The battle began in another galaxy. It’s about to end in the Brown’s backyard.
After the enormous worldwide success of the Steven Spielberg produced, Joe Dante directed Gremlins (1984) it was only a matter of time before others studios tried to cash in on the film’s success. Originally marketed as New Line Cinema’s answer to Gremlins, Critters is totally original in concept, execution and tone and has become somewhat of a Home Video cult classic blending horror science-fiction and comedy into one ball of spine-tingling fun.
The film opens in deep space on a floating maximum security asteroid prison where a group of unseen alien detainees, known as the Krites, are set to be transported to another station. When the seemingly intelligent creatures cause an explosion, hijack a ship and escape, the leader of the prison, desperate to recapture or destroy the Krites, hires two shape-shifting intergalactic bounty hunters to pursue the creatures at all costs. Surveying the ship’s damage and desperate for food, the Krites, also known as Critters, eventually land on Earth, in a small rural Kansas farming town appearing to be a comet streaking the sky and dock somewhere near a local family farm. This farm is home to the Brown’s, a simple family consisting of two loving parents, their popular teenage heartthrob daughter named April, and Brad, their trouble-making son who often hangs out with Charlie McFadden, a mechanic who works for the Brown’s and is notorious for being somewhat of a local drunk. The family farm is soon attacked by the hoard of hungry furry ball-like flesh-eating creatures from outer-space and the Brown’s must seek the help of Charlie and the deadly bounty hunters who are opposed by militant townspeople for destroying everything that stands in their path of eliminating the Krites.
Being a low budget creature-feature from the 80s’, Critters winds up looking rather top-notch as creature design and effects are fairly decent and believable, allowing the film to still stand strong in today’s cluttered horror/ cult market. The Critter’s themselves have quite a witty attitude, which you see through their comical subtitled dialogue, and are very unique in design, with menacing grins, a mouthful of razor sharp teeth and the ability to shoot poison spikes which dart out from their spines and paralyze unsuspecting victims; these alien invaders were created by talented Chiodo-brothers best known for their work on the Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Being made in the age before widespread digital technology, the spaceships, make-up effects, creatures and set pieces are all very much practical and still come off looking plausible, which really gives viewers the ability to sink themselves into the film’s zany plot.
The performances, mostly by relatively unknown actors, apart from a young mullet sporting Billy Zane, Titanic (1997), do a credible job in expressing believability in the sometimes silly happenings. April, played by Nadine Van der Velde, is a real bombshell; it’s disappointing that her career didn’t flourish after her credible work here on Critters. M. Emmet Walsh, Blade Runner (1982), is great as the town’s sheriff but is somewhat underused having very little screen time and not much to do. Don Opper, who plays Charlie and did some additional writing on the film’s script, comes across very convincingly as a UFO obsessed loveable drunk as does Terrence Mann, All My Children (1970), who plays the dual role of bounty hunter Ug and the television rock star Johnny Steele who Ug eventually shape-shifts into. Critters features a very retro-rock soundtrack with original songs written and produced for the film, with ‘Power of the Night’ performed by Terrence Mann as Johnny Steele being a real highlight.
So as a horror, is Critters any scary? The simple answer is no, not really, there’s nothing remotely frightening about a bunch of wise-cracking Muppet-style fur balls rolling around trying to find something to snack on. The film’s measly body count, which consists of a cow, two humans and several chickens, isn’t particularly graphic or violent, having only two on-screen deaths with most characters simply just being ‘harmed’. So gore hounds shouldn’t expect to see much blood or carnage here. What the film does have though is a fairly fresh and inventive storyline, an amusing script with plenty of memorable lines, solid effects and a nice seamless blend of propaganda science-fiction and loony comic book horror that one would expect to see in B-grade features from the 50s’ and 60s’. The film looks great too, with beautiful cinematography and a great colour pallet of pinks and blues, and, mostly taking place during the night, presents the Critters in a way that makes them look more menacing than they really ought to be. With parts resembling an 80s’ rock music video and being somewhat of a throwback to propaganda UFO films from the past, it has a real late-night movie feel, making it quite easy to get lost in this film’s silliness.
Directed by Stephen Herek, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), also penned by Herek and Domonic Muir, Critters was widely believed to have been inspired by the success of Gremlins but Herek, in interviews, refuted this and pointed out that the script was written long before Gremlins went into production and subsequently underwent rewrites to reduce the apparent similarities between the two films. Critters though, doesn’t come across feeling like a bunch of stolen ideas as it’s difficult to find a film with this much energy, life and creativity from this era. While holding strong sentimental nostalgic value, Critters comes recommended and if you’re after a fun, mindless, light-hearted science-fiction horror combo with humour then don’t let this sometimes overlooked picture pass you by.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Critters is released through Warner Bros. Home Entertainment