Review: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)

A live-action heap of fun!

A live-action heap of fun!

THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (1987)
Rated PG / Color / 97 minutes
Directed by Rod Amateau
Also Known As: La pandilla basura
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

I know many of you reading this may disagree, but in my opinion, the 1980s represented the zenith of pop culture. A large part of my belief stems from the feelings of nostalgia I get when I revisit the days of my youth. There were so many awesome cartoons, heavy metal (in all its various incarnations) was all the rage, MTV played music videos all day long, and the Nintendo Entertainment System became a household name!

But that was just the tip of the iceberg because during the 80s, there were so many awesome toys: Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Pet Monster, Madballs, He-Man, Kenner’s STAR WARS figures… the list goes on and on. But one of the things that many of us children of the 80s had an affinity for was trading cards. Athletes, comic book heroes and villains, musicians, TV shows, and movies all had their own sets of collectible cards.

It was during this time that a company called Topps starting cranking out a series of gross-out parody cards of the Cabbage Patch Dolls, namely THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS! These oft-disgusting spoofs of the beloved dolls reached the height of their popularity in the late 80s. With sales booming, the powers that be at Topps decided to turn their gross-out trading cards into a feature film, leading to one of cinema’s greatest train wrecks!

The opening titles of GARBAGE PAIL KIDS are actually kind of cool. We see a garbage can flying through outer space, and circling planet Earth as the cast is introduced via their own collectible cards. But things immediately go south once the film introduces us to our main character, Dodger (Mackenzie “Son of John” Astin). This orphan(?) is constantly bullied and beaten by an evil Joey Lawrence clone named Juice (Ron MacLachlan). And Dodger’s only friend is his employer, the eccentric owner of an antique store named Captain Manzini (Anthony Newley).

"I really should have read the script first...."

“I really should have read the script first….”

It’s during one of Dodger’s typically brutal beatings that a mysterious garbage can in Manzini’s shop is knocked from a shelf, unleashing the film’s titular characters: The Garbage Pail Kids! Made up of Ali Gator, Greaser Greg (Phil Fondacaro!), Windy Winston, Valerie Vomit, Messy Tessie, Foul Phil, and Nat Nerd, the pint-size troublemakers are soon enlisted to aid Dodger in defeating his bullies, and winning over the girl of his dreams (Tangerine, played by Katie Barberi). But things don’t quite go as planned.

After being sent off to the dreaded “State Home for the Ugly,” courtesy of Juice and Tangerine, the Garbage Pail Kids must rely on Dodger and Captain Manzini to find a way to break them out. Will they escape and get revenge on the bullies that had them incarcerated?! Will Dodger finally stand up for himself and realize that he’s totally getting played by Tangerine? You’ll only find out for sure if you [bravely] seek out this film and watch it!

When I first saw THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE, it was on a bootleg VHS that my sister lent me, which also contained HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS. (Odd double feature, no?)  I watched it repeatedly and was loath to return it to it’s rightful owner, because when I was a kid, I simply adored this movie. But now as an adult, I can’t quite figure out why.

I attempted to watch this movie on three separate occasions, and I passed out in front of the TV every time. (Defense mechanism.) How could a movie that I loved as a child, suddenly become an endurance test? Puzzled, I dared to restart it a fourth time, and that’s when I finally cracked the code Vault Dwellers. I discovered how to finish watching this movie without falling asleep, and it actually didn’t involve ingesting a large amount of caffeine.

No, the secret to surviving THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE was simply to inflict it on someone else, in this case, my fiancee, the ahm…. Vault Mistress! (Yeah, that’s the ticket!) Curious about the “awful film I couldn’t seem to finish,” she said that she wanted to watch it. I gleefully took her up on the offer, as this is one of those rare moments that she actually took an active interest in what I do. But I think it’ll be a while before she makes the attempt again.

I mean, how could she not love THIS?!

Pictured: Cinematic waterboarding.

A mere thirty-minutes into the film, she looked over at me and asked “how much longer is this?” I happily told here that there was still an hour to go, and then split my attention between the film and her growing frustration with it. And that’s when I began to realize that as an adult, you can only truly enjoy THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE if you are torturing another human being with it.

Despite it’s awfulness the movie has an odd charm to it, if only because everyone involved was trying so hard to make something watchable. (And as we all know, the best bad movies are the ones that strive to be great and fail along the way.) Making a script for a film based on trading cards is insane, especially when there’s no previous backstory or plot to work with. So screenwriters Linda Palmer and Co-Writer/Director Rod Amateau had to build this disasterpiece from the ground up.

