What does a 0% really mean on Rotten Tomatoes when the film in question can bring such joy? What does a 0% mean when the film in question oozes with originality and has you coming back three times in one week to desperately try and catch every nuance and file every line of dialogue away for later to appear even more cult-worthy than you already think you are? What does a 0% mean when the film in question is The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? Absolutely nothing.
The Garbage Pail Kids started as a series of collector cards meant to spoof the Cabbage Patch Dolls. As a child of the 80s, I was deeply rooted in the world of the Cabbage Patch. My mother even made me one, Andy, that I slept with for years – until at ten I saw Child’s Play and hid him for ever and always in my closet; a closet that, incidentally, with the swirls of its faux-stain, reminded me of that creepy painting from Ghostbusters 2; making me forever fearful that either the closet door or the doll would emerge at night and murder me in my sleep.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie came out when I was four and even though I was a progressive child, heavily steeped in the culture of my adolescence (the search for Beanie Babies became an unrelenting quest throughout middle school…), I was unaware of GPK the film and GPK the cards until the hunt for Bad Cinema had begun.
Bad Cinema’s roots began with Showgirls, the greatest worst movie ever. My steadfast love for Verhoeven’s mess-terpiece was unstoppable. In the past four months, I have watched it a minimum of eight times and am kind of dying to turn it on right now. It is the gift that keeps on giving (thank you, Elizabeth Berkley). I have been searching week after week for something to rival its splendor, its quotability, its pure audacity in a lack of taste. And I have found it in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.
As the credits begin to roll, a garbage pail shaped space ship, complete with Spaceball One style taillights, hurdles towards Earth. Leaping from its bowels, we are introduced to the cast via their GPK trading cards. Anthony Newley, a Tony and Oscar nominated composer and co-star of the much maligned musical Doctor Dolittle, is the only “name” actor in the film. In fact the GPK are introduced only by their character names: Messy Tessie, a girl whose nose constantly runs, even going so far as to drip into her mouth; Foul Phil, a baby with horrible breath; Nat Nerd, a boy with horrendous acne and a super hero cape who randomly pees on the floor; Windy Winston, whose favorite past time is farting; Ali Gator, an alligator boy who eats human toes; Greaser Greg, a Fonzi wannabe with a switch blade and a touch of misogyny; and Valerie Vomit, who…well, I’m sure you can guess. From jump street, we know we are in for a wild ride.
But these are their Earthly forms. The GPK are really a glob of green goo living at the bottom of their trash can spacecraft. Captain Manzini (Newley) has been keeping them safe for years on the top shelf of his magic shop. That is until Dodger (Mackenzie Astin), his assistant/ward (? we never see or hear of his family…) is beaten up by the toughest gang of thugs this side of Blackboard Jungle and send the pail tumbling to the floor.
Now this isn’t the first time we see the bullies pick on poor Dodger. First off, Astin is actually 14 playing a character who is 14 as opposed to the mid 20 somethings attempting to pass as high school students; an insane trope of any movie starring teenagers like we don’t know what real teenagers look like. Secondly, we have seen the bullies (led by the fabulously retro ’50s creep in an oversized David Byrne jacket, Juice) turn Dodger upside down in a park in broad daylight for his lunch money (has this ever really happened in real life ever or merely a cliche of the cinema?). Wally and Blythe (an obvious descendant of John Waters’ most delicious deviants, dressed in her yellow and black zebra print and fingerless gloves, cackling lines like, “My kinda guys. Psychos.”) even throw Dodger into a sewer after he hits on Juice’s main squeeze, Tangerine. And not only throw him into the sewer, but turn on the sewer pipe, sending piss and, yes, chunks of defecation onto his face.
But down the stairs the Garbage Pail Kids descend to rescue the boy who has set them free from their prison (“That pail be jail,” Greaser Greg tells us). Somehow, also in broad daylight, the “children” (the GPK are played by little people in horrible costumes with big plaster heads) drag Dodger through the streets and back to the antique shop without anyone stopping them or asking why he is covered in waste.
You see, the children truly are heroic in their actions to save him. They have braved the “normies” with the ever impending fear of being kidnapped and taken to the State Home for the Ugly. Captain Manzini has kept them protected all these years, but now that they have escaped the safety of the garbage pail, the only place the ugly GPK are safe (what a statement!) – and refuse to return! – they must be ever vigilant to remain out of the clutches of anyone offended by their hideousness. If only the world knew what Captain Manzini does: “Ugliness is not in a mirror. Ugliness is cruelty, meanness of spirit.” Or little people in horrible costumes with big plaster heads.
Dodger takes a bath that evening in the middle of the basement with all of the kids and Captain Manzini watching him. This is odd and creepy for the obvious reasons, but it gets even creepier when Messy Tessie (my personal favorite of the bunch because the actress employs a similar voice to the one I use to speak to my dog, coincidentally named Dodger) proclaims “He’s got cute legs!” while Ali Gator tries to eat his toes as he wiggles them sensually like Lolita beckoning Humbert.
