There was this amazing time in the late 1980s when a whole load of alien invasion films came out – but it was crazy, weird aliens or little monsters. I guess the alien visitor theme started anew with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982, but the real door opener was Gremlins (1984). A whole load of Gremlin-inspired copycats came out of which Critters (1986) was the most obvious rip-off. Other movies in this particular river of inspiration were Ghoulies (1984), Munchies (1987), Hobgoblins (1988), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Elves (1989), but the river also merged with horror monsters like in The Curse (1987) and I think you could also throw in The Blob (1988), Tremors (1990) and various zombie movies. One day I will have seen them all.
The story is simple. Somewhere out in space, little furry monsters escape from a prison asteroid. They are chased by hunters and eventually crash-land on planet Earth. Close by are the Brown family and they must stop the little monsters from eating their way through their American midwestern town. With a small appearance by Billy Zane.
The first sign of hack writing comes when the movie’s title song gets a full-on performance, and then the alien hunters who are on their way to Earth to stop the critters see the song on the radio waves and transform themselves into the rock stars. The movie makes sure that you’ll be sick of this song near the end of it.
We don’t see the critters until 30 minutes into the movie. They make little Donald Duck noises and can turn into fluffy balls to roll around. They look a bit like Taz the Tazmanian devil. There is a nice buildup of tension. We still don’t see much of the critters except their eyes and their point of view as they crawl close to the ground. The alien hunters look original, especially before they chose to “transform” into a disguise. This is all good fun and has an element of creativity.
We stick with the same family throughout the film and their acting is actually of a higher quality than the little critter puppets. They’re obviously rubber sock puppets and can’t move much. The special effects are generally a bit crappy, also compared to films of the same era, but the creativity keeps the film afloat. The writing is strong enough to play around with a bit of irony when it comes to the local townspeople and with some meta scenes, like a critter eating a stuffed E.T. toy.
If you’re looking for another Gremlins experience, Critters is probably your best bet among all the knock-offs. It has enough creativity to stay interesting for 90 minutes and even started a franchise all on its own. Just keep in mind that it cannot totally escape its low budget.
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Critters 2 is amazing. Everything you’d want from a sequel. There’s more critters, more shooting locations, better effects and more wacky hijinks. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not a good movie in any objective sense, far from it, but it knows how to escalate everything from the first movie. It takes what worked in the first one and builds on it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is perfectly in tune with what viewers expect.
Set during Easter, a farmer finds Critter eggs and sells them to the local grandma and her day care center for some serious egg painting. The little guy from the first movie is back, Brad Brown (played by Scott Grimes, who later played in The Orville as pilot). Soon, the Critters break out of their shells and the village has to team up to fight them off. The bounty hunters are back too, morphing into more villagers. Since they are played for laughs, they resemble the ghostbusters.
Most critter scenes are now set during daytime, so we finally get a good look at them. And yeah, they are still really fake. Ironically, the critters themselves may actually be the worst part of these movies. If you liked the first movie and want a more exciting version with more critter action, this is a fine sequel, but, again, never escapes b-movie status.