15 – 85mins – 1986
FURRY FANGED FOOTBALLS
The Brown family’s rural Kansas farmhouse is about to become the chomping ground of a horde of hungry, malevolent alien vermin in this quintessentially 80s sci-fi/horror comedy, which plays out like Gremlins meets Ghoulies – with a multitude of iconic pop culture references thrown in for good measure!
Although released two years after Joe Dante’s cute-but-deadly Christmas cracker, Critters’ director Stephen Herek (who would go on to have success with popular releases I remember fondly from my childhood such as Bill & Ted and The Mighty Ducks) refutes any riffing, claiming the additional scenes belatedly scribed by Don Keith Opper were ordered to reduce the similarities between Gremlins and Herek and co-writer Domonic Muir’s original script, which was completed long before Gizmo and the mogwai saw the light.
There is some admirable charm to Critters‘ practical model work of futuristic space-ships and the creature effects which introduce us to the red-eyed, piranha-fanged Krites and the neon-faced, transformative Bounty Hunters who are ordered to follow the stolen prison vessel to Earth and apprehend the escapees. Yet, there feels like a bit of a tonal clash between the goofiness and the gore.
Firstly, the “radioactive gophers” tread a thin line between horrific and humorous. Secondly, with their parents (Dee Wallace and Billy “Green Bush”) injured, son Brad (Scott Grimes) and daughter April (Nadine van der Velde) take the lead, much like in a YA adventure such as Jumangi. Thirdly, the meta nods (such as the Ghostbusters-esque logo on the bowling jerseys and the E.T. toy in Brad’s bedroom) often seem to skew more towards a younger demographic, yet the blood and injury detail seems more appropriate to an older, stronger-stomached audience.
Regardless, Critters is still a wonderfully wacky B-movie. A young Billy Zane is just one of many “OMG, it’s so-and-so from thing-a-me-bob!” moments, which – coupled with the irreverent tone and ghoulish special effects – makes for a fun ‘beer and pizza’ movie-watching experience. Ultimately, Critters seems content to be a part of the 80s creature feature pack rather than an innovator of the genre, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
CR@B’s Claw Score: