I don’t know what was in the water during the ’80s, but I think they have to put it back in. It was a Golden Age for fun films, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. One of the sub-genres that came from horror and sci-fi was the little creature feature: films featuring funny, violent creatures that you could hug or run for your life from at the same time, like Gremlins, Munchies, Ghoulies, Troll, The Gate, and Hobgoblins.
But there is one little creature feature franchise that did it the longest, and even had a mini-binge series on the horror streaming service Shudder: Critters. Today we begin our quest to see if this franchise was deserving of that streaming series with the original Critters.
Movie: Critters (1986)
Plot: A gang of carnivorous space hedgehogs escape an intergalactic prison. With a pair of faceless, leather-wearing bounty hunters hot on their quills, the Crites land in Kansas and attempt to eat anything, and anyone in sight.
Killer: Crites, aka Critters, aka bloodthirsty space hedgehogs.
Critique: I don’t kid myself when I get to talk about Critters: it’s not a great movie. The story is formulaic for a science fiction “aliens land and wreck havoc on Earth” film, the acting is good enough to not be ridiculed too much, and the film sticks in as many pop culture references as it can. References, ripoffs, call them what you will. We have an opening ripped clear out of Return of the Jedi, complete with Warden Zanti looking like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Bib Fortuna, a Gremlins-like trash party, a Crite mixed in with stuffed animals like E.T. (and if that wasn’t enough, a cameo of an E.T. doll to really drive it home), Crites in the toilet like Ghoulies, a Porsche 944, men being lifted off their feet, and space monsters speaking in jibberish while we read subtitles. The whole movie is almost a collection of cliches from the ’80s.
But even with all of that, I love Critters. It’s just a fun monster flick that has the perfect blend of action and comedy with a science fiction premise. It doesn’t try to be much else. It’s rated PG-13, so it’s build-ups are more thrilling than scary or bloody, but I can live with that in this film, like I do with Killer Klowns from Outer Space. If a film is entertaining enough, if doesn’t have to tread through the “would have been better if they went balls out for an R-rating” critiques that I sometimes toss in when I want a horror or sci-fi film to do more. Critters gets a pass on that sort of critique, and I’m comfortable saying that.
Scene of Awesomeness: The progression of the bounty hunters learning to drive a police car makes me laugh every time of the, probably, thousands of times that I’ve watched Critters. First they’re fumbling around trying to get the car started until they finally figure out how to drive… in reverse. They crash into the church in reverse, but as they are leaving, the driver looks behind him and the car drives forward. It’s the little things that get me sometimes.
Scene of Ridiculousness: There’s a lot of awesome ridiculousness, but as far as bad ridiculousness, the Browns’ house flying back together at the push of a button of a space transmitter is some pretty bad ridiculousness. The end scene was supposed to just be the Brown house in shambles, but I guess a PG-13 rating calls for a happier ending.
Body Count: 2 plus a cow and countless chickens
1 cow eaten alive off-screen
1 under-the-car devouring
1 stomach eaten out (Awesomely Overkill Award only because it’s Billy Zane.)
Countless chickens eaten alive in the shadows
No breasts. What do you expect from a PG-13 movie?
Actors/Actresses of Note: Critters has almost an entire cast that’s notable, leading up to their roles in this film or after. It has Billy Zane fresh out of his role as backup bully in Back to the Future, Dee Wallace following the sort of Mom roles she had in E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Cujo, and The Hills Have Eyes, Lin Shaye, who’s been in pretty much everything, M. Emmet Walsh of Blade Runner, The Jerk, and Blood Simple fame, and Hollywood “I know that guy” actor Ethan Phillips. Nadine Van der Velde followed up Critters with Munchies… okay, they weren’t all winners. But Scott Grimes went on to voice Steve Smith in Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad!, so that’s something.
Quote: “Fooood!” – Crite