In 1984, the filmic landscape shifted with a movie so important, many movies after tried to copy it. I’m talking of course about the cinematic masterpiece “Gremlins”. So successful was “Gremlins” that a trend of little monster movies showed up. Many were fun, like “Critters”, “Ghoulies”, and… “Troll 2” technically…
…and then there was Hobgoblins.
Hobgoblins was a 1988 movie, directed by Rick Slone, that somehow both tries to hard, and not hard enough to be a Gremlins knock off. It has rules that are hard to follow, protagonists that aren’t your standard idea of protagonist, chaos, mischief, and an old wise man trying to warn us of danger. What “Gremlins” has that “Hobgoblins” doesn’t is… well, competency, and creativity.
If there is any word I can use for “Hobgoblins” it would be lazy. It’s a movie that at least knows how awful its monsters are, thankfully, so it tries to make up for it in humor. Unfortunately, the humor mainly consists of “sex and creeps are funny… right?” type humor, where it doesn’t actually try to make jokes, it just presents characters and bravely exclaims “what a weirdo, eh?” Also, the movie tries to be scary, but there is not one clever attempt at suspense. The camera usually sits there, framing a flat shot, and shows us the actions, while leaving nothing to the imagination. Most of the time, the camera never moves, but funnily enough, the one time the camera moves (When “Marge Simpson” attacks “Mark Mckinney” after being influenced by a hobgoblin) it would have done better just staying still, as to avoid all the fanning with a deadly weapon!
The movie follows Kevin, a new security guard of an abandoned warehouse (seriously), who’s more whiney than he has any right to be, and his friends. Nick, the machismo army man. Nicks girlfriend, Daphne, who’s implied to have slept with everyone in the movie, except the main character… also Kyle, the geeky dude with an affinity for sex phone lines. And Amy, Kevin’s girlfriend, who’s kind of the worst. Amy appears sweet and innocent, but when Kevin gets forced into a garden utensil fight with Nick, and loses, Amy becomes disappointed in Kevin, because she wanted to be proud of him. This, by the way, is Kevin’s character ark! The accomplishment of having the approval of his ultimately disappointed girlfriend. It makes me wonder how the film makers relationships have been to have a girlfriend this disapproving in his movie.
Weirdly enough, it’s Daphne who is the best character in the movie. Seriously, she’s played with the most conviction (by Kelley Palmer), she almost learns something, and besides Kevin, has the most agency of all the characters when she’s not trying to have sex (a literal character trait)! She even gets a couple genuine laughs, when she’s not trying to be disturbingly sexual. She’s not a good character by any means, but it’s as close as this movie is going to get.
The Hobgoblins themselves are plush toys. There is some puppetry, the mouths move up and down sometimes, but they are mostly just plush toys. There is nothing about them that makes us feel other wise, and they attack with the as much intensity as the actors holding them can muster… which isn’t much. They also have a thing about them where they allow their victims to live their wildest dreams before they kill them. It could work in a different movie, but the movie isn’t clever enough to use it in a smart, or fun way. Nothing is scary about seeing these people live their fantasies before dying. There is one laugh in this concept, where Kyle see’s that his hobgoblin influenced date is trying to push his car over a cliff, so he offers to help her, which gave me a chuckle, but otherwise, this movie is mostly ineffective in making you feel an emotion other than cringe.
Speaking of cringe, let me tell you about the Club Scum scene, which really lives up to its name. Our “heroes” are looking for Amy, who’s been influenced by a Hobgoblin. Daphne says that Amy was talking about going to Club Scum, so we go there. As soon as we get there, we a very 80’s club, which seems to be look that is a mix of “The Running Man”, “200 Cigarettes”, and “The Warriors”. As soon as we get in, and our heroes are sat at a table, we are treated to a concert, with a full song. It’s hard to understand the words of the song (as was made fun of in the MST3K riff), but the bigger sin is us having to sit through a four-minute song where nothing advances. The movie stops dead for this one song concert. After, the movie stops again to see Amy in a very existent exotic dance. Not sexy and nothing titillates the viewers because it’s a strip tease where basically nothing gets taken off, and the dance is nothing more than slight movements, but it certainly exists. Finally, chaos ensues, Nick blows himself up with a grenade, Daphne blows Nicks General with a grenade, and… you know what let’s move on to the riffing.
