The battle began in another galaxy. It's about to end in the Browns' backyard.
Year of Release: 1986
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 82 minutes (1:22)
Director: Stephen Herek
Dee Wallace ... Helen Brown
M. Emmet Walsh ... Harv
Billy Green Bush ... Jay Brown
Scott Grimes ... Brad Brown
Nadine Van der Velde ... April Brown
Don Keith Opper ... Charlie McFadden
Billy Zane ... Steve Elliot
Terrence Mann ... Johnny Steele / Ug
Lin Shaye ... Sally
Corey Burton ... Critters (voice)
"Both Thumbs up!" said Ebert and Siskel about CRITTERS, a horrific story of carnivorous aliens who come to Earth in a feeding frenzy for human flesh. It's no picnic for the Brown family when a lethal litter of Krites arrives unannounced at their Kansas farm. Trapped in a deadly nightmare, the terrified Browns fight for their lives against the attacking blood thirsty monsters. But, it's a losing battle until two intergalactic bounty hunters arrive determined to blow the hellish creatures off the planet! It's an alien adventure, full of action and just crawling with CRITTERS!
Critters, the movie that reminds us there's no such thing as a free lunch. Vegetarians everywhere love this movie, cute little furry animals strike back against farmers by chewing on their midsections. It's kinda like their version of a revenge film. So anyway, as the greatest movie ever made about outer space porcupines that land in rural Kansas, it's got a lot of wisdom to impart unto us. First, if consumed, a firecracker that previously displayed a 10 foot blast radius will only cause moderate expansion of your facial muscles, a puff of smoke, and a slight wobble as you fall over. Second, it's probably wise to avoid picking fights with guys that can palm a 13lb bowling ball an fire it with enough velocity to shatter the pins. An third, in rural Kansas, it's the boys from New York that need the chastity belts. I suppose you could learn that from Deliverance too, but it's still pretty important. But what I'll be discussing at length are the problems encountered by an enlarged ego. These guys, the Krites, figure that since they've mastered intergalactic travel and are capable of navigating a space craft, that there's no reason to rethink their strategy just because they start dropping off. They're too sure of themselves. They've got an entire planet to munch on, but once it's clear there's some serious danger involved in scoring these particular vittles, they don't regroup, they don't relent, and they're slowly but surely picked off one by one because they're getting personally invested. Or monsterally invested. They're too stubborn to roll over to the farm next door. This is exactly why we lost so many guys in Vietnam. Just couldn't admit we were losing. Couldn't admit that the powerhouse United States of America could lose to this pack of nobodies that we'd never even heard of, so we kept throwing lives at 'em the same way we throw money at problems in more modern times. Didn't get us anywhere, an it doesn't get the Krites anywhere either. Good thing Germany didn't employ the Viet Cong. So if you learn anything from Critters, let it be that no one and nothing is invincible. The best laid schemes of Krites and men, often go awry. And leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised vittles.
The movie begins with the Krites (Critters) being thrown in the clink on a prison asteroid for mistaking the universe for an all you can eat buffet table. But it didn't work on Alcatraz, an it's not working here either, because the Krites escape, snatch a ship, an blast off before the liberal prison colony even knows what bit 'em. So the warden has to call in the hired guns, or hired cannons as it were, to follow the Krites to Earth an stop 'em before they kill all the TV execs an halt the unintentional signal broadcasts of ALF. Meanwhile, on Earth, Dee Wallace is cooking a farm fresh breakfast for the family. The youngest (Brad), is trying to fake his way out of school, but April (the eldest), blows his cover an exposes his scholastic ineptitude before she leaves for school. You've gotta believe it's simple enough to get ahold of a horse's head around here, an that she's gonna wake up next to one in the morning. Elsewhere, at the regional clink, Charlie's been sleeping off his drunk until the sheriff comes by an he keeps trying to tell Harv (the sheriff) about the voices he's hearing in his fillings, but given the regularity of Charlie's drunken hijinx, this is nothing he hasn't heard before, an shoos him away. Back in space, the bounty hunters are headed for Earth, only they don't have faces, so they insert an 8 track tape into the drive an start watching jumbled images of Earth culture so they can find disguises. Ug, the head bounty hunter, loves the gorgeous head of 80s hair he sees on a rock star an transforms into him, but the other guy's racist an don't wanna pick a face on account of how ugly we are. Back on Earth, Brad's testing out his latest explosive device in the middle of August, in a location that's got more dry grass than Cheech Marin's living room. The test is a rousing success to everyone but Dad, who's not only been waiting for Charlie to hand him the carburetor he's been waiting for for some time, but also looks like the kinda guy that'll make you go cut him a switch.
