Screams From The Crypt: Critters
Welcome back to Screams from the Crypt, the Talk Film Society’s home for horror! Recently, the entire series of Critters films were added to Hulu for streaming, so we figured we'd take a look at this highly entertaining horror franchise.
In the mid-1980s New Line Cinema was on its way to becoming a major player in Hollywood horror. Wes Craven's 1984 hit A Nightmare on Elm Street had brought them notoriety, and like any other Hollywood producer, Bob Shaye was keen for another franchise as soon as possible. With Joe Dante's Gremlins being such a huge hit, it only made sense for New Line to get in on the game with their own pint-sized marauders, and so the Critters franchise was born.
Critters (1986) d. Stephen Herek
It all started here, with the directorial debut of Stephen Herek, who would go on to make cult classics such as Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. Small in scale, much like the titular critters, here we're introduced to an All-American family residing on a farm in a quiet Kansas town. Classic 80s mom Dee Wallace (E.T., Cujo) leads the cast along with M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner) as the local chief of police, who's lives are upended with the arrival of the Critters! These rascals have escaped from an intergalactic prison and are on the run from two bounty hunters sent to capture them. Happily, the aliens are able to take dispatch a few victims, including a young Billy Zane, in short order after landing.
The creature effects by the legendary Chiodo Brothers are top notch and are really able to sell the action, no matter how goofy it gets. The Chiodo's are something of a low-budget legend, and would go on to direct Killer Klowns from Outer Space two years later, a masterpiece of horror comedy that holds up to this day. Critters can be a little by the numbers, but their cool abilities and a screenplay with a sharp sense of humor really help propel this to being one of the better 80's monster movies.
- Matt Curione
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988) d. Mick Garris
Taking place just 2 years after the original Critters, Critters 2: The Main Course sees Scott Grimes reprise his role as Brad Brown, returning to Grover’s Bend amid small town talk about “the kid who cried alien” coming back around. Just as his bus pulls into town, some leftover Critter eggs hatch, and the killer tribbles begin munching on the local populace with renewed vigor. They even travel about the countryside in a Voltron/hamster ball of death formation, rolling over victims more in an attempt to save on special effects than to try to actually scare anyone in this horror-comedy.
In this installment, Scott Grimes comes across as either the world’s oldest 12-year old, or like a Mini-Me of Martin Short. He has a classic 1980s single earring, so you know he’s cool and with it, and even gets some chemistry with Liane Curtis' Megan, playing the Grover’s Bend’s version of Phoebe Cates, in case you forgot Gremlins was a thing.
Snark aside, there are some fun flourishes to be found in Critters 2. There’s a montage after the town regroups to counterattack that comes off as very Edgar Wright-ish in its choices, and the kills are tense and funny enough to keep your attention. The Critters also have irreverent personalities in some small scenes, so it’s not all just reactions to bland puppets. It’s a solid B-movie that knows exactly the audience it wants to entertain.
- Sean Beattie
Critters 3 (1991) d. Kristine Peterson
After the last entry took a bath at the box office, New Line Cinema made the Critters do what any self-respecting horror franchise does; refuse to die and instead shoot two direct-to-video sequels back to back. Part 3 sees those dastardly, interstellar fur balls tearing through a low-rent Los Angeles apartment building in search of something to ease their insatiable appetite. The same day that the tenants are being terrorized by these tiny creatures is the same day the landlord attempts to follow through with his plan to forcibly evict them all so he can flip the property. He brings along his step-son (a young Leonardo DiCaprio, standing out in his first film role), and they join the goofy stereotype characters in finding a way out of the burning building.
All of the actors really go for it, my favorite's being Katharine Cortez as the badass Riply-lite Marcia and Geoffrey Blake as the cutoff leather jacket wearing lamest tough guy in the world, Frank. Series regular Charlie, the town crazy from the previous two entries, even has a fun cameo here, while the credits set him up to star in the sequel, which takes the story back to outer space.
- Marcus Irving
Critters 4 (1992) d. Rupert Harvey
Has there every been a horror franchise that took its villains to space and it worked out successfully? Sure, Jason X had the dope liquid nitrogen kill, but that’s where the original series (sans face-offs with Freddy and a remake) went to die. The same can be said for the titular fluffy and violent tumbleweeds of death. Baby critter eggs (d’aww) get placed in a preservation capsule and sent off into space with the bounty hunter from the third movie, which is subsequently picked up by a salvage ship.
The ship is made up of the likes of Angela Bassett and Eric De Re (fresh off the heel of playing Leo Johnson again in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). The captain, being an ass that no one likes, gets punched out by Bassett as he tries to join her in the shower. Frustrated, he decides to open up the pod of Critter eggs. They hatch in order to give us Critters in space.
Although being a direct-to-video sequel along with the previous entry, Critters 4 is not entirely awful. You get your range of phony characters that are only there to spout unrealistic dialogue and get chomped on by the cute and foulmouthed heathens. I really don’t see anyone that enjoyed themselves with the previous entries being put off or offended by what the filmmakers did here.
- Kevin Tudor
Critters might be one of the more ridiculous of the 80s-90s horror franchises, but it also proves to be one of the most fun. We here at Talk Film Society highly recommend you check them out via Hulu, you'll be in for a ball of fun.