This is actually the very first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 I have ever watched. It really meant something to me, because this show really influenced my sense of humor in various ways. I loved movies, but this showed me the power of having fun with bad movies, which, made me appreciate every movie. Every movie has worth now. The question now is, how well does the riffing hold up?
The answer is pretty well. Making fun of the pure pathetic nature of the characters, and the very low budget look of the film all set themselves up for Mike and the Bots to knock them down. For a 1998 episode, most of the references aren’t outdated! There’s a lot of song references, with songs that are still somewhat popular today, a reference to “Gymkata” which everyone should see, and even a cardboard cut-out scene.
If there is one thing that doesn’t age well in this episode, it’s the amount of slut shaming that happens throughout. Some bits are funny, but in todays age, you can only call someone promiscuous so many times before you’re like “Ok, we get it, she likes sex!”
Here’s some of my favorite quotes.
Servo: Can you catch a venereal disease from a movie?
Servo: These are the stairs! Stairs are your hips worst enemies!
McCreedy: But… I warned… Those creatures… The vault… I tried…
Servo: Sentence fragments… Just phrases…
Mike: It’s the 80’s! Do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan.
Mike: I just want to be brave for my horrid, frigid, non-supportive girlfriend!
Crow: These honor system banks are just never going to make it.
The Host Segments
The host segments are also wonderful! We begin on a sketch that is allegorically a wonderful dissection of the bad Robert Palmer song “I didn’t mean to turn you on”, where the ship crew keep accidentally turning each other on. The great part about it is that none of it is done in a sexual way, it’s just done with a reaction of inconvenience which I love. Like “Aw man, you turned me on again!”
Pearl comes in and asks Mike and the bots to hold a couch for her. Unfortunately, the Satellite of Love crew have something else in mind, as they jump on the couch, and squeeze juice boxes in their pajamas like literal children. Pearl threatens that if they don’t stop, she’s going to give him “Such a Movie”. That movie, being “Hobgoblins”. Mike and the Bots aren’t having much fun anymore!
The next bit, Crow teaches us how to treat a woman, with a video of his creation. Well, it begins that way, but it turns into a “In Search of Bigfoot” documentary of Crow trying to find a woman in the first place. It’s really funny, as we discover that since all Crow has known was life on the ship, he’s never actually seen a woman… until Mike reminds him of Pearl, which totally passed his mind.
In segment three, Crow sets up a crisis hotline for people who have had to watch “Hobgoblins”. It doesn’t go as planned, however, as Bobo uses this opportunity to confess his love for a someone that isn’t of his species. It’s a chimp, there’s a misunderstanding, but things are still incredibly awkward.
Now, for one of the top ten host segments for me, “The Cardboard Cut Out Escape.” The crew has had too much of this movie, so they concoct a plan to get out of the movie without Pearl noticing. So they cut out some cardboard, and replace themselves with it. It almost works, as they entertain Pearl with the wonderful “Hobgoblins Song,” but unfortunately, the cut outs fall over, and the crew get forced back into the theater.
The final bit, Tom Servo, dressed up as The Terminator, uses the time machine they have (it’s just a show, I should really just relax), so that he can go into the past and… kick Rick Slone in the shin so he doesn’t make the movie. It doesn’t work as the movie still exists, and Rick Slone explains that this assault inspired him to make a movie.
A few problems aside, this is a classic episode, and still one of my favorites. A movie so bad, it’s entertaining in of itself, and the riffing is on point. It’s a great entry point for the series, and well worth your time.