As a child, I was very obsessive over a few select movies. I’d rent these same films over and over again from our local video shop. Their copy of The Dark Crystal was almost permanently in my possession, as well as both the Bill and Ted films. But the movies that I truly went bananas over were the two Gremlins films. When I look back, it blows my mind to see how completely Joe Dante, the director of both Gremlins films, infiltrated my childhood. Aside from the Gremlins films, I taped Innerspace off the television and watched it relentlessly, and Explorers was my favourite choice of film at primary school when a substitute was attempting to fill time. But it was the Gremlins films that I’d always come back to. Even to this day, I still love them. I have received many a scoff from folk when they hear that Gremlins 2: The New Batch makes my top ten films of all time.
It frustrated me that there were only two Gremlins films, so – like many kids of the early 90s – I sought out Gremlins imitations. Although, at the time, I didn’t see them as imitations. When I hired Critters (and its three sequels), I didn’t register it as a cheap rip off, it was simply “a movie like Gremlins“. I had the same thoughts about Ghoulies, simply excited again to find a film like Gremlins. The Gremlins clone that I really enjoyed was Munchies. I remember my first Munchies experience very clearly. My parents were going to a dinner party and – because they couldn’t get a babysitter – I had to come along. There were no other kids there, so on the way we stopped off at a video store to pick me up some entertainment. I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across the VHS cover of Munchies. It looked just like Gremlins! My parents rented it – they must have been in a hurry, because I doubt they would have rented it had they’d examined the sleazy cover – and, in less than half an hour, I had been sat down in front a television with Munchies in the VCR. Munchies blew my mind. I was hooked and rented it many more times in the years to come.
I nervously revisited Munchies this week. I’d heard only bad things about it. A lot of people with the same nostalgic connection I possessed had given it horrible reviews and the trailer on YouTube didn’t do it any favours. As an adult, and now fully aware of its cheap intentions to rip off Gremlins, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. Yes, Munchies is bad, but wow, I did not expect it to reach the level of Shitizen Kane!
USA, 1987, Tina Hirsch
Munchies begins in Peru – or a set dressed up to (poorly) resemble Peru. Archeologist (space archeologist to be exact) Simon Watterman (Harvey Korman) and his idiot son, Paul, find what Simon believes to be an alien in a cave. Hidden behind Obi Wan Kenobi styled garb, it speaks Spanish in a high pitched voice. (The Spanish accent angle is quickly abandoned.) Simon takes the alien (or whatever it is) home with him. He makes the terrible mistake of leaving it with his idiot son and his idiot son’s idiot girlfriend Cindy (Nadine Van der Velde). After Cindy dubs the creature a “Munchie” (simply because it happens to be eating something), the couple leave the creature on its lonesome to engage in some goofy sex. Cecil Watterman (also Harvey Korman) – Simon’s twin brother – heads over to the house with his idiot son, Dude (Jon Stafford), to kidnap the Munchie. You see, Cecil is a dodgy entrepreneur with restaurants, mini-golf courses and toxic waste dumps all over the city, and he doesn’t want his brother to make any cash off the alien. So, Cecil and Dude steal the Munchie and take it back to their place (which is next door by the way). Cecil makes the terrible mistake of leaving the Munchie with his idiot son (seeing a pattern here?), who almost instantly gets into a physical fight with the creature. Dude ends up cutting up the Munchie only to find it multiplies when chopped into pieces. The Munchies kill Dude*, then they go on a rampage looking for naked chicks whilst Paul and Cindy – along with some idiot cops – try and track them down.
*Oh, by the way, they kill Dude by turning his music “all the way up”:
The first thing that hit me watching Munchies as an adult is how fucking obnoxious all the characters are. Let’s break down the stars:
Charlie Stratton’s Paul is repulsive protagonist. You see, Paul wants to be a comedian, which means that we have to endure endless bad jokes drooling out of his stupid mouth. It doesn’t help that Stratton looks like a deformed Bill Maher with added beady and dead eyes. In the film’s off-putting post-coitus scene, we get to see Paul’s bedroom. It’s filled with “comedy” stuff (you know, like wigs and clown outfits). He asks Cindy whether she wants to “play doctor”, then he pulls out a giant inflatable hammer and hits her on the knee. Yes, he’s a prop comedian. Nadine Van der Velde doesn’t fair much better as Cindy, Paul’s girlfriend. Like some sort of hideous duo, they trade lines back and forth relentlessly. She also constantly reminds us that both her and Paul are teenagers, which is especially awkward as they both look to be in their early thirties.
Cecil is Harvey Korman in a fake moustache and wig. Need I say anymore? Okay, I’ll say a bit more. Cecil is a classic cheesy villain – helped by the fact that he’s covering up toxic waste dumps. His performance is ridiculous, but he’s probably one of the better things in Munchies. Melvis (Alix Elias) is Cecil’s bizarrely named wife. Words cannot describe how irritating this character is. Melvis spends most of the time complaining about being hungry or discussing allergic reactions to food.
