The Scoop: 1986 PG-13, directed by Stephen Herek and starring Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, and Billy Zane
Tagline: They eat so fast, you don’t have time to scream!
Summary Capsule: Carniverous alien criminals crash-land in a farming town on Earth
Justin’s Review: Previous to today, my awareness of Critters was mostly confined to it being a cheap 80s knock-off of Gremlins with bad box art and a few improbable sequels. After today, I’ve added greatly to my Critters repository. For instance, I’ve learned that Critters was directed by the same guy who did Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Kerek, who claims that Critters was already realized before Gremlins was a thing, so no knock-off there). I’ve also learned the Critters is an interesting mixture of sci-fi, horror, and comedy, which is two more genres than I came into this expecting.
The sci-fi aspect is actually the framework for the film. The Critters — actually called Crites — are alien criminals scheduled for execution on an asteroid prison. They escape (somehow) and steal a spaceship, then make a bee-line to Earth with a pair of bounty hunters in hot pursuit.
The Crites land in the middle of a small Kansas town, where they proceed to wreak havoc as they try to eat everything. The bounty hunters aren’t much better, as they are of the “fire first and mourn later” variety. Caught between them all is a single family that’s near the crash site, under siege by ravenous balls of teeth and poison dart quills. There’s also Charlie, the local crackpot mechanic who believes in stuff like aliens and is therefore the one most prepared for when the crazy stuff starts going down.
While Critters rarely does any one thing good, its committment to the premise and its willingness to throw every idea at the camera makes it pretty entertaining. Sometimes it’s funny on purpose; sometimes it’s funny because it fails so bad at being scary. I guess it’s a long shot to make furballs and small hand puppets truly terrifying, but I think the creators were intentionally going for a 50s B-movie vibe. It’s the type of horror film that’s in no danger of freaking its audience out, so it splurges on goofy Critter antics (the alien subtitles are pretty hilarious) and the occasional exercise in gore FX. Plus, you have space bounty hunters shooting up a bowling alley for no good reason whatsoever, which in itself is an excellent reason to include it.
My major complaint is that most of the movie takes place during the course of a single night, which keeps most of the action in shadows and darkness. Maybe that was necessary to hide how primitive the puppets were, but it does make portions difficult to view.
I’ll admit it, I was charmed by this movie. It’s definitely not the type of movie that could be made today, even if it was slathered with post-modern irony. It didn’t feel much like Gremlins at all, but more like Tremors — and that’s just fine by me.
Yeti’s Rating: You had me at, “Billy Zane with a ponytail”.
Yeti’s Review: There were a few things I went into this movie unaware of. One, that it would genuinely scare me. Two, the possibility of gaining a new workout song for the rare gym trip. And best of all, I had no idea Critters would treat me to prime, 80’s Billy Zane. Say one thing about this movie, say it has Billy Zane sporting the “wrap your sweatshirt around the waist” look.
If you want to know my feelings on horror films be sure to read the first few paragraphs from my The Sacrament review (not so subtle plug!). Casper is my favorite “horror” film of all time. I’ve sent the people at TBS letters advocating Casper should be played twenty four hours straight on Halloween. One day, perhaps.
So the idea of tiny furry aliens invading a quiet farm town seemed harmless, and it probably is to anyone over the age of six, but I had to turn the light on half way through the movie. The “crites” steal a spaceship, forcing what I can only describe as a half human/half Jabba the Hutt creature, to hire bounty hunters. These two were the real deal. They had bodacious space guns, the ability to transform into a rock star, and would kill in my weekly bowling league.
As I understand it, this movie was a response to the popularity of Gremlins. The latter is definitely a better movie, but Critters I found to be much creepier. Just looking at the theatrical poster gives me the willies. The crites are balls of fur with a smile full of razors. It’s what I imagine the design would be if they were to ever make a Cheshire Cat horror flick. They attack like the spiders in Arachnophobia. Seemingly shot out of cannons, these little guys can end your existence in the blink of an eye. Zane took a flesh eating Furby to the stomach! It’s horrifying. At least Gremlins had the decency to give us Gizmo. There was a good mix of both comic relief and cuteness relief.
The acting was surprisingly good for what the movie was. When I watch actors in scary films all I’m really looking for is if they look frightened. That’s it. Especially with all the CGI we use today I understand it might be difficult to get worked up over a green screen. Just put in the effort. Don’t pull a Tara Reid like in Sharknado 2: The Second One. I mean come on Tara, it’s a sharknado for goodness sake.
You could do worse when staying in on a Saturday night. This coming fall I suggest giving Critters a try. You’ll scream, you’ll sigh. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (E.T. fans will). The plot moves fast. They know we want the fur and they give them to us quick. Okay, not really. But the twenty minutes it takes for them arrive goes fast. There’s that eighties vibe that stays with every movie from the decade. It’s like driving down to the shore, smelling that salt air. Not only is the ending satisfying, but it sets up for a sequel. Oh, just one sequel you ask? One sequel may be enough for that hack movie Gremlins. Critters consists of three sequels, four movies in all. Double its supposed better half! That counts for something, right?
- Those are some wonderful rubber alien outfits
- Space knives make cool noises when sheathed
- They have enough fuel to cross the galaxy “ten times over”? That’s a wee bit of fuel!
- Is the farmer dad John Kerry? Sure looks like it.
- Very considerate of all of the aliens to speak English
- The transformation effects are pretty well-done. Also, icky.
- And then, for no good reason, the alien bounty hunters took a break to watch a hair metal rock video
- Only two people are killed during this entire film. Plus some animals.
- The girl being sexually aggressive and the guy acting coy is an interesting twist
- The critters don’t land on earth until the 24th minute of the movie
- Justin is the cutest hunk of something in all of Livonia. No wait. All of Michigan. No wait. All.
- The dad’s wearing a Ghostbusters shirt. Huh.
- The cut from guy getting eaten to the garbage disposal was hilarious. Well done, movie.
- The critter dropping the f-bomb after his friend gets shot made me laugh so hard.
- The bounty hunter chucking a bowling ball down an alley and making the pins explode.
- Poor E.T. doll! (plus, the mom here is the mom from E.T.)
[Critter finds an E.T. doll]
Critter 1: Who are you?
[Critter gets frustrated and bites its head off]
Kid: Mom’s gonna be realy grossed out when she hears about this.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Critters 2