Then April comes home with her flavor of the week about the time Charlie's trying to sight in Brad's sling shot. The shot misses the pop can an impacts April's... shall we say, reason why she's in the movie. It's about that time that Brad realizes the downside of having a shakiest hand in the west sight in his wrist rocket an runs for his life from the attack of the shrieking banshee. She catches up with him in the kitchen an Dad sentences him to a night in solitary with no chow. Later that evening, dinner is extremely awkward for April's flavor of the week (Steve), what with her just-out-of-sight sexual harassment an Dad wanting to run the rototiller over him on account of him not having a farmer's tan. He tries to play it cool, but April assumes that since he's from New York he's got money, an she takes him out to the barn an starts raping him so she can live off the child support. Back inside, no jail can hold Brad, an he's snuck out onto the roof, but about that time Dad comes to the window of his own bedroom an they both see a space ship with ventilation shafts all over the outside of it go down in their field. Apparently they need 'em, cause all the pressure inside causes an earthquake when the ship lands an Dad catches Brad out of his room on the way to investigate. So Dad an Brad head out to the landing cite where they literally stumble over a cow that looks like it's been attacked by angry lumberjacks an they decide they'd better haul butt back to the house before whatever it was comes back for seconds. Elsewhere, off the beaten path, the deputy sheriff is sexually harassing the dispatch while patrolling a patch of road so uninhabited that even John Noah Rondeau thinks it's too secluded, when he has to swerve to miss a furry tumbleweed an takes his patrol car over the embankment. He gets out, none too thrilled, an looks to take revenge on the tumbleweed, only it shoots a quill out of its back an puts him on his, then uses its powerful four inch arms to drag him under the car an chew the fat.
Back home, Dad tries to call sheriff Harv over to see if it was him that swallowed most of his cow, only the phone's dead, an only moments later, the electricity follows suit. So Dad, Brad, an Dee go to check the circuit breaker, only it looks like the bomb squad diffused it an suddenly Dad's attacked by muppets from every direction. Brad an Dee are able to drag Dad out of the ambush an get him back inside before they're able to chew off his face, an the muppets start plotting their next move. Meanwhile, the bounty hunters have landed and are inspecting the deputy's corpse, when the second bounty hunter finally finds a face he likes an transforms into the corpse. Fortunately, they not only know how to hot-wire the vehicle, but also how to drive it, an tear outta there, headed in no particular direction. Back on the farm, one of the razor faced hedgehogs has found April an Steve an chows down on Steve's tummy yummies while April screams helplessly. But Dad's all doped up from the porcupine quill poison so Brad runs out an feeds the rabid echidna a gigantic firecracker an it falls over, in dire need of some Pepto Bismol. Then Charlie, having also seen the flying box of ventilation shafts, shows up at the police station an tells the dispatch to get Harv an the Army, cause the guys that've been sending him signals through his fillings showed up an that's bad news bears. Then the bounty hunters plow their patrol car into the local church an demand the Krites. Turns out, they only have the Christ. So the second bounty hunter turns into the reverend an blows up the organ for false advertising. Back at the farm, the family attempts to get in their truck an leave, only the seat looks like someone left a cougar locked up inside for about a week an when they check Steve's car there's an angry porcupine inside doing the same to it an they have to run back to the house. Only, when they exited, the deadbolt latched behind them an Brad has to climb up the tree an into his window so he can get the door open. He gets the door open just before they eat everybody an they all pile in, but Dee notices they're still just sitting on the porch so she pokes the scatter-gun out the door an splatters one of 'em all over the picket fence.
Meanwhile, the bounty hunters show up at the bowling alley, where they're still not given the Krites, even after asking politely, an the second bounty hunter transforms into Charlie, who's stopped in at the bar to refuel from all the bicycle peddling. Back at the farm, the family has holed up in the living room, when soot starts coming down through the chimney, but unless it's Santa an he's bringing a belt fed assault weapon, they don't have time to deal with it because about that time another muppet flies through the window an they have to run for it. Only they left the scatter-gun behind an Brad has to go back an grab it, an once he does it looks like he's got a clean shot. But he trips as he fires an succeeds only in severing the ceiling fan from the roof, which works out well because the muppet is rolling over to the vittles just as the fan comes down an mashes it into fuzzy pulp. By now, the reinforcements have arrived, an Brad runs upstairs as they nip at his heels. Once at the top, he tosses a lantern onto the rug an puts the fear of God into 'em, cept for one that ignites an has to roll outta there an hop into the toilet to ease the third degree burns. Over at the police station, the dispatch has gotten Harv's worthless butt out of bed an tells 'em that a couple guys with bazookas just blew up the bar at the bowling alley, an that they've got shots fired out at the Browns' farm. So Harv Neanders his way on out to the farm, on his own schedule, but of course, the family doesn't know this, an they decide to send Brad out to bring back somebody that knows how to handle this situation. Maybe animal control. Only Brad's plan falls apart like the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS when he finds his bike guarded by one of the little nasties an he has to make a run for it. He eventually makes his way to the highway, just as the bounty hunters are passing by, an they pick him up so he can show them where to point their howitzers. We'll cut off here so as to preserve the big bounty hunter versus Critter finale.
