Following the success of Gremlins in 1984, the film industry decided that the next big thing would be tiny creature movies. The ghoulies in Ghoulies led to the troll in Cat’s Eye and the critters in Critters led to the demons in The Gate. But all of that was just prepping the world for 1988’s Hobgoblins.
Hobgoblins is about a young man named Kevin (Tom Bartlett) who takes a job as a security guard at a movie studio. One night while chasing off a suspect, Kevin stumbles across a film vault that contains four hairy little beasts – the titular hobgoblins – who promptly escape. Kevin’s boss, Mr. McCreedy (Jeffrey Culver), explains to him that the creatures are aliens that crashed their spaceship on the studio lot years earlier, and that they have the power to brainwash people into thinking their wild fantasies are coming true, then they use the fantasies to kill their victim. The hobgoblins head right to Kevin’s house and start to work their powers on Kevin’s girlfriend, Amy (Paige Sullivan), and his other friends: the slutty Daphne (Kelly Palmer), the tough-guy Nick (Billy Frank), and the dorky Kyle (Steven Boggs). Kevin and Mr. McCreedy have to catch the hobgoblins and return them to the vault before they can wreak any more havoc on the world.
Almost the definition of a one-man show, Hobgoblins was written, directed, produced, photographed, and edited by Rick Sloane, who was also behind the Vice Academy movies. It’s a textbook case of low-budget filmmaking, with Sloane doing as much himself as he possibly can, and filling the other roles with mostly unknown actors and inexperienced crew members to make an amateur movie that is, well, just a step above a student film. And that’s part of its charm.
Hobgoblins is considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made. It’s generally thought of as being in the same league as Plan 9 from Outer Space, Robot Monster, Manos: The Hands of Fate, and even Troll 2. However, instead of having an air of endearing innocence like those other films, Hobgoblins embraces its campiness, putting it in a class with other B-movies like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. There’s very little story, almost seeming as if Sloane made up the script as he went along (a theory which would explain a long, drawn-out time-killing stick fight between Kevin and Nick near the beginning of the film). Guerilla filmmaking at its best.
Of course, the real draw to Hobgoblins is the hobgoblins themselves. Unfortunately, the little fellas take their sweet time showing up, forcing the audience to sit through a lot of banal dialogue and endless stick fights before the film gets to any real monster action. Designed and fabricated by Kenneth J. Hall (who, in addition to working on both Ghoulies and Critters, also did the snowman in Jack Frost and the dino in Carnosaur), the creatures are not totally convincing, but they work in the context of what Hobgoblins is – the hobgoblins are basically limited articulation puppets that look more like stuffed animals being shaken by a stagehand than actual living and breathing monsters. They’re cute enough to get by, though, and their hijinks easily provide the most entertaining sections of the movie.
Since the hobgoblins use their victims’ fantasies against them, and Kevin’s friends’ fantasies include being rock stars and strippers, the action inevitably moves to Club Scum, which is a typical eighties movie nightclub, and like any good typical eighties movie nightclub, there’s a rocking band. The soundtrack to Hobgoblins was provided by a band called The Fontanelles, who play themselves in the movie and plow through a bunch of peppy power-pop numbers with names like “Hayride to Hell,” “Kiss Kicker ’99,” “Passion Kills,” and “Love-Me-Nots.” They’re a fun band, with a fun sound, for a fun movie. When it comes to getting the audience’s toes tapping, the Fontanelles and their music get the job done.
Hobgoblins mastermind Rock Sloane embraced the badness of his movie so much that he actually submitted the film himself to “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and it became one of the more beloved episodes of the series. Sloane would end up making a sequel in 2009 (with different actors playing the same characters), but it lacks the naïve charm of the original. When it comes to bad movies, there can be only one Hobgoblins.