Two years ago, we had “Gremlins"--the Spielberg-produced tale of an adorable little furry whozit whose progeny turn nasty and lay waste to a Norman Rockwell-ish town. It was a good movie, whose weird mixture of Disneyesque charm and bloody carnage fueled some violent controversy.

Last year, we had “Ghoulies"--whose ads showed an adorable little scaly whozit rising out of the toilet, murderously smiling. (The movie, a stinker, cleaned up at the box office.) And now we have another species: “Critters” (San Diego area theaters).

“Critters” is a dumb, but sometimes likable little movie: maybe an odd comment, since it contains savage killings, mutilations and general bloodshed and evisceration. The premise is simple. Adorable little prickly whozits, who look like porcupine bowling balls, escape from an extraterrestrial prison and besiege a TV sitcom family for an entire night. During the siege, they eat one human, bite a few others and occasionally shoot a quill into somebody’s neck.


Considering the prowess and appetite of the little beasts, and the fact that the family has nothing but a shotgun to defend itself, it seems a generally feeble assault. If the critters--or Krites, as they’re called back home--can eat up the phone lines, the fuse box and part of the family truck, why don’t they just eat up a door and get inside? And why are they wasting so much time at the Brown farm, when they could be off munching their way merrily through Kansas?

The movie has its moments, and it may even delight some sleaze-loving audiences--largely because the cast is good, and first-time director Stephen Herek gives it some pizazz and pace. Herek, who co-wrote the script, is better with a camera than a typewriter. His style here is a plausible copy of Spielberg’s and John Carpenter’s (impish Hitchcockian); and Dee Wallace Stone, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde and M. Emmet Walsh are all fine. Even better is Scott Grimes as the plucky kid brother: Grimes may be one of the few juvenile actors around who can actually carry a movie.

But “Critters” needs someone to carry it. It’s hobbled by another derivative, foolish story--with jokes that include translating the Krites’ bibble-babble with four-letter subtitles, and a Krite popping out of the toilet. (Where have we seen that?) The press book assures us that the “Gremlins” resemblances are pure coincidence. (Great minds working in the same direction?) But it’s an odd disclaimer, since nothing else in the film is original either. “Gremlins” isn’t the only source that’s been pillaged: What about Spielberg’s other movies, or Stephen King, or “Night of the Living Dead”?

And what about a temporary end to adorable little furry or scaly or prickly whozits--Goblins or Ghosties or Beasties or Varmints--and all their fetchingly bloody antics? “Gremlins” was really only good enough for one movie.

‘CRITTERS’ A New Line Cinema/Smart Egg Pic tures presentation of a SHO Films Produc tion. Producer Rupert Harvey. Director Stephen Herek. Script Domonic Muir, Her ek. Camera Tim Suhrstedt. Music David Newman. With Dee Wallace Stone, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van Der Velde, Terrence Mann, Don Opper.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).