The Film: 1/5
The Garbage Pail Kids cards were an important part of my childhood; for several years, my fandom for the cards was so great that one time my babysitter and I scrounged around until we found two halves of a dollar bill and then we taped the halves together and bought a pack from a nearby 7-11. Good times. Seeing as how I knew nothing at the time about the inner workings of the entertainment industry and how business decisions related to the films and television shows we watch were now being decided by algorithms and demographics, the presence of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie stunned the ever-lovin’ hell out of my eight-year-old self.
I’ve dreaded watching it ever since the day I first heard of its existence. Now my day has come, thanks to the majesty of Blu-ray.
Directed by Rod Amateau, a veteran television director who made the occasional halfway-decent feature film (including the fun ensemble comedy Drive-In), the 1987 Atlantic Entertainment Group release The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is an astoundingly awful flick whose revival as a cult movie I can no longer understand. The people involved in its making clearly misunderstood what made the original cards popular in the first place. Instead they took a few characters from the cards and turned them into mischievous miscreants whose only purpose in the flimsy script (that Amateau and co-writer Melinda Palmer must have conjured up during one lunch break) is to help defend bullied kid Dodger (Mackenzie Astin) against an all-white gang that dresses like a failed New Wave band. At the same time, the GPK - which were released from a magical, slime-oozing trash can kept in the antiques shop of eccentric old wizard Cap’n Manzini (Anthony Newley) – pool their twisted talents in the service of giving Dodger’s slightly older crush Tangerine (Katie Barberi) a head-start in the cutthroat world of fashion design.
The GPK befriend a biker gang and get briefly imprisoned in the “State Home for the Ugly”. There’s a fashion show, a dress-making montage, and a goddamn musical number performed by the kids, who faces are shoddy animatronic creations worn by reliable actors like Phil Fondacaro (Troll) and Debbie Lee Carrington (Total Recall) that make them look like babies just released from the maternity ward in the bottom level of Hell. The GPK have names like Valerie Vomit, Greaser Greg, Foul Phil, Windy Winston, and Messy Tessie, but the one named Ali Gator is given an uncomfortable foot fetish made into a running joke that would seem disturbing in an R-rated horror film, let alone a PG-rated kids’ flick. I am not making any of this shit up.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is one of the worst films I have ever seen in my life. It is an insipid, uninspired, and poorly-conceived waste of celluloid that can’t possibly even be enjoyed as a “so bad it’s good” kind of movie. It’s just plain fucking bad because it commits my top cardinal sin for film: IT’S BORING. It’s also cheap, but I can usually forgive that because not every movie is going to get a multi-million dollar budget, especially one like The Garbage Pail Kids Movie that is doomed to be ignored by mass audiences. But the cheapness of this movie is in evident from its opening credits sequence, which has trading cards emblazoned with the actors’ faces zooming through outer space just above Earth (Did Cannon Pictures have anything to do with this?).
The production’s interior scenes were all filmed in a warehouse and exterior street scenes were obviously being represented by a studio backlot that you might usually see on a TV sitcom. Amateau shots every scene flatly with a lack of visual finesse that drains his movie completely of energy and fun, resulting in one dreary and hideous movie that depresses more than impresses.
The creepy Garbage Pail Kids faces and costumes were created by the Mechanical and Makeup Imageries Inc. effects team headed by John Carl Buechler (who was originally supposed to direct the movie as a straight-up horror flick, which would have been far more appropriate) are one of the few virtues to be found here. The other would be Anthony Newley’s performance; the late actor and composer is slumming it hard in this film, but he has a grand ol’ time investing the Manzini with an aged grace and gravitas that is way too good for the pathetic material he has to work with. His interactions with the GPK are some of the warmest moments in the movie because Newley makes us believe that Manzini has a lot of love and respect for these odd creatures whose protection and care have been his responsibility for a long time.
Mackenzie Astin has all the talent and charisma of a sack of spoiled oranges, ditto Katie Barberi as his reluctant crush; the two of them share no chemistry and act more like a pair of siblings, which gives their innocent and chaste love story a very uncomfortable undercurrent. The rest of the cast….what’s the point? The finale has the Kids wreaking family-friendly havoc at fashion while Dodger demonstrates martial arts moves in his bloodless showdown with posh gang leader Juice (Ron MacLachlan) that no previous scene had previously indicated the pre-pube even possessed. There’s screaming models, regurgitated bile, and many appalled stares (one of them came from your humble reviewer). Then the movie just stops, as if no one involved in its making had the slightest idea how to end it. Since they didn’t how to start or continue it either, I couldn’t bring myself to be shocked.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is presented on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory’s sci-fi/horror imprint Scream Factory in a fine 1080p high-definition transfer framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and most likely sourced from MGM’s own HD print. The upgrade in color is highly noticeable even though the drab visuals keep it from popping off the screen. Grain content has been reduced and a consistent amount remains throughout the feature, and picture details are sharp and boast improved texture. The sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that recreates the mono soundtrack from the theatrical release with impressive clarity and balanced volume levels, allowing for the dialogue to be audible without getting drowned out by the awesomely bad synth soundtrack. English subtitles have also been included.
“The Effects of The Garbage Pail Kids” (12 minutes) brings in effects supervisor Buechler and several of his collaborators to discuss the origins of the project and how they brought the repellent Topps trading card characters to life. Assistant director Thomas Irvine is next up to be interviewed (6 minutes) and he talks briefly about the logistical problems of the shoot. The longest of the new featurettes is “The Artful Dodger” (27 minutes), an interview with actor Mackenzie Astin where he looks back on starring in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, his on-set relationship with co-star Barberi, working with director Amateau and the rest of the cast and crew, and getting his first major taste of cinematic visual effects in his scenes with the Kids. Finally, “The Kids Aren’t All Right” (21 minutes) features GPK actors Arturo Gil and Kevin Thompson offering their in-depth remembrances of the production and having to work inside complicated costumes that were augmented by the effects work created by Buechler and his crew. The original theatrical trailer (2 minutes) closes out the supplements. The Blu-ray also comes with reversible cover art that features the theatrical poster art on the other side.
I know The Garbage Pail Kids Movie has its defenders, but I don’t care. This movie sucks shit through a crazy straw. Whoever these fans are will certainly enjoy the new Scream Factory Blu-ray for its improved picture and sound and over an hour of new retrospective interviews with surviving members of the cast and crew brave enough to talk about it. As for me, I can take comfort knowing that I will never watch this cinematic travesty ever again. With any luck, my solitary viewing will not corrupt any of my remaining happy childhood memories of collecting the cards and dreaming of what a movie starring the Garbage Pail Kids could really achieve. It would be better than this slop, that’s for damn sure.