Do you enjoy seeing things? What about hearing them? If you answered “no” to these questions, Todd Sheets is the filmmaker for you. He’s infamous for the SOV (shot-on-video) horrors he made with his metalhead friends in the late 80s/early 90s in Kansas City, Missouri. Titles like Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons and Prehistoric Bimbos in Armageddon City. The limitations of video, combined with Sheets’ inexperience, low production values, and fondness for shooting at night in complete darkness ensure his “movies” are challenging watches. Then there’s the content. Gore. Goblin is one of the goriest, a fact I find kind of funny, given its understated title.
Sheets references Lucio Fulci at least three times in Goblin alone — twice by name, once via eye gouging — indicating he was influenced by him, but he has more in common with Andreas Schnaas, another Fulci devotee. You can always tell when a movie was made by a Fulci fan (or a metalhead, for that matter) because the only aspect they focus on is the violence. They channel all their creative energy into staging brutal, tasteless kills to show how extreme they are, meanwhile, drama, humor, suspense, technique, artistry, etc., fall by the wayside.
Regardless, Sheets managed to carve out a steady career for himself alongside SOV alumni David Prior, Donald Farmer, Mark Polonia, Tim Ritter, and others, so he must have done something right. He comes off as a chill dude in interviews with a genuine passion for horror. He’s a name I’ve put off exploring til now, as I’m not big on evisceration or zombies, which pop up a lot in his work. However, I’m coming to realize that Sheets’ movies are quirky enough to warrant a look anyway. I was unimpressed when I watched part of Goblin a year ago. I decided to finish it last week and found it more tolerable, dare I say fun. It just depends on what mood you’re in.
Sheets’ first full-length feature was Zombie Rampage. It started production in 1988 and took a year and a half to complete. By the time Sheets did Goblin in ’90 or ’91, he still had no clue what he was doing or how to make his movies look like he wanted. He was frustrated by this and burnt out on gore. He apparently rarely eats meat and disliked having to use it in lieu of special effects. So, he tasked his friends with shooting the death scenes. He was also discouraged by negative feedback he’d been receiving, including hurtful reviews published by his own distributor J.R. Bookwalter under the guise of a marketing ploy. One disgruntled viewer even threatened to kill Sheets’ mother if he picked up a camera again! He considers everything he did prior to 1993’s Zombie Bloodbath, including Goblin, a mistake and/or learning experience. He recently referred to Goblin as a “steaming pile of garbage”.
The movie jumped out at me for a few reasons. Firstly, the artwork is cool. It was done by Bill Morrison, who you may remember as Buddy the armed robber from Zombie Cop. He’s a makeup effects artist, too, and designed the “Scully” puppet from The Witching. Another reason Goblin jumped out at me is because I love gimmicky 90s villains based on old folk stories, such as Camilla (a dryad), Candyman, the Djinn, and the Leprechaun. Lastly, I used to collect goblin cards when I played Magic the Gathering.
Goblins are mischievous fairy creatures of Medieval belief. Some authorities use “goblin” and “fairy” interchangeably to encompass all teensy magical beings. This can be confusing as fantasy role-playing games make clear distinctions between goblins, fairies, dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc. Etymologists think “goblin” derives from the Greek word “kobalos”, which could also be where “kobold” originates. In German folklore, kobolds are fairies that occupy homes, caves, mines, and ships.
Their Welsh equivalents are the coblynau. “The coblynau are described as being about half a yard in height and very ugly to look upon, but extremely good-natured, and warm friends of the miner.” Wirt Sikes writes in British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, published 1880. “Their dress is a grotesque imitation of the miner’s garb, and they carry tiny hammers, picks and lamps. They work busily, loading ore in buckets, flitting about the shafts, turning tiny windlasses, and pounding away like madmen, but really accomplishing nothing whatever. They have been known to throw stones at the miners, when enraged at being lightly spoken of; but the stones are harmless.”
Many regions have their own versions. England has bluecaps. Cornwall, knockers. Somewhere along the way, goblins became real flesh-and-blood monsters. Magic depicts them as short, comically stupid, green humanoids with pointed ears and noses that reside in mountainous regions. J.R.R. Tolkien and his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit are largely to blame for this shift. One thing Magic‘s goblins retain from their Medieval counterparts is their penchant for mining/digging/spelunking.
What I’m getting at is, the killer in this movie in no way resembles either representation, nor any representation I’ve seen. Not even the cloaked, vegetarian goblins of Nilbog. The killer in this movie is average height with a crusty face, black raccoon rings around its eyes, and long, luxurious hair running down into sideburns. Its skin color switches between black and white, but is most often white. It wears a jacket sewn together from tattered strips of fabric, jorts, and sneakers.
If Sheets insists on calling it a goblin, it’s technically a hobgoblin. Sikes notes the difference. “In the English ‘hobgoblin’ we have a word apparently derived from the Welsh hob, to hop, and coblyn, a goblin, which presents a hopping goblin to the mind… but should mean in English simply the goblin of the hob, or household fairy.”
