Color, 1988, 88m.
Directed by Rick Sloane
Starring Tom Bartlett, Paige Sullivan, Steven Boggs, Kelley Palmer, Billy Frank, Jeffrey Culver
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Retromedia, Shout! Factory, Rhino (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Firmly entrenched in the most common lists of the worst films of all time thanks to its legendary episode (in highly edited form) as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this R-rated monster romp was a belated entry in the very strange wave of Gremlins imitators in the mid- to late-'80s along with offerings like Munchie and the Critters and Ghoulies series. What we have here is an especially cheap and colorfully lit variation with furry puppets inflicting music video-inspired mayhem on a young, no-name cast. It's way too funny and out of its mind to legitimately qualify as one of the worst films ever (there are at least a few hundred films that are far duller), but for a technically incompetent party movie, this one is tough to beat.
At a particularly minimalist movie studio, old security guard Mr. McCreedy (Culver, in a role intended for John Carradine) warns his younger apprentice not to go into one of the vaults. Of course the idiot wanders in anyway and has a vision of himself hopping around on a rock concert stage without actually singing, after which he promptly drops dead. The new night guard, Kevin (Bartlett), is stuck in a sexless relationship with Amy (Sullivan) and hangs out with friends with the loudest fashion sense ever seen in film, including Kyle (Boggs), Daphne (Palmer), and Nick (Frank). After a lengthy bout of lawn jousting with garden tools, Kevin goes to work and, during an attempted robbery, accidentally releases the contents of that forbidden (and inexplicably unlocked) vault: a horde of alien hobgoblins who take off in a golf cart. Capable of granting anyone's deepest wish before killing them, the creatures are soon running amuck.
Complete with a mind-boggling detour at a venue called Club Scum (which is worth the effort of sitting through the film all by itself), Hobgoblins is clearly calculated to be the kind of film people would pass around on VHS back in the Bush Sr. days thanks to its cheap, immobile monsters, awkward stabs at comedic dialogue, and almost nonstop eye-searing colored lighting, which looks like a cross between Mario Bava and Wang Chung. The fact that Sloane himself submitted the film to MST3K is a dead giveaway this was intended to be a "bad" cult film on purpose, but it's a lot more sincere and amusing than many of the faux-grindhouse titles that have been pouring out for the past five years or so.
Thanks to its "bad" cult status, Hobgoblins has remained steadily available on home video since the VHS days, though the MST3K version (first released from Rhino, then Shout! Factory) is of course still heavily cut and, though hilarious, not a real representation of the film itself. Retromedia issued the film on DVD in 2002 as a pretty basic "Drive-In Theater" edition, with a second go-round in 2009 from Shout! Factory as a 20th anniversary edition being the best SD version for a while. They still had to go back to the old 1" master made for the VHS release, but at least they threw in a Sloane audio commentary and a "Making of a Disasterpiece" featurette (27 mins.) with Sloane and virtually the entire cast recalling what it was like to make a film with very little prep time and even less money ("Like high school," as one of them remarks).
Incredibly, Vinegar Syndrome decided to finally give the film the fresh, sparkling transfer right off the original negative this film always deserved, and here we are with a 2016 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition that extracts every vibrant color from the source material that could barely be seen in that old tape master. It looks pretty great for a film shot on less than ideal film stock, and the DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds far more robust as well (with optional English SDH subtitles provided). The Sloane commentary and vintage featurette are carried over, while Sloane headlines the new "Hobgoblins Revisited" featurette (19 mins.) in which he takes more of a look back at how the film came about during a golden era when almost anything shot on film could find a VHS distributor. (That's also how he ended up going to the Vice Academy series next, and of course, we got a Hobgoblins 2 much later in 2009.) He even takes a little tour of the original filming locations, too. On all the extras he talks quite a bit about the MST3K fame the film received, including his reaction to being ribbed personally near the end of the show, as well as the fact that he wrote this before Gremlins (with the monsters originally seen only as pairs of eyes) but overhauled it after the Joe Dante film came out. He also goes a bit into the proposed casting of the film, such as a role for Los Angeles kitsch icon Angelyne that got stymied when she didn't reply until the night before shooting. (They couldn't use her pink Corvette either.) Monster creator Kenneth J. Hall also gets a new 11-minute video interview covering the creatures' construction and (lack of) mobility and the very short window of time to get them on the production, while “Hobgoblins Invade Comic-Con” (5 mins.) features a Sloane appearance to promote the 2009 DVD release. The original trailer is included along with the usual reversible cover options.