But Dodger has bigger things to worry about than getting oogled by mysterious kids from outer space. He is in love with Tangerine. But she is too busy selling her wears at the local discotheque to care (“I’m gonna sell my way out of this town!”). And boy are those girls ever clamoring for her fashions! When Tangerine arrives with her duffel bag full of originals, they are literally running from the club, fiending for the latest creation to make them look like Cyndi Lauper’s Down-Syndromed, color blind sister (honestly, how was tying tulle in your hair and wearing an asymmetrical leotard as a dress not always hysterically tacky? Although that outfit made out of traffic signs is straight up Fish…). But no! Juice arrives and steals all her money, Jack Gordon style. This boy just ain’t no good.
But Tangerine, the shrewd business woman that she is, decides to take matters into her own hands and seduce Dodger for his own fashions! Well, the fashions that the GPK have made to help him impress her, that is. And she falls for that Michael Jackson military knock-off hard! Suddenly, the GPK are putting on their best Rumplestiltskin hats, turning out a dozen outfits a weekend to help him seal the deal. I guess they really don’t have anything else to do. And they do kind of owe him one for letting them out. And he did promise to help them find their missing friends in exchange. Besides, as the Sesame Street style musical number tells us, while they break into the Non-Union Sweat Shop to steal sewing machines, “We Can Do Anything By Working with Each Other.”
But they can’t be cooped up at their machines all day like they are working for the Kellwood Co. They need to get out and tear up the town! So while Captain Manzini is busy trying to write some musical spell to get them to go back into the pail, the GPK break out incognito looking like girl scouts from Troop Beverly Hills and head to the movies.
As The Three Stooges (in one of the few public domain; therefore, oft-used shorts, Malice in the Palace) seem to serve up a terrier to a bunch of Muslims, the GPK make a ruckus, kissing patrons, sneezing popcorn all over the crowd, and proclaiming for all to hear that Ali loves to eat dog. Ali also loves to get drunk. He and Windy go to a bar, “The Toughest Bar in the World,” where they drive their motorcycle through the window and kick ass because the patrons are attacking Gator for trying to eat someone’s foot. Then, a random bar patron steps in, proclaiming these little guys have guts and buys everybody a drink: “To all the little suckers of the world!”
All their movie theatre shenanigans and bar fights really makes those GPK’s hungry so they steal a series of food trucks, build a camp fire in some grungy back alley, and pig out on hotdogs and Pepsi.
Meanwhile, Captain Manzini and Dodger have found the State Home for the Ugly and Dodger is working harder than ever to be a Seymour to Tangerine’s slightly liberated Audrey (Manzini’s Antique Shop’s facade bears a striking resemblance to Mushnick’s). But when she finally meets the GPK, she, like most normies, are disgusted by “these ugly things”: until she discovers they were the ones that made those fashionable threads! And she does have a fashion show coming up and needs all of the samples she can muster. (Apparently, Sue Ellen Crandell ain’t the only teen fashionista in the game…)
While at the fashion show, Tangerine has sent word to Juice that the GPK are ripe for the taking to the State Home for the Ugly where they will collect a large sum of money for helping clear the streets of their hideous faces. And it must be a very large sum because now that the GPK are locked up, they can’t make outfits anymore; outfits that helped her secure the fashion show in the first place. Tangerine is definitely not thinking about the future.
Once Dodger learns the truth, he and Manzini employ the patrons at The Toughest Bar in the World to aid in breaking them free. Out of their giant cage – emblazoned by the words TOO GROSS, btw – the GPK use their “special skills” (bad breath, farting in the face of danger) to escape. Free at last, they run to the fashion show to wreak havoc and get revenge. Dresses are ripped off to reveal the most colorful undergarments possible (yellow cheetah print bras? really?) as the GPK take back their fashions from Tangerine’s sour tyranny. Windy knocks out the audience with his gas, Dodger knocks out Juice with punches that look incredibly real, and with Juice’s goons pinned underneath her, Valerie Vomit finally lives up to her name.
But Tangerine, ever the entrepreneur, goes to Dodger later that night to apologize because despite all of the absolute insanity at the fashion show, the clothes were a hit. And maybe, just maybe, they can be friends. So the GPK will continue to make her clothes. But Dodger is not swayed: “I don’t think you are pretty anymore.” Tangerine is left in a state of shock.
Manzini has finally figured out the magic incantation to force the GPK back into the garbage pail. But as he begins to play the out-of-tune melody on his piano, the children decide to make a run for it and brave the world on their own. Manzini is worried at first, but at last learns the lesson of the film: “Perhaps it would have been safer to have locked them away from the world, but you can’t change the world by locking yourself away from it.” The Garbage Pail Kids ride off into the night on their mopeds to form a better place for us all.