If I were to ask you what your favourite 80s horror film starring small furry monsters then you’d probably, and quite rightly say, Gremlins. Unfortunately that film was released in 1984 so I had to find the next best thing. Thankfully, in 1988 the film Hobgoblins came out and that’s essentially just a carbon copy. Hobgoblins didn’t exactly make a name for itself when it was released but has since become something of a cult classic. Mostly down to the fact that it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 where it was described by Paul Chaplin as heading “right to the top of the list of the worst movies we’ve ever done.” A fantastic legacy that was only helped by the fact that Rick Sloane (writer, director, producer) submitted the show himself and loved the episode. Whatever else you can say about the film, it certainly had earned its place in the annals of Hollywood history.
Hobgoblins takes place in an abandoned movie studio that holds a dangerous secret. A young security guard is told not to enter a vault but, because he’s young and a rebel, he goes against that advice. Inside the vault his ultimate fantasy of being a rock star comes true and he starts to perform on stage. Then, very quickly, he dies. His boss finds his body in the morning and acts very nonplussed by the event. The guard is then replaced by Kevin who takes the job to impress his conservative girlfriend. Kevin finds out that the vault is holding quite a secret: a bunch of alien Hobgoblins who crash-landed on the site years before. These demonic creatures use a person’s wildest fantasy against them so eventually their dream kills them. When they escape, it is up to Kevin and his friends to stop them.
The thing about Gremlins is that the evil gremlins are quite easy to understand. They are awful monsters that are just trying to have fun. It just so happens that their sense of fun it to attack and kill every person that they come across. It make sense. I can get behind it. The Hobgoblins? I find their motivations much trickier to understand. The MO is a clumsy and clunky way to kill someone when they could just eat them. I’m sure the film was trying to make a statement about the risk of pinning all our hopes in impossible dreams or something. But it still just comes across as stupid. Although, considering the rest of the film it’s difficult to even notice.
From the start of the film I genuinely thought this was going to become my newest obsession. It has everything I love about bad films. It’s badly written, badly shot, badly acted, and badly puppet-ed. It’s just bad. It reminded me of those early YouTube videos that future filmmakers would post. The kind where they roped in their friends to run about on-screen despite the fact they were super embarrassed by it. The kind of film that would be deleted as soon as they started to gain a following. The kind of film that would be revealed to the word years later to embarrass them as an adult.
But this wasn’t that kind of film. This was an actual feature film. And as the minutes kept going on I found my ability to go along with the ridiculousness waning. This is one of those scripts that you probably thought was quite funny by the time you finished writing it at 3am. The kind that you were really proud of and thought people were going to go nuts for. In the end none of the potential jokes work and there isn’t much fun to be found anywhere else. Not from the creepy pervert whose answer to any situation is to phone a sex line. Not from the sex-obsessed girl and her army boyfriend who keep popping off to have sex because he’s been away for 2 months. Not from Kevin’s buttoned-up girlfriend who refuses to let him get any but dreams of being a stripper.
It’s all just sad. And, far from being in on the joke, I just felt bad for Sloane and everyone involved in this film. I felt bad for me having to watch it and I felt bad for anyone who is about to pick it up hoping for a silly B movie. Yet, I kind of want to watch it again. It’s like a car crash or Mama Mia. You can’t look away. I kind of hate everything about Hobgoblins but there’s something refreshing about how bad it is.