Wacky college teen comedies filled with low-brow humor and gratuitous nudity were all the rage following Animal House (1978), and they survive in some form to this day. To say the films from the 1980s and early 1990s are “problematic” by today’s standards is an understatement, however, many are still quite entertaining if you try to forget how utterly wrong some elements and scenes in them are (I’m looking at you Revenge of the Nerds (1984)). It’s understandable that studios wanted to make money on something that was a sure way to make a buck, it’s less understandable that the film chosen to become a wacky college teen comedy was Ghoulies III.
There are clues to what happened. Well, we know what happened. Ghoulies (1984) was a tremendous success—the biggest success Charles Band’s production company, Empire International Pictures, had ever had. The income allowed the studio to produce classics like Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) and TerrorVision (1986). It also allowed Band to expand. He bought a castle where he could film plenty of films, along with some other not-so-wise investments which led to the money bin emptying.
To try and save the company, he sold off the rights to Ghoulies to Vestron Pictures—you might have heard of their film Dirty Dancing (1987). They also made C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. (1989), which is one of the most random sequels of all time, so no one could know what would happen when they produced a Ghoulies film.
So, Ghoulies was called a Gremlins (1984) knockoff, but I suggest that Ghoulies III is a mixture of Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) in an Animal House setting. The ghoulies are not mute, but quite radical. Yes, they can talk now. They are bigger and more expressive than before. I’m not sure if they are animatronics or if there is just a hand up in their heads. They have the weird hands from Spitting Image (1984)—human hands in latex gloves. They are quite annoying, not funny, and even less scary. Which is a shame.
The story is simple. At the University of Hard Knockers, the fraternities are fighting a prank war. It’s prank week, and that just means bra bombs, panty raids and general mischief. Our protagonist, Not-Andrew McCarthy is putting all his energy in winning the title of Prank King, even though it means losing his girlfriend (Eva LaRue from CSI: Miami (2002) to Albino-James Spader. One professor is not happy about all this pranking, that’s Ragnar (Kevin McCarthy). When Ragnar comes upon a comic book that holds the spell to summon the demonic ghoulies, he ain’t afraid of using them to his advantage.
The film is directed by special-effects artist John Carl Buechler, who also made the Troll (1986) which spawned that sequel some people talk about—it’s competently directed, and the script is fine for what it is. Kevin McCarthy chews the scenery more than he did in UHF (1989) and I’m not complaining. For some reason, the late Marcia Wallace is in this. Most people know her voice quite well since she voiced Bart Simpson’s teacher, Edna Krabappel, from 1990 until her death in 2014, but she rose to fame in the 1970s in The Bob Newhart Show (1972). This is probably the only time she had a gruesome death scene.
There are a lot of “I know that face” actors in this flick, like the carpenter who took forever to fix Jerry Seinfeld’s kitchen, Billy the Kid from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), the not handsome guy from JAG (1995), Jason Scott Lee who portrayed Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993). Kane Hodder makes an appearance as a stunt man in one of the weakest stunts ever filmed. The cat ghoulie is voiced by Richard Kind, and I wish I knew how that happened. Most importantly though, this is the film debut of one of my all-time favorite actors: Matthew Lillard. He plays basically Nerdlinger from the School of Hard Knocks Simpsons’ bit I referenced in paragraph five.
It’s easy to dismiss Ghoulies III as cheap direct-to-video trash. Mainly because it is cheap direct-to-video trash; however, if you can survive the bad jokes and the daunting wacky sound effects that follow every movement of every character, you might just enjoy it.