A college professor unleashes the Ghoulies from their bathroom prison when he reads out an enchantment from a comic book. Using them as his servants, he orders that they put a stop to prank week at the college, where rival frats continuously play jokes on one another in an attempt to win a crown.
Gremlins has a lot to answer for, spawning two successive similarly-themed ‘little monster’ franchises (Ghoulies and Critters) each of which have produced four films – no mean feat for any horror franchise (come to think of it, when Puppet Master currently stands at ten films plus a crossover with Demonic Toys, then any old franchise can sequelise itself into oblivion). In comparing the Gremlins-wannabes, the Ghoulies came off a lot worse than the Crites….and I mean a lot worse. Looking like sock puppets from the Victorian era that someone had found in a moth-ridden loft, the monsters looked every inch a pathetic bunch of no-hopers that wouldn’t scare a timid, ninety-year old granny who has had a few heart attacks and is clinging on to life. Someone saw some potential in them and after their disastrous first outing, even though the monsters were virtual spectators in their own film, they were back for the first sequel. Ghoulies II was just as awful as the first one, featuring marginally more Ghoulie action but they still looked like they’d been found in the rubbish dump. Not an auspicious start to a franchise.
The good news here is that Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College is the best of the series by a long shot. That’s not too hard considering the low budget ridiculousness of the previous two films and the sheer ineptitude of the next sequel. Hardly considered scary, this one works best if you take it into consideration with the other screwball 80s horror-comedies that were being released straight-to-video at the time. Containing frat boy humour, lots of drinking, a bit of college girl nudity, some cheap gore and a general feeling of harmless fun, Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College is best described as one of those juvenile American college comedies (National Lampoon’s Animal House, Porky’s, etc.) with some rubber monsters thrown into the mix. The entire plot revolves around two frat houses which are trying to one-up each other during prank week and the Ghoulies get involved. That’s literally it for story and what ensues is a cherry picking through the scrapbook of stereotypical college situations with little monsters causing havoc in each one. Sadly, the Ghoulies are once again given the shaft and they’re more background pests than outright threats.
There’s only three Ghoulies this time around and even though they look like shoddy stick puppets, they fair better than they’ve done in the previous outings, most likely due to the fact that there are fewer of them to animate. They look bigger than they did before, which gives them the impression of being overgrown kids when they dress up in frat gear. The bonus this time is that they talk. The little demons now fire off wisecracks and talk to each other instead of growling, leading to schoolboy humour-esque situations for example which they mimic the professor word for word. It’s hardly high-brow sophisticated comedy but it is daft and you’ll hate yourself for laughing along. The fact that they now talk leads to all manner of shenanigans, with the audience now able to listen to them joke amongst themselves whilst they perve on naked chicks or drink beer. And believe me, there’s plenty of naked chicks to go around, so much in fact that I must applaud the director for coming up with creative ways in which to justify it (like hell he does, he just constantly shows chicks taking showers).
Kevin McCarthy had fallen a long way since his glory days of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and he is given the thankless task of portraying Professor Ragnar, the man who controls the Ghoulies. McCarthy doesn’t give two hoots that he’s in something as terrible as this and ploughs on ahead with a crazed zest which puts many of his contemporaries to shame. If only everyone seemed to be having as much fun as him in their roles. Matthew Lillard, more famous as one of the killers in Scream (and of course, as Shaggy in Scooby Doo) makes his film debut here.
Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College is hard not to like in a “I know this is total rubbish but what the hell” sort of way but it doesn’t take itself seriously, emits an innocent charm and despite the silliness and stupidity, it’s still watchable 80s junk which hopes you’ll jump along for the childish ride. You’ll probably go along with it too – I certainly did.