I’ve watched a lot of garbage movies in my life. Because of my Schlock & Awe column, my Awesomely Bad Movies show, or just because they make me laugh, I’ve spent a lot of my life watching the cruddiest of movies I can find. But there’s been one that I’d always heard about, always dreaded, always expected never to watch…
The 1987 live-action adaptation of a trading card phenomenon, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, was on the top of my “Nah, I’m good” pile, but Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray release precipitated me to finally watch it. Is it as bad as people say? Well, I mean, it’s not good?
The Garbage Pail Kids was a series of trading cards from Topps that were a grotesque parody of the absurdly popular Cabbage Patch Kids dolls that all had a distinct, cherubic look, despite having different names and “personalities.” The trading card characters all had punny names, or alliterative names about what gross thing they did or were. It was a joke, but they proved super popular for some reason, so hey, why not make a movie about them? Right away, I think any movie that says “A Topps Chewing Gum Production” is doomed, but how can a movie be made based on the most disgusting and ugly caricatures of kids ever drawn? The answer is, “weirdly.”
The characters seem to lend themselves to a more horror-based comedy film, not unlike Killer Klowns from Outer Space or the original Troll. John Carl Beuchler, the director of Troll, even made the effects suits for Garbage Pail Kids, so that seems to be a direction they were going. But, the film’s director, Rod Amateau, seemed to want to make an “adorable” kids film that just happens to feature these grotty-gross little animatronic suits. And really, the Kids themselves are among the least confusing and troubling parts of the movie.
The film stars Anthony Newley, an award-winning lyricist, singer, entertainer, and actor (who seems to think he’s in a good movie), as Captain Manzini, the owner and proprietor of an antique shop in Somewhere, USA. What exactly he’s a Captain of is entirely beyond me. Working for him is a 13-year-old kid named Dodger (Mackenzie Astin), who is more than a little obsessed with an older girl named Tangerine (Katie Barberi), whose boyfriend is a douche intent on murdering Dodger because bullying. Tangerine seems bemused at best by Dodger’s constant attention, but he’s rarely dissuaded.
Now, the Captain has forbid Dodger from touching a garbage pail in the middle of the store. Following a fight with the bullies, Dodger does indeed knock over the pail and releases the kids inside. Oh, they’re from outer space, I guess. Anyway, Manzini is mad about this, despite the fact that the kids save Dodger from death as the bullies have chained him to an open sewage pipe, but introduces the kids: Ali Gator, an alligator-faced kid who eats people’s toes; Greaser Greg, a ’50s greaser type, obviously; Messy Tessie, a girl who consistently has a runny nose; Windy Winston, who farts incessantly; Nat Nerd, a zit-faced, obese, super-hero-costume-wearer who also pees himself every five minutes (most offensive to me); Valerie Vomit, guess what she does; and Foul Phil, a horrifying baby who constantly asks for his mommy.
People in society won’t take kindly to these different types of people, and indeed they have to be careful lest they be captured and taken to the State Home for the Ugly, a place where the different in society are brought and incarcerated before being executed. The Kids, it turns out, are great at making funky new clothing ideas, which Tangerine exploits for her own line, using Dodger’s crush on her to get access to them, even doing things that are probably grounds for some kind of child abuse. I mean, Mackenzie Astin is little in this movie and Katie Barberi, despite only being a year or so older, looks like an adult, so that stuff really comes across as skeevy.
Anyway, the whole point, I guess, of this movie is to point out that just because people are different looking and a little weird, they should be treated with respect and not, you know, put into cages only to later be killed. That’s the most troubling aspect of this whole gross affair; the implication that people who are “Too Fat” or “Too Old” or “Too Ugly” would be exterminated. Up to that point, I had no idea I was watching a dystopian future allegory. This and Logan’s Run have more in common than I ever would have thought.
The Garbage Pail Kids movie has obtained a curious cult following over the years, perhaps stemming from kids who watched it at the time and never learned that nostalgia doesn’t mean you have to keep liking crappy things. However, I will applaud the movie for it’s suitably hideous creature effects, which truly captured the essence of the cards. And, I guess, a movie that tries to teach people that being different isn’t a bad thing can’t be derided too harshly. Its heart was in the right place. Just everything else is fascinatingly buried in the wrong.
The Blu-ray release from Shout features interviews with actors Mackenzie Astin, Arturo Gil (Windy Winston), and Kevin Thompson (Ali Gator), special effects people John Carl Buechler and Gino Crognale, and First Assistant Director Thomas A. Irvine. These are all very enlightening conversations. I can’t say I recommend the movie, but I can always recommend Scream’s devotion to giving every title they release the same stellar treatment.
Images: Atlantic Entertainment Group/Scream Factory
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!