Critters is probably more responsible than any other movie for getting me interested in the horror genre. Scared the crap out of me when I was five years old and was first airing on television. It's been one of my favorites for a long time, and has held up well through the passing of the years. Interestingly, it's often referred to as a Gremlins rip off, or imitator, trying to cash in on its success. But not so fast. The script was written some time before Gremlins was made, and was apparently even altered a bit after Gremlins was released, to decrease the similarities. Of course, you see how well even going out of your way to reduce similarities stops people from throwing the "rip off" phrase around. And unless the original plot was drastically different, I don't see much need for alteration. Seriously, what are the similarities? Small monsters. That's your similarity right there. They don't look alike, the Gremlins aren't nearly as vicious, Gremlins don't eat people, they don't reproduce the same way and their origins are completely different. I wonder how many people would be inclined to call the movie they favor, the rip off, if they knew the truth? Zero, I'm guessing, because that might display their favorite in a negative light. To them, anyway. I didn't think any less of Critters when I was a kid an thought it took very slightly from Gremlins and I don't think any less of Gremlins now, knowing that it in fact takes an extremely minute amount of similarity from Critters. Although, considering no one who worked on Gremlins would have known about the screenplay at all before hand, you can't really say they modeled anything after Critters either. So ultimately, there's a great deal of nonsense going on about who ripped off whom. When in all likelihood, neither did. This is how pseudo critics fill the space in their reviews. Bad critics on the other hand waste time pointing out the stupidity of the pseudo critics. So we're really not that much better, though we are defending the integrity of the writers, if nothing else. So, with the truth out, hopefully a few more people will do some real research and fact finding for themselves before they toss the "rip off" term around like a hot potato, in an effort to sound authoritative.
So, what's so good about it. Aliens come to Earth an wreak havoc; what a rip off, I've seen that done before. Get your purse, we're leaving. For starters, the plot's great. Fugitive aliens on the run from the intergalactic law for eating everything in sight, pursued by bounty hunters with enormous plasma bazookas? It's almost impossible to go wrong. Overall, the movie has only one real flaw, which can be a crippler depending upon the severity. And that flaw is that honestly, a lot of the Critter special effects just aren't all that great, during certain scenes. They're very obviously puppets, and in certain sequences, move very much like they've got hands shoved up their asses. Take a look at Critters 2, or even 3 or 4, and you'll see the difference. While those movies are not as good, overall, the Critters look so much better in them, it's just no contest. So, during certain scenes, the Critter puppets don't look real hot. The good shots outnumber the bad by 2:1, but it's still a problem. The acting is fantastic. Several great character actors including one of my favorites, M. Emmet Walsh (Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner). But it's also got; Billy Green Bush (The Hitcher and Jason Goes to Hell), Lin Shaye (Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hidden, Amityville: A New Generation, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, 2001 Maniacs), Billy Zane (Demon Knight), and of course, genre royalty in the form of Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Cujo, Alligator II, the Halloween remake and The Lords of Salem). No need for further explanation. The acting is very good and the cast is loaded with genre actors. The shooting locations are very authentic, the farm house is great. As are the other locations, they're what you'd expect to see in a tiny, rural town in the 1980s. The church, the bowling alley and the jailhouse all come across as very believable. As far as atmosphere, the movie already has a decent amount of it, but the soundtrack is amazing. It's one of my favorite soundtracks of any movie ever made. Might even be my favorite. Every scene is enhanced tenfold by the music, while the one really great standout track "Critter Skitter" is featured during the closing credits and briefly during the scene in which the Krites are tearing Brad's room apart for no particular reason. Overall, it's awesome, extremely under rated, vintage 80s horror; few do it better in the alien sub-genre. Check it out, several times. The sequels are decent as well, except for Part 3. Dear God what were they thinking with Part 3.