are unbearable. They all seem to hate each other as well. Including average Joe Kevin, this is truly an unlikable gang of losers. One of the gang, the macho Nick (Billy Frank), is an Army recruit, who carries grenades in his glove compartment. These scenes reminded me that the unhinged military gun-nut psychopath is actually a pretty common character in 80s comedies. I guess it takes a few years without a visible war to bring this stock character back into the culture.
This soulless film is one of the worst I’ve seen in a while. It manages to be simultaneously boring and infuriating. Hobgoblins is overlooked, and rightly so. I recall that Astro Video still has a few more copies. Don’t buy it, unless you plan to bury it ten feet into the ground. A quick look on IMDb reveals that director Rick Sloane has had a lucrative career in softcore porn, and has completed the filming of Hobgoblins 2. He also directed the Wings Hauser dud Mind, Body and Soul. Great. I can’t say any more about this film because, well, its giving he a headache.
Its tough being the youngest child.