Thursday, April 19, 2012

#612. Critters (1986)

Directed By: Stephen Herek

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush

Tag line: "They eat so fast, you don't have time to scream"

Trivia:  This film was New Line's answer to 1984's Gremlins

Released two years after Joe Dante's runaway hit, Gremlins, Critters was an obvious attempt to cash in on the former's success. But that doesn't make it any less entertaining.

A species of petite, furry carnivores known as the Crites have escaped from an asteroid penal colony, and are on their way to earth in a stolen spaceship. Hot on their trail are two shape-shifting bounty hunters, with instructions to either return the Crites to prison or bring back evidence they've all been destroyed. Both arrive at their destination in the middle of the night, coming in for a landing just outside Grover's Bend, Kansas, and before the evening's out, this small farming community will be transformed into an intergalactic battleground.

All of Critter's earth-bound characters are laid out, nice and neat, at the beginning of the film. We have the Brown family: father Jay (Billy Green Bush), mother Helen (Dee Walace), daughter April (Nadine Van der Velde) and son Brad (Scott Grimes), whose farm serves as Ground Zero in the fight between the Crites and the bounty hunters. Then there's your typical small-town sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh) and his dim-witted deputy, Jeff (Ethan Phillips), and even a town drunk named Charlie (Don Keith Opper), who goes around telling everyone his teeth can pick up alien transmissions. The only one worth a damn is young Brad Brown, the lone human not injured, confused or scared when the chaos erupts, and it's he who figures out the Crites get bigger after they eat, making them all the more dangerous.

But the characters we're most interested in are the Crites themselves, the so-called "critters" of the title, and within the movie's first half-hour, they land on earth and set off in search of food (we know this because subtitles fill us in on what their back-and-forth snarls mean). The first victim is one of Farmer Brown's cattle, but next on the menu is Deputy Jeff, who swerves his police car when a furry creature rolls across the road in front of him. Thinking it's a dog, he pulls over to investigate, and is soon surrounded by Crites, which fire a poisonous quill into his leg, then drag him under his car. We don't see much of Deputy Jeff's death, yet do get a full glimpse of the Crites when they attack Jay Brown in his basement (despite being small and fluffy, their razor-sharp teeth make them anything but cute). As in Gremlins, some of the Crites on-screen antics are played for laughs (like when one swallows a lit M-80 firecracker, only to belch up smoke a few moments later), but humor aside, the Crites' nasty disposition, combined with their ravenous appetite, makes for a handful of tense moments.

The alien bounty hunters were a cool addition to the story, and the film's best effect occurs when they tap into a television signal and one of them alters his appearance to look exactly like rock superstar Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann), who he saw in a music video. In a nice twist, the other doesn't assume human identity until arriving on earth, then selects the first person he comes across: the mutilated remains of Deputy Jeff! These two add another dimension to the story, and prove just as much a nuisance as the Crites, shooting up a church gathering and doing damage to the local bowling alley.

Critters is more fun than a Gremlins rip-off has any right being, and was enough of a hit to warrant three sequels (released in 1988, 1991 and 1992). Interestingly enough, Gremlins only had one!


Kevin Bachelder said...

This was a ton of fun. I was expecting a poor quality knockoff of Gremlins but like you said Dave this was well done!

DVD Infatuation said...

Kevin: Thanks for the comment!

And I couldn't agree with you more on CRITTERS! I've enjoyed it for years.

Thanks again!

Barl3y said...

This is another blast from the past, Loved this movie and the transformation scene with the bounty hunter on the spaceship blew me away as a kid. Also the size the critters grew to.
The aliens of attack the block really reminded me of this movie.....
Great call.....

DVD Infatuation said...

Barl3y: Thanks for the comment!

The transformation scene was very impressive, as were the critters themselves.

Haven't seen ATTACK THE BLOCK, but now I have to check that out!

Thanks again