John’s Horror Corner: Critters (1986), a sci-horror comedy creature feature follow-up to Gremlins (1984) with viciously cute flesh-eating aliens.
MY CALL: A satisfyingly fun creature feature for fans of Gremlins (1984) and Ghoulies 2 (1988). Not much of a plot, but loads of off-the-wall inventiveness, playful nods to the genre, and likably cute miscreant monsters. MORE MOVIES LIKE Critters: Critters 2 (1988), Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Ghoulies 2 (1988), Tremors (1990), Grabbers (2012)…maybe even Munchies (1987) and Hobgoblins (1988), although they are of considerably lower quality.
This movie’s opening is as cheesy as it gets. After a batch of fuzzy little aliens escape a maximum security “prison asteroid” they are followed to Earth by a pair of intergalactic bounty hunters reputed for their destructive methods.
Meanwhile on Earth, Helen (Dee Wallace; The Howling, Lords of Salem, Halloween, Cujo), Jay (Billy Green Bush; The Hitcher), and their kids April (Nadine Van der Velde; Munchies) and Brad (Scott Grimes; Critters 2) have a pretty normal life…that is, until the critters land their spaceship on their family farm to turn Kansas into their buffet.
Their small town has its fair share of personality. Sheriff Harv (M. Emmet Walsh) tries and fails to keep the peace while Deputy Jeff (Ethan Phillips; Star Trek: Voyager, Critters 3) hits on their dispatcher Sally (Lin Shaye; Insidious 1-4, Chillerama). And keeping the sheriff on his toes is Charlie (Don Keith Opper; Critters 2-4), an alcoholic simpleton whose belief in little green men is known all throughout town. His “crying wolf” archetype and friendship with Brad clearly served as a model for the similar dynamic in Leprechaun (1993), which is a decent R-rated horror comedy follow-up for adult fans of Critters.
The shape-shifting bounty hunters learn about Earth much as Leeloo and Neo (in The Fifth Element and The Matrix) and assume the form of a rock star (Terrence Mann; Critters 2-4) and a few locals. This hardly serves the story, but it garnishes an additional layer of silly icing on this cheesy B-movie cake.
The special effects feature a transformation scene that serves as a predecessor for Hellraiser (1987) with reverse time lapse wax melting. The UFO and scenes in outer space are forgivably laughable—mostly because it all feels deliberate and suits the younger PG-13 demographic. This movie transcends the “so bad it’s good” territory and finds itself comfortably in the “good” zone…in the sense that it’s timelessly entertaining. I mean, the critters’ main objective on Earth is comically “food,” they roll around like Sonic the Hedgehog, and they grow as they eat creating a giant Tribble-like threat. Much as Ghoulies 2 (1988) has a giant ghoulie, Critters has a giant critter.
I still like the creature effects. The critters’ toothy maws are menacing. These critters are met with a comical impish first impression. But make no mistake, they are here to kill and eat! They rampage a steer leaving a ripped up gory cadaver, they eat April’s boyfriend Steve (Billy Zane; Demon Knight, Bloodrayne, Survival Island), and brutally maul any within biting range. To level the playing field these diminutive monsters are 50% teeth, swarm like piranhas when they can, and they shoot tranquilizing sleep quills.
Helming his first of many feisty movies to come, director Stephen Herek (Rock Star, The Three Musketeers, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) knows how to entertain us…and our kids! That’s right. Horror for kids? This is PG-13 but it’s every bit as gory as some convincing R-rated movies of its time—although it’s not trying overly hard to shock us and there is nothing brutal or mean-spirited about it. There are a few swear words here and there (uttered by cute aliens and our kid hero Brad), but this is easily suited for preteens. It’s never really “scary” and you never “see” anyone die (although it’s implied once).
There’s a lot to love about this movie—but most of all is that Stephen Herek really tries to entertain you instead of doing just enough to hold things together between special effects. It’s kind of adorable that the critters are intergalactic fugitives, Brad hypothesizes that the critters are radioactive gophers created by the government, a critter confronts an ET plush, Brad’s cat is named Chewie, and Jay’s bowling team shirt looks like the Ghostbusters’ logo. Also grin-worthy is that when the critters “speak” it sounds like a Pomeranian shaking a chew toy, despite the subtitles of totally normal dialogue.
This fun creature feature will happily please fans of Gremlins (1984) and Ghoulies 2 (1988). What it lacks in cohesive plot, it more than compensates in off-the-wall inventiveness, frequent self-aware nods to the genre, and likable miscreant alien monsters.
Watch this, then watch for more since, at the end, they laid eggs!!!