Critters, another alleged Gremlins rip-off that came out in 1986, is passable entertainment at worst and a semi-hidden gem at best. My opinion's stuck somewhere in the middle. I certainly didn't hate it, but I'm not so sure I understand why others loved it so much. If you're looking for obscure horror/sci-fi masterpieces, there's plenty better and more fun than this. If you're looking for mainstream success hits, you could just watch Corey Feldman spill water on Gizmo. The decade was full of 'little demon' movies like this; the ones who stand out strike a unique chord with viewers and carve their own niche in an already-established genre. Did Critters pull it off? I don't know, and I don't care. I'll never get sick of movies where small puppets eat their victims' fingers off. So before we even get going with the review, the super-short version is this: recommended, brutha!
The reason you might wanna go out there and pick this one up is simple enough: they don't make movies like Critters anymore, and they probably never will. I'm sure I'm part of a substantially large group of fans who enjoy and appreciate the stop-motion puppetry, honest-if-cheesy special effects, and unapologetic basic plots of these sorts of films. I rarely watch movies like these searching for a scare, it's more of an appreciation for the idea that a group of people actually made a movie about 1' alien carnivores who shout obscenities with subtitles, and managed to take it seriously.
You don't find that these days. The closest movies by today's standards fall into two categories, neither of which I find particularly enthralling. Either they're done as spoofs, or they're done using strictly computer-generated graphics which may broaden the action horizons, but almost always fall flat. Somehow, it's a little scarier if they're puppets. I can't explain it, but I doubt I'm alone with that train of thought. If I'm not, I guess I'm just really afraid of puppets for some reason. I blame Shari Lewis. Bitch.
So what's the movie about? Country family just like yours grows closer together as they're fending off tiny, terrible creatures from a faraway planet who keep trying to eat people. Picture Growing Pains with loads of small monsters instead of loads of bad puns. There's a subplot within the film that provides all the necessary unintentional comedy you'd seek when renting an 80s sci-fi flick, but I'll get to that in a few minutes. I haven't done one of these finagled full-reviews since June, so bear with me! I take solace in knowing that it's better to be rusty writing about old horror movies than anything remotely important, so here's my review of Critters...
Pretty standard opening scene introduces us to the family. We've got a regular mother, whore sister, Dennis the Menace brother. The father is the only one who doesn't seem to have been poured from prototypical liquid life, which really isn't a good thing because his character is a farmer at heart who throws terms like 'hog tied' and 'reckon you need a spankin'!' around with such speed and know-how that you're gonna swear it's a running joke you didn't quite get.
The little brother's name is Brad, and he's your star character. The Brown Family aren't terribly annoying, which is good because it'd be expected in a movie like Critters. You get the sense that they were trying to formulate a family-style horror flick along the lines of Gremlins, and I guess that's where all the rip-off allegations stem from. So yeah, a kid wouldn't be embarrassed watching this one with his parents, but I sincerely doubt Mom & Pop would survive the 86 minutes without falling asleep or grounding you with two weeks of no television for no reason just so they could turn off the damn tape.
By the way, I'm not saying these people had shitty or empty careers, but fuck me if I can remember seeing them in any other movies. I only notice the mother, Helen, as Dee Wallace Stone, better known for her role in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Do you think these actors were satisfied having Critters as their opus? I'd say no, but then again, my opus was the time I counted 47 chocolate chips in one single Chips Ahoy cookie. It's all relative.
Did I mention that there's two alien bounty hunters flying through space searching for the Critters? No? Well, there is. Seems like the Critters (known as 'Crites' on other planets) have a terrible reputation, so some other alien hired these guys to destroy them. The bounty hunters are tall shape-shifters with blank green faces, and as they're flying towards Earth, they decide to transform themselves so as not too look so conspicuous. I mean it's not like you can go wandering the streets with a green head and no eyeballs, at least not without a good excuse or a foreign medical tag.
In a moment that completely dates this movie far more than the obsolete special effects ever could, one of the bounty hunters watches Earth television programming from the shuttle, and chooses to mold his image after fictional rock star 'Johnny Steele.' It'd be way more forgivable if they didn't make us sit through a full Johnny Steele music video first. These guys don't really factor into the movie in any big way until the final trimester, but that didn't stop them from appearing in at least ten different nonsensical scenes featuring them beating up the locals and blowing up gas stations. We haven't actually seen the Critters yet, but if these spooks are after 'em, you know they're bad news.
The snooty guy from The Titanic plays the older sister's boyfriend, automatically making him the most successful person ever associated with Critters or any one of it's seventeen thousand sequels. The sister's named April, and she's actually pretty cute. She's also a tawdry slut, pulling him away from the dinner table so they can go roll around in the haystacks in the backyard barn. The father is a mechanic, so I'm not sure why they have all that hay. Maybe it's hers.
You know this is supposed to be a family movie because we don't get the sloppy make-out titshot that's become such a standard in films like this. It's a damn shame, since I'm positive a few well-placed shots of April's bare chest would move the movie along nicely. Come on director, you let one of the Critters say 'fuck' and actually spelled the word out on the bottom of the screen...if you could do that, couldn't we have at least gotten half a nipple?
Finally, freaky stuff starts happening. Brad and his dumb dad notice an alien spaceship, and when they go out to investigate, they find one of their cows dead, apparently half-eaten and totally mutilated. Agreeing that this is abnormal, they opt to hide in the house. When they try calling the cops to see if there's any other reported cow murders in town, they notice that the phone lines are down. The television's getting some weird reception, too. And the lights keep flickering. Every telltale sign of an impending evil alien invasion is right there for them to see, but the fools never saw the Futterman scene in Gremlins, so they don't know any better.