Interestingly, “Hobgoblin” was the original title, but Sheets changed it to avoid confusion with Rick Sloane’s highly enjoyable Gremlins cash-in Hobgoblins. The killer in this movie bears no resemblance to those creatures either. Anyway, here’s what happens.
A scrawny guy with a gnarly mullet/mustache combo (co-writer Jerry Angell) is very upset at someone named Virginia Woods for making him chop thistles. He decides he’s had enough and heads to a small barn or shack for a beer. Hands push him into a chair. The hands grab a hedge trimmer and saw open his stomach. The hedge trimmer is silent. There are many lingering shots of the poor guy’s organs and watery blood spurting out. The organs were meat scraps from a supermarket, the stuff they send off to rendering plants, mixed with ropes and hunks of cotton. Sheets used them at the suggestion of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who he called up for advice and developed a friendship with.
A young couple is moving into an old farmhouse. Two other couples are helping them. We’ve got homeowners Larry & Tammy (Jenny Admire), Jerry (Mike Hellman) & Sherry, and Jeff & Jodie (Tonia Monahan). It took me two watches to get the couplings and names sorted out. All three men have long hair. They find a mysterious suitcase in the basement containing a journal, crucifix necklace, and clothes. Jodie flips through the journal. Within seconds, she’s absorbed its entire contents.
“Hey, guys, listen to this.” she starts. “Twenty years ago, this guy practiced, like, black magic. Says here that he was trying out a spell to help his crops grow, but something went wrong and he, like, brought up this demon from Hell that he couldn’t control.”
The credits replay this part with the caption “Tonia learns how to read on the set!” There’s also a close-up of her rack that reads “Tonia’s enormous talent at work!” I hope she okayed being roasted like this.
Cut to a married couple sitting in a loveseat. The wife gets up to do dishes. The husband goes to the store.
That night, the six friends eat a stale frozen pizza they claim was home-cooked by Tammy’s mom. A Body Parts poster hangs on the dining room wall behind them. The friends hear a bang from outside, which turns out to be their husky unnamed associate Deric Bernier. Admire, Hellman, Monahan, and Bernier were in eight of Sheets’ movies apiece. Mike Hellman handled lighting and “special make-up effects” here as well, whereas Jerry Angell received credit for “additional gore scenes”. The thing about these low-to-no-budget productions is, everyone had to wear many hats.
The demon appears in the neighbors’ kitchen. It backhands the wife, who spins away, spitting blood on a wall. The demon grabs a power drill from her stovetop. I keep mine there, too! The wife is still spitting blood on the wall. She collapses and lies there awaiting her doom. The demon lowers the drill toward her eye for thirty-two seconds. When he finally inserts it, guts pile up on the dead woman’s face (all humans store their guts in their eyes). The demon crouches over her corpse and rips some more entrails out of her abdomen. Lastly, for no discernable reason, it turns on the stove. The husband gets a fire poker shoved up his ass while generic thrash metal plays.
The friends hear another sound. They assume it’s neighborhood kids messing around. So, they head outside with a Halloween mask to scare them off. Jeff climbs a ladder backward to the roof with a panicked look on his face and is grabbed from behind by the demon, which disembowels him while he’s alive.
Jodie changes skirts. It doesn’t show her panties, let alone butt cheeks. I’m assuming Monahan wore the wrong skirt to her death scene and this part was added to right that wrong. I love how Sheets went to the trouble of fixing this minor continuity error, but none of the major ones. Jodie goes searching for Jeff. She starts climbing the ladder. A sickle is jammed in her ‘gina. She spits up a large volume of blood. That’s not how anatomy works. The demon reaches into her hole and pulls out a mile of intestines. Jodie just stands on a rung without falling, fighting, running, or screaming.
The rest of the friends decide to go look for Jeff and Jodie. Jerry spots them “playing possum” on the lawn. A closer look reveals the horrifying truth. The girls run screaming past [unnamed], who’s grabbing something to eat from the fridge. Big dude + food = comedy. The guys follow the girls down to the basement and somehow wind up at ground level by a storm door. The couples formulate a plan while [unnamed] dramatically cowers in fear. They conclude the killer is inside the house, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They decide it’s too risky to drive away because their cars are parked by said house, so they walk to the neighbors’. Larry uses a phone to call 9-1-1. The police react to his story with skepticism. He hasn’t even mentioned the demon. The line goes dead. The group heads upstairs to the kitchen (?), sees the husband and wife, and nopes out of dodge. None of these layouts make sense.
Amidst the chaos, the demon grabs [unnamed] and rips his chest open with its bare hands. The demon is now in a plain white T-shirt. It twists the guy’s ear off and pulls intestines out of the wound. Again, that’s not how anatomy works. A great deal of this movie consists of the demon playing with innards. A cruddy metal song accompanies the gruesome visual. Music was done by Sheets’ band, Enochian Key. Gustav Holst’s composition “Mars, the Bringer of War” is also used liberally.
