I’m willing to believe claims that screenwriter Dominic Muir wrote Critters before Gremlins was released in 1984, but as the franchise reached this third installment, all pretense is washed away. Critters 3 is a Gremlins ripoff — and also the launching point for one of Hollywood’s most successful actors.
No more theatrical releases for this franchise. By 1991, it was direct-to-video only. Written by David J. Schow and directed by Kristine Peterson, Critters 3 leaves the cozy confines of Grover’s Bend, Kansas, for the big city of Topeka. A family returning from a vacation — father Clifford (John Calvin), daughter Annie (Aimee Brooks), and young son Johnny (played by twins Christian and Joseph Cousins) — unknowingly pick up a critter infestation when they have to stop to change a tire. A couple of eggs are left in a wheel well, and they hatch just as the family returns to their rundown apartment building.
That building is owned by a Mr. Briggs (William Dennis Hunt), who is planning to tear down the building and construct a mini-mall. To that end, Briggs hired a new super, Frank (Geoffrey Blake), whose job isn’t to look after the building, but to make life so miserable for tenants that they are willing to move out on their own, thus saving Briggs from having to pay court ordered relocation fees. Got that? Because there’s more.
In the type of coincidence more common in film than in real life, Briggs happened to be on hand out on the road when Clifford and his family were changing their tire, and that is where audiences get their first glimpse of Briggs’s stepson, Johnny, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film role. Already a television veteran by that point, DiCaprio was all of sixteen years old during filming of Critters 3, but could easily have passed for twelve or thirteen.
I had forgotten that DiCaprio was in this film before watching for this review. The last time I saw this flick, most likely on late night HBO sometime when I was in high school, DiCaprio wasn’t yet famous, so he was just another ’90s kid, decked out in the finest apparel from the boys’ wardrobe section at Sears. Take a look at this outfit:
That’s rad! Or, not. Rad may have already been out of fashion as slang by 1991. Anyway…
Back at the apartment building, all the players assemble to be potential fodder for the critters. Besides the aforementioned, there are elder couple Mr. and Mrs. Menges (Bill Zuckert and Frances Bay), Marcia (Katherine Cortez), and Rosalie (Diana Bellamy). There is also one more ingredient essential to making this a Critters flick, and that’s Don Keith Opper, returning once again to play everyone’s favorite hillbilly stereotype, Charlie.
That’s a decent amount of cast members for the critters to chew on, but when they get to work, there is not enough blood for a PG-13 movie. Also, the total body count in this flick is a mere two. Only two people get eaten by the critters, despite there being so many available victims whom viewers won’t give a shit about. We know Annie, Josh, and Johnny will see the end of the movie, because a flick like this doesn’t have the balls to kill children, but what’s the point in Rosalie or Clifford surviving? Rosalie was a throwaway character, and Clifford is barely aware he has kids. The good news is, and I have no issue with spoiling this, Frank gets his early.
Blake turned in one of the most annoying performances ever put to film. His character is a cliché — an asshole New Yorker with nasally accent to boot. His accent is like Joe Pesci after huffing helium. On top of that, his character is an unrepentant jerk, and just the thought of him making it to the third act cast a very dark shadow over the film. Thank goodness he exited early. It would have been better had Blake not been in the movie at all. Sorry, Geoffrey. I’m sure you gave it your best.
As for the critter effects, the crew, including the Chiodo Brothers, did a fine job imitating Gremlins. In previous entries, the critters were mostly interested in killing and eating. This film has much more Gremlins-style slapstick shenanigans. The critters fall prey to numerous household accidents in humorous fashion, creating jolly good fun for the audience at their own expense. It would have been more interesting were it not so derivative.
Critters 3 was shot at the same time as its sequel, making this film something of a prologue to Critters 4, which takes place in SPACE. Once one realizes that flick is on the horizon, this low-budget boilerplate mess loses most of its appeal, even with the future star in its cast.
Critters 3 has its moments, but what’s the point of a direct-to-video horror flick that’s light on blood and gore? Answer: none. Critters 3 tumbles down the Watchability Index, landing with an underwhelming splat at #209, displacing Inmate Zero which, paradoxically, had much more gore. It’s almost as if I’m making this up as I go along.