The father and son cop duo – played by Charlie Phillips and Hardy Rawls (who I normally enjoy) – adds that extra dollop of shit to the film’s stinking ensemble. Phillips in particular, as the whining young cop, is torturous. In the scenes he shares with Stratton, they appear to be attempting to outdo each other. They both simultaneously chew the scenery getting more bug-eyed and loud as scenes go on. The performance Phillips presents here reminds me of something you’d see in a high school play.
And finally, there’s Jon Stafford’s Dude – what late 80s movie is complete without a piece of shit character like this? Dude doesn’t spend much of the film alive, but his short screen time was enough to infuriate me. Dude – the adoptive son of Melvis and step-son of Cecil – is a bandanna wearing slacker that likes to complain about “the system”. He has a depressing life with a step-father that hates him and an adoptive mother who adopted him because he was “ugly and stupid”. Dude is an important character, because he is the reason the Munchies dress in bandannas and sunglasses. How do they find outfits that small? Well, it’s explained – rather embarrassingly explicitly – that the clothes are Dude’s baby clothes. Yep.
The obnoxious characters are matched with obnoxious jokes. The amount of groans that Munchies spawns in only eighty minutes is quite spectacular. Whether it be one of Paul’s bad lines or a goofy exchange between the father and son cop team, Munchies is a king of bad comedy. But it’s the film’s poorly executed moments of slapstick actions – dripping with tacky dubbing – that illicit the truly gut grumbling winces. Just watch this:
And that clip brings us to the Munchies. The Munchies make no sense. In Gremlins, Gizmo – the mogwai – is cute, and that makes sense. He’s cute because he hasn’t morphed into a gremlin. In Munchies, “Arnold” – our central Munchie – starts out sounding like an imitation of Gizmo. We haven’t really seen him yet, but we assume that he’s cute. Until we get our first real glimpse:
Yup, the Munchies begin ugly and creepy – despite Arnold being portrayed as cute at the beginning. The Munchies also randomly become antagonistic. Unlike Gremlins, there’s no physical transformation, it just happens. There’s no logic to the Munchies. I also find it hilarious that the Munchies really take to their name. As you saw in the clip above, one of them proudly states: “Hey, hey! We the Munchies!” I didn’t think it was possible for a puppet to deliver a line so badly. This name – the Munchies – is completely nonsensical. They are named “Munchies” because Cindy watches Arnold “munching” on something for a brief moment. If you really wanted to name the Munchies after their actions, they should be called “Pervies” or “Rapies”. Why? Because they spend the entire movie attempting to assault women. Yes, Munchies is full of awkward sexual content – something which totally shocked me as a child. The Munchies are truly perverse. Check out this demented scene:
As you can probably tell, now that you’ve seen a few clips from Munchies, the Munchies are pretty rubbish. Their design is okay – they kind of look like deformed troll dolls – but the puppetry is unbelievably bad. They’re stiff, their mouths don’t move and most of the time they look like they’re being waved around on a stick. I must confess, I do enjoy that sort of cheapness in practical effects. But it’s not just the puppets that are cheap in Munchies. Everything looks cheap. The sets and locations are beyond depressing. The entire film is – for reason’s unknown – shot entirely in a desolate wasteland. The interiors of houses are headache-inducing in their colour schemes and sickening decor. Everything is just so fucking awful in Munchies.
About halfway through Munchies, the depth of the connections between Munchies and Gremlins began to sink it. It was the point when Joe Dante regular Roberto Picardo appeared on screen in a small role that something, probably quite obvious to most, came to my attention. Munchies is a Roger Corman movie. Joe Dante’s career began with Corman. Joe Dante directed Piranha for Corman – a cash-in on Jaws and a great movie in its own right. And in 1987, while Dante is directing Innerspace, Gremlins is being ripped off by his old boss. The connections don’t stop there. Munchies is directed by Tina Hirsch – the editor of Gremlins, who oddly enough stopped being Dante’s editor after Munchies. Unlike rip-offs like Critters and Ghoulies, Munchies references its source material constantly. A character reads from a newspaper with the title “GREMLIN”; the Munchies drive around in Dude’s car – a Gremlin; and Arnold’s Howie Mandel impression is uncanny. Munchies is a film that flaunts its shamelessness. I would love to hear what Joe Dante thinks of Munchies. Does it annoy him? Or is it kind of fun being on the receiving end of Corman’s unscrupulous techniques? Did he discuss Munchies with Robert Picardo and Paul Bartel on the set of Gremlins 2? Did he have a falling out with Tina Hirsch? I want to know, damn it!
No matter what Joe Dante’s thoughts are on Munchies, it remains an exquisitely bad film. I spent Munchies running time grinning from ear to ear between the winces and groans. Munchies is a reminder that not everything I liked as a child is as good as The Dark Crystal or the Gremlins films. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable to watch. It has also reignited my obsession with tiny monsters. With Munchies out of the way, I’ve got the Ghoulies quadrilogy in my sights! I’ll leave you with this great moment from Munchies: