A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #9: “Hobgoblins” (1988)

by A.J. Hakari


At the San Diego Comic-Con’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” reunion a while back, Bill Corbett mentioned how difficult it is to riff on movies that are already intended as comedies. What he said makes sense, that there are only so many ways to jest about something being not very funny. But Hobgoblins is an obvious exception to the rule, as the Satellite of Love had no trouble taking on this stinkburger of a film in arguably one of the Mike Nelson era’s best episodes. What we have is a failed teen sex farce and a botched Gremlins cash-in rolled into one godawful package, delivered with all the verve of a cast and crew that may not be comatose quite yet, but they’re certainly on their way.

In a barely-locked vault that’s tucked away in an abandoned movie studio, the most vicious hand puppets on earth await their next victims. They’re the Hobgoblins, aliens who came to our planet to bring peoples’ deepest fantasies to life…before closing in for the kill. For thirty years, a lone security guard (Jeffrey Culver) has kept the Hobgoblins at bay, until his well-meaning partner Kevin (Tom Bartlett) slips up and sics the pernicious plushies on the outside world. With the Mogwai-sized visitors making a beeline for his friends, Kevin has little time left to stop them from being done in by their own imaginations.

Morbid curiosity is the only reason I sought to indulge in the uncut Hobgoblins experience, despite watching the “MST3K” version a few dozen times as is. I just had to know what was edited for broadcast, if the full film had any redeeming value that didn’t make what went to air. The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, is a resounding “SHIT, NO” — aside from a couple extra scenes of the old guard being yelled at by his boss, it’s basically the same miserable pile of cinecrap Mike and the bots sifted through. Hobgoblins tries coming across all wacky and cheeky, but it puts as much effort into developing its sense of humor as it does into being an actual horror flick. Like a proto-Disaster Movie, it cops stupidity on purpose, but every gag is so forced and devoid of cheer, it stops being self-aware and starts feeling pandering in no time.

Hobgoblins is like watching 90 minutes of some lousy comedian waiting for a reaction to a punchline he screwed up anyway. The pacing is ungodly slow, the characters are blatant stereotypes who think they’re hilarious for being blatant stereotypes, and the film’s self-ascribed sassiness elicits no chuckles on even the most base of levels. I’m all for giving the unriffed versions of “MST3K” targets a fair shake, but there’s no reason to hit up Hobgoblins without Crow and Servo’s commentary as part of the deal.