The group barges into a third house owned by Great Value Heather Langenkamp, whose real name is Dorothy. These houses all look identical. Larry explains that two of his friends were killed by a “thing” (he hasn’t noticed [unnamed] is missing), even though he never actually saw it. Dorothy believes him. She says the demon, which she calls a goblin, was boarded up in a well and must have escaped. Larry admits he removed the boards earlier. He says he got his friends into this mess, and he’ll get them out. He and Jerry order the girls to stay put, one of which is apparently pregnant and unwilling to raise the baby by herself. “We’re gonna get some tools,” Larry begins, then turning to face the camera, “and fix that goblin’s engine.” That’s not even clever. They leave.
A moment later, the goblin tricks Dorothy into opening her front door by imitating a human voice and pulls her outside. The men are now running back to the house being chased by the goblin. They just barely make it inside. Dorothy follows them in. I guess she didn’t die. Everyone shuffles up a flight of stairs to an attic, then walks through a door to a basement (?), where they arm themselves with baseball bats and golf clubs. The blueprints must have been drawn by M.C. Escher.
A sheriff dressed as a cowboy walks into an office. His receptionist (Veronica Orr, Morgana from The Witching) tells him, and I quote, “I got an address on that call. You know, I got an address on that call.” Takes from two different angles were used. The audio for both was kept in.
The sheriff asks where the call came from.
“Well, it wasn’t easy.” the woman responds. “It wasn’t easy, but they stayed on the line just long enough to… trace it… 1375 Northeast Neverland Lane.”
The sheriff recognizes the address as “the old Romero house… where all those murders happened”. Ok, can we stop naming things after esteemed horror directors? Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder.
Our protagonists dash back to the first house to consult the journal. However, it offers no answers. They barricade the door with some chairs. What happens next is impossibly pointless and boring. Todd Sheets wanders around in the dark with a flashlight for eight minutes straight. He’s wearing a leather jacket and short shorts. He enters a house. He says hello eleven or more times. It becomes a joke. He threatens to call the police on whoever’s not answering him while trespassing in their home. He’s mutilated for a further two minutes. Ten minutes total. That’s 13% of the runtime right there. Afterward, the protags watch as the sheriff arrives and is killed. The goblin lets him off easy. No disembowelment. I’m pleasantly surprised.
Larry and Jerry devise an elaborate plan involving a lawnmower and shooting fire through a hole. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. So, instead, they attempt to run down the goblin with a rototiller. The goblin just sort of takes it and chases them with it. It’s not even on. The blades never move.
Pregnant Sherry unbarricades the door to run to the cop car. Tammy yells at her, then runs to the cop car herself. The goblin appears out of nowhere and pounds on the glass. Tammy uses the car phone to call the receptionist who repeats her lines. “Get your fucking ass out here now, I’m gonna die.” she pleads in a whiny voice. The receptionist is unhelpful. She admonishes Tammy for using profanity. But at least she only does it once. The line goes dead.
The guys are back in the house. Dorothy reports that she carefully read the diary twice (!) and found a solution. To kill the goblin, all they need to do is expose its heart and place the crucifix necklace from the mysterious suitcase inside. If the farmer who conjured the goblin knew this, why didn’t he do it?
Larry heroically buzzes through the goblin’s ribcage with a circular saw and plunges the necklace inside. Watery blood shoots out of its forehead for some reason while it shakes. I think it’s supposed to be melting.
Larry announces the goblin is dead. Blood drips from the ceiling, signaling all is not well. An exterior light flickers. Two zombies stir. A random male voice that doesn’t belong to Larry or Jerry warns Sherry that “anyone that is killed by the goblin will return to life as an evil entity, a member of the undead.” and advises her to “go get some knives”. Sherry grabs several knives from a drawer.
Larry is suddenly rambling about a virus that reanimates corpses. Sherry shouts to James that zombies are getting into the house; there is no one named James. By this point, I knew something was wrong. Turns out, the footage is actually from Zombie Rampage. Three zombies in matching plaid shirts tackle a guy in a plaid shirt for gimmick infringement. They rip his skin off. Someone has a gun. A forearm is bitten. People scream. The end. Minus the recycled footage and credits, Goblin is only about sixty-four minutes long. So, average length for an SOV movie.
Overall, it’s an amateurish, one-dimensional gorefest that lacks substance. It’s full of plot holes and continuity errors. The acting is not. Like I already said, the picture is too dark to see. What can be made out is drained of color. The dialogue is inaudible. I won’t say its heart is in the right place, because it’s really nasty and gross, but everyone involved tried their hardest and their love of horror shines through. If you can look past all these problems, you might have some fun. If you can’t, I don’t blame you, it’s pretty rough stuff.
Goblin was produced by J.R. Bookwalter and issued by Video Outlaw, a subsidiary of Bookwalter’s main label Tempe Video. It also appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, which is now out of print and going for sixty-plus dollars on eBay. I watched it on the Kings of Horror YouTube channel.
The version they have is apparently not the original. Bleeding Skull’s review, which is based on the Video Outlaw VHS, contains a screenshot of an alternate title card and mentions a scene where “the goblin is summoned from his pit of hell — aka a jacuzzi”. I’m interested in checking out that version and what else Sheets has to offer. Dominion looks more my speed.
1. Sovhorror. “SOBs Who Love SOV – Ep 14 Goblin (1993).” Online video clip. YouTube. August 20th, 2020. Web. June 15th, 2022.