By the way, Dee Wallace Stone was really, really good in E.T., but tell the Misuse Cops about her role here. You could've just put an electronic black box that screamed at predetermined points in her stead, and saved a bundle on casting fees.
AND THE CRITTERS ATTACK! After some brief appearances at the house, they make their first kill in the barn, claiming the Titanic guy by biting his hand off and eating him stomach-first. Man, if they ever do an E! Celebrity Profile on Billy Zanes, I guarantee you he'll pay good money to keep them from mentioning this movie.
It's hard to screencap the Critters themselves, since they're always shown in the darker scenes because light would expose them as being inanimate hand-puppets. They do look pretty creepy, though: big mouths full of fangs, and a hide full of poison quills which they can shoot. Plus, they can tuck themselves into little balls and swiftly roll in for the kill. When they talk in their foreign dialect, we get comedic subtitles. On the coolometer, they're somewhere between the bat-like Ghoulie and Stripe. Closer to the bottom of the ladder, but sufficient enough for me as this video cassette only cost a buck ninety-nine.
Brad runs in and throws a bunch of firecrackers at the things to save his sister. The frightened family locks themselves in the house after finding more Critters waiting for them in the car. Now trapped without any way of getting outside help, it becomes the classic story of man-versus-beast. Only this time, the 'beast' is a foot tall, and the 'man' is seconded by a group of people who regularly make the autograph rounds at Star Trek conventions.
Elsewhere, the bounty hunters raise Hell trying to find the little monsters. At one point, they end up at a bowling alley, and the lead hunter casually throws the ball at 600 MPH towards the pins, damn near exploding the entire building. You know, just because he can. The other hunter chose to form his look after the local preacher, which is funny because all of the citizens who watch them cause the havoc call the police to tell 'em that their priest and a rock star just ruined the bowling league semifinals.
Back at the ranch, the Browns are now really scared, as opposed to the somewhat scared they were twenty minutes ago. A whole lot of shit goes down - they managed to pick off a few of the Critters with a shotgun, but they're just too vicious and there's too many of them to handle. PLUS, get this - they grow as they feed! How about that? Growing monsters from outer-space. Now this is the 'unique chord' I talked about in the introduction. Way to go!
One of the monsters nails Mom with a poison quill, throwing her into a temporary coma. It's actually a relief to the rest of the family, because the girl won't stop screaming and it's hard to concentrate on staying alive when you've got a middle-aged meddling headcase who doesn't understand the fine art of quiet deliberation. Oh yeah, Dad got attacked too. Things are looking pretty grim, but the movie's short, so I'm sure they'll fix everything in no time at all. (by the way, kudos to whomever realized that movies like Critters couldn't possibly work if they were anything over an hour-and-a-half long)
Eventually, Brad ends up befriending the two bounty hunters, as they all realize that they're after the same thing: destruction of the Critters. Brad, who was earlier sent to get help, returns to find that his sister has been abducted by one particularly large Critter, and now it's up to him to save her. Again. He's a regular John Wayne.
By the way, Brad's bedroom door has this lame 'Beware of Kid' sign on it, and every time it appeared on the screen, one of our cats looked up at me, as if to say, 'even I know that's stupid.' I just wish the cat would choose better times to exploit it's selective magic ability to read. I also wish it'd stop shitting on our doormat, but the reading thing is higher up on my list.
Blah blah blah, explosions, salvation, blah blah blah Twizzlers make mouths happy. Brad throws a firecracker into the alien shuttle after rescuing his sister from it, (are these Critters even trying?) and after the bad little monsters blow up their house, the ship explodes. Honestly, it all happened so quick and without intrigue that I'm completely forgetting if the bounty hunters had anything to do with the Critters' ship going down. Nut what does it matter? The good guys won, that's all you need to know. Hmm. Maybe you need to know more. Okay, here's something: there's an entire other subplot consisting of one of the family's drunkard friends failing to convince anyone of the existence of these aliens. I left that whole part out because I don't get paid by the word for these reviews, and I'd need to be if you expect details on crap like that. Send me fifty bucks and I'll write you an e-mail telling you all about it.
With the battle won, Brad thanks the bounty hunters for their help. Though they're usually callous and uncaring, one of them smiles and hands him an interstellar communicator, telling Brad to 'call him sometime.' Don't open that door, friends, methinks there's a sequel on the other side.
The best part is saved for last - the Browns may have survived the alien holocaust, but their house sure didn't. And mechanic/farmers don't make enough dough to buy a new one or even get insurance on their current homes. So they're basically screwed, till the bounty hunters work their superpowers to recreate the entire place using the smoldering wood and vinyl siding. It's so obviously just a house being destroyed played in reverse that there may as well be birds flying backwards during the sequence.
Overall: Praise Allah, this movie was pretty fun! Compared to some of the other dogs we've reviewed on X-E, this was a delight. I disagree with it's fabled cult status, but it's worth a rental, especially since it spawned three follow-up movies, each progressively more asinine than the previous. I'd give it an 8 out of 10 in the confines of this genre, maybe slightly less because I dozed off the first two times I tried watching it.
To make it through the whole thing on the third try, I entertained myself by doodling a Critters comic while watching it. I'm not sure why I felt Critters would be pro-choice activists, but I'm sure the following sketches mean I shouldn't refreeze defrosted chicken anymore.
More 80s Monster Sci-Fi Movie Reviews: Ghoulies - Ghoulies II - Jack-O
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