(1987) dir. Rod Amateau
Back in the late 1980’s, despite the fact that I was an older teenager, I collected Garbage Pail Kids cards. I liked the subversive grossness and recognized the style as reflective of another series of stickers that I had liked as a kid, Wacky Packages, which were pun/lampoons of common products. And interestingly, reading up on it, one of the product creators was the very talented Art Spiegelman of Maus fame. Certainly, it was not something that a lot of teenagers were collecting, but I was relatively avid and still have the bulk of my grossings of the time.
However, I never did see “the movie”. And though I feel like I had a bit of a sense of its existence, I probably easily gathered that it was going to be utter crap. Still, given some of my leanings at the time, I suppose it’s a little surprising that I never saw it at the time.
Well, that’s what Netflix is all about. Never having to say you’ve never seen something.
It’s atrocious. Really, after having just watched the hilariously bad Troll 2 (1990), I have to say that The Garbage Pail Kids Movie could well be in the running for one of the worst films of the period. It’s not as purely inept as Troll 2, but it’s annoying, obnoxious, and painful,…and it even has a song/dance number.
I’m shaking my head as I write this. The story is about a young boy, Dodger (apparently an orphan but who knows — played by Mackenzie Astin, son of John Astin and Patty Duke), who works at a local curiosity shoppe for the kindly Captain Manzini (Anthony Newley). Manzini has a garbage can containing seven or eight of the Garbage Pail Kids including Ali Gator, Valerie Vomit, Foul Phil, Nat Nerd, Windy Winston, Messy Tessie, and Greaser Greg. They are all played by little people in very ugly little costumes and semi-animatronic masks. In fact, they are uglier than the cards.
And ugliness is the theme of the movie. Probably the funniest part of the movie is the “State Home for the Ugly” where the ugly and unpresentable are caged up like animals and crushed in a garbage truck compactor. I actually thought that was pretty funny, including the dog catcher-like goons that go around hunting down “the ugly”.
Dodger is harrassed and beaten up by bullies who look a little too old to be doing what they are doing. But he has a crush on Tangerine (Katie Barberi), the moll of the top thug of his trouble. And Tangerine has a dream of making 1980’s fashion and making it big. And the Garbage Pail Kids help Dodger make some of his own and join her in her quest for high 1980’s fashion. And actually, from a fashion perspective, this movie has a lot of choice moments and outfits.
The whole thing is Z-grade, PG-rated, nonsense. Fart jokes and pee jokes prevail. And yet the story of Dodger and his love for Tangerine gives rise to some moderately melodramatic moments as he learns his lesson that he is merely being used by the young lady. And going with the theme of ugly/beauty, he tells her at the end, when she tries to atone for her abuse, that he “doesn’t think she’s pretty anymore”. And the bottom line theme of inner beauty being greater than physical beauty…well, this movie luckily doesn’t really try to hit that home too hard.
The film is bad, but fun bad. Not as fun as if it was more perverse and less PG, but it still has that analog charm of low-budget 1980’s movies. It well could be a cult film in the hands of the right provocateur. And as eye-rollingly annoying as many moments are, I still feel a little satisfied that I finally saw it.