Muldoon here with this week’s WTF HOLLYWOOD and boy do I have an “interesting” (i.e. bizarre as hell) film for you to check out today. I present to you one of the creepiest, most outrageously insane movies to come out of the 80’s: GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE. I’ve gotten so many incredibly great suggestions from many of you fine folks ranging from some obscure sci-fi flicks to incredibly well known comedies. I’d also like to point out that by no means am I hating on the fact that Hollywood takes these risks (or at least used to), because without those risks we’d never have some truly crazy “ain’t it cool” worthy movies actually take off and make sweet love to our eyes.
BACKSTORY: In 1985, the TOPPS COMPANY began pumping out trading cards showcasing disgusting or mutated kids doing some crazy nasty things as a way to “alternatively” cash in on the success of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls at the time. Hey, I get it; they’re out to make a cheap buck. Sadly that buck should’ve stopped there, because it led to what I consider one of the most head-scratchingly bizarre films ever made.
So the film’s plot… Just kidding, there was no plot. The movie starts off with a three-minute heavy intro akin to the first bit of STAR WARS where we’re out in space watching a spacecraft fly by. Bam! Next thing we know we’re in an old antique shop where a garbage can sits in the middle of the room clearly full of whispering Pail Kids. How did it get there? Who knows? Who cares? Not the filmmakers or the audience apparently.
Jump forward to find our teenaged protagonist of the film, “Dodger” played by a young Mackenzie Astin (IRON WILL!) running from a small group of thugs who seem to be twice his age (made up of two men, a manly woman, and a very 80’s valley girl type cutie). It’s never really made clear why the head bully hates this kid so much and with so much vigor (something to do with teaching him a lesson?), but sure I’ll go with it.
It becomes obvious that Dodger has a puppy dog crush on the 80’s valley girl type chick in the gang who’s named “Tangerine.” I can only assume her parents were organic farming hippies? No, maybe it was just the thing to do in the mid-eighties, name yourself after fruit. Either way, it works and she’s pretty smoking hot in the film, so you really can’t blame the kid for getting googly eyes at her. While he’s working at the antique shop from earlier he lures Tangerine into the store and tries to sell her things she can make into clothes (as she tells him she’s an aspiring fashionista who makes her wares and sells them at clubs).
The small gang (though “gang” feels misleading here…) burst through the door and attempt to give poor Dodger a beat down for macking on Tangerine. In the craziness the garbage can from earlier gets knocked over, thus releasing the Garbage Pail Kids onto the world…
The rest of the film wraps around Tangerine using Dodger’s supposed sewing skills to make clothing for her, which she then turns around and sells. The odd thing here is that what could have been a crazy adventure story with interesting (alien?) creatures running around causing chaos turns into Dodger building his own sort of sweatshop down in the basement of the antique shop and working these mutant kids to the bone.
Trust me, there’s no way of detailing the amount of “WTF?” in this movie, so here’s a short list of a few examples:
- There’s a very Sharon Stone BASIC INSTINCTS moment when Dodger is showing off his jacket to Tangerine… I swear to God it’s in there and so inappropriately grand for a kid’s movie…
- The owner of the antique store is a magician who can do things like magically and instantaneously change Dodger from being in soaking wet clothes to nice clean clothes.
- Remember that, because later in the film Dodger takes a bath in front of all of the Garbage Pail Kids and the magician. Think about that, not only is that disturbing on the surface, but the damn antique owner could have just zapped him clean and chose not to???
- Awkward Pepsi product placement galore.
- 36 minutes into it, the Garbage Pail Kids burst into song and dance, once. That’s the one and only time in the movie that that happens. That’s like sitting at bus stop when the guy you’ve been sitting next to for an hour suddenly screams about the apocalypse, then gets quiet again until the bus arrives.
- Horrifying creature design. It’s like they’re trying to give kids (and adults for that matter) nightmares with the design of the actual Garbage Pail Kids. Some have movable facial joints while others have a much more severe case of dead-eyes. (I’m talking dead-eyes that puts POLAR EXPRESS to shame bad). Creepy…
- One character, Ali Gator, gets into a bar fight after gnawing on a biker’s foot. It all ends with both sides making up over beers… So this alligator alien kid literally gets shitfaced with a bunch of bikers. Awesome.
- The lovable “Greaser Greg,” played by the incredibly talented Phil Fondacaro (WILLOW/LAND OF THE DEAD/SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH) occasionally pulls out a switchblade, like when he’s stealing a hotdog from a woman…
By no means is that an adequate summarization of the film; I’m still just trying to process it myself and don’t see that ending any time soon. I personally can’t imagine what the pitching session must have gone like. “So those gnarly trading cards… Let’s just shoot a bunch of random stuff and call it a day.” “Sounds good. Now I have to go take a bath in money.”
And on August 23rd of 1987 the bomb dropped on 374 American screens and grossed 1.5 million of it’s rumored 30 million dollar budget back and marked the last movie director Rod Amateau directed. It’s a well-known rumor that before production on this iteration of the Garbage Pail Kids, special effects makeup guru John Carl Buehler was originally going to take the reins and make it into a full on horror flick where the Kids “would have spawned from radioactive sludge that had found its way to a garbage can filled with broken dolls, turning them into serial killers.” To be fair, I think Amateau did a fantastic job (unintentionally so) of creating something equally disturbing as Buehler’s take on it.
If you haven’t seen the film, I strongly urge you to at least give it a chance, not on the fact that it’s a severely underappreciated and wonderful film, more of like “Hey, you’ve never had a smore before?” This film is batshit insane and I love the fact that it exists. While I love TROLL 2 in all its glory, I think this film could put up a good fight on the level of “WTF???” It’s up on Netflix Instant, so if you’re feeling adventurous – check it out. Or here’s a link to buy the flick if it’s screaming out to be added to your DVD collection
UPDATE: So a reader named Ivan shot me a head's up that it's actually Katie Barberi's ("Tangerine") birthday today, so that's kind of bizarre timing. Happy Birthday, Ms. Barberi!
As always, feel free to shoot me any ideas you might have for a future WTF Hollywood column or if you were at all a part of the production on this film and feel like chatting – I’d love the opportunity to chat with you!
- Mike McCutchen