It’s obvious there was some confusion as to how the Garbage Pail Kids’ (non-origin) story should be explored. Makeup f/x artist John Carl Buechler (director of TROLL and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD) initially felt that the movie would have played better as a Horror tale, with people being turned into hideous Cabbage Patch-like monstrosities that terrorized a small town. As fun as that would be, this had to be a movie for children that hopefully adults could endure as well. Unfortunately, it fails to meet either of those criteria.

THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE is a tonally uneven experience, where we get a musical number one minute, and then violent bullying the next. The punishment that Dodger receives from the film’s antagonists borders on attempted murder. At one point, Juice and his cronies actually beat Dodger until he’s unconscious, douse him in raw sewage, then leave him for dead. Even for the ’80s (which featured tons of psyche-scarring cinematic moments) this is way over the top for what is ultimately a kid’s movie.

And sometimes it’s hard to feel bad for Dodger, because he is admittedly a little creep. There’s a scene where he takes a deep whiff of Tangerine’s hair while he tries to sell her trinkets from Manzini’s shop. And he has absolutely no qualms about peeping in through the window of her apartment. He is supposed to be a lovesick teenager, and instead comes off more as an obsessive stalker.

Most likely a side effect of hanging out with Corey Feldman.

One of several side effects caused by hanging out with Corey Feldman.

The Garbage Pail Kids themselves are disappointing, though faithful to the characters depicted on the trading cards. All seven Kids were brought to life using “little people” in stifling masks. The puppetry is OK, but reflects the film’s low budget (somewhere around one million), and the characters end up being more annoying than endearing. This is one of the film’s biggest flaws, because the Kids are the main reason anyone may want to watch it.

The only thing the creators of the film did correctly was snare actor Anthony Newley for the role of Captain Manzini. Newley portrays Manzini as a world-weary gentleman (and magician) that hides away in his antique shop to escape from the horrors of the real world. He’s such an interesting character, and Newley does such a fantastic job with the role: It’s a crying shame that he isn’t more of a central figure in the plot.

I could go on, but I’ll conclude this review by saying this: THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE is a real mess. We may never know if it was the low budget, or the tight scripting and shooting schedule, but something went horribly amiss during the film’s inception. Still, despite being one of the worst films of all time (which, at one time earned it a spot on the IMDB’s Bottom 100 List), THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE has built up a strong cult following over the years.

Though I myself used to be a big fan of this film “back in the day,” I just don’t have the same fondness for it now. While it isn’t even close to being the worst film I’ve ever seen, it repeatedly proved to be a chore to sit through. And while I can’t in good conscience recommend this film to any of you “Normies,” I will say that this is an excellent way to test your mettle if you’re a fan of bad movies. If you think you’re tough enough, give it a shot, but otherwise give this one a wide berth as it is only worthy of:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Packaging: THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE: COLLECTOR’S EDITION comes in a standard Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover that features newly created cover art. (Pictured top left of this review.) As is the case with most Scream Factory releases, the slipcover for the disc is reversible so you can display the movie’s original (i.e. superior) theatrical poster art.

Audio & Video: The sole audio option here is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, and it is perfectly serviceable. The music, dialogue, farts, and other sound effects all came through clean and clear on my speakers. The movie is shown in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but I have to admit this is one of the more disappointing transfers for a Scream Factory title. That being said, the picture quality is a definite step up from the 2005 MGM DVD, and may have even been sourced from the same materials that MGM utilized for their original DVD release. This may very well just be a case of “we did the best we could with what we had.”

garbage pail kids 04

Sadly you do not get to hear Windy Winston’s flatulence in 5.1 surround sound.

The Extras: A director’s commentary for this film would have been fantastic, but sadly Rod Amateau passed away back in 2003. (Read one of the last interviews with Rod HERE.) Instead we get a series of interviews with cast and crew members from the GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE.

The best interviews are with lead actor Mackenzie Astin and makeup f/x creator John Carl Buechler. They have the most interesting input about the making of the film, particularly Mackenzie. Also included are interviews with Arturo Gil (Windy Winston) and Kevin Thompson (Ali Gator), makeup f/x artist Gino Crognale, and First Assistant Director Thomas A. Irvine.

The disc also contains the film’s original theatrical trailer.

Final Verdict: Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE is a mostly solid disc. I don’t really dig the new artwork, and, as stated earlier, the transfer used for this release leaves something to be desired. (But again, I’ll chalk that up to the materials they had to work with.) Aside from that though, I don’t really have any complaints, as the numerous interviews contained on this disc provide a wealth of information about the production.

It’s not the best work Scream Factory has ever done, but this is definitely the most TLC that this particular cult film has ever received on any format. If you’re a fan of this cinematic atrocity, then I definitely recommend this Blu-ray to you, and hereby give it: