ATTENTION: This review reveals content of the movie.
“Critters” is a good movie. I think it stands on its own as an inventive little monster flick with some moments of good humor, a few memorable scenes cool creatures and likeable characters. “Stands on its own? What do you mean? ” What I mean is that despite what the people involved might tell you, that the film was dreamed up long before 1984 and that plot-wise, this doesn’t really resemble “Gremlins” very much… “Critters” will never, ever be able to avoid being cast in the shadow of that horror comedy classic. I know it isn’t technically a knock-off, but as those go, it’s a good one. It belongs right next to some surprisingly good films like “Sleepaway Camp”.
The plot begins on a prison asteroid, where a group of “Crites” escapes. To prevent a disaster, two shape-changing bounty hunters are deployed to track down and kill the beasts. Meanwhile on Earth, a small Kansas town has no idea what is headed towards them!
As the camera shows us the town the Crites are headed to, you will notice that we will mostly be following a single family: Young Brad (Scott Grimes), his teenage sister April (Nadine Van der Velde) and their parents Jay (Billy Green Bush) and Helen (Dee Wallace-Stone) You figure here’s how things are going to play out: Once it hits nighttime, the aliens will arrive. Brad will see them and try to tell the authorities what’s going on but no one will believe him. His parents are going to leave town for a big meeting or vacation or something, leaving his sister to babysit him. April meanwhile will ditch her brother in order to go on a date with a creep that’s extra grabby and he’ll end up getting killed as “punishment” for being bad. What I like about this flick is that what the obvious clichés you expect to see aren’t there. “Critters” is better than those easy venues.
This Stephen Herek picture might be about a kid protagonist, but for the bulk of the film it’s about a family under siege by these alien monsters. You like them and you want to see them make it out alive. They’re not like the dumb teenagers in a “Friday the 13th” movie. I liked the fact that April is the one that is making the moves on her date and he stands there mostly baffled as she insists on going to a secluded spot so they can make-out. Brad is fun to follow because he’s kind of a brat and that he has some little quirks that makes him an appealing character. I spotted a poster of “Mutant” in his bedroom. Anyone who likes that bad “Alien” knock-off is all right by me. Neither of the parents ever ends up being completely useless or so dumb they weigh everyone down. All of the members in this family have a good chance of surviving because they’re intelligent and when you see them put into peril there’s gravity to the situation.
With those human characters covered, we can’t forget about the aliens. Firstly the Crites themselves: I get a kick out of the fact that they’re essentially just rows of teeth crossed with a porcupine. They’re mean spirited, their design is decent, they have a nice array of powers and I like little things about them that make them stand out. For instance, they can talk in their alien language (subtitles are provided) so they’re more than just monsters. They have a personality of some sort. I also like that they have an alien name. They’re not “Creet-urrs”, they’re Crites. The bounty hunters refer to them as such, but none of the earthlings they encounter call them anything but “those things” or “those critters there”. It’s a nice little touch. These fiends are the highlights, but you can’t forget the bounty hunters themselves. I don’t want to give away any of the scenes they’re in because I think they’re actually some of the best “Critters” has to offer. Let’s just say they’re not what you expect them to be. I had a lot of laughs thanks to them.
The special effects here range from very good to just ok, with the Crites sometimes being decently convincing, and at other times showing the film’s mere $2 million budget. Check out some of the reverse photography to show a metamorphosis early in the film. It’s gruesome and I love it. I personally get a kick out of seeing 80’s movies set in space stations or ships. I’m not sure what it is exactly about seeing all of these huge dashboards with lights and random buttons, if it’s the chairs the characters sit on or just an overall look of it all, but it appeals to me.
Is “Small Monster Movie” a genre? I guess it could be if we have “Ghoulies”, “Munchies”, “Hobgoblins”, “Small Soldiers”, “Troll” and a whole lotta sequels. We even have other pictures you could argue would fit in there with more of a lean towards either horror (“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”) or adventure (“Prehysteria”) It’s true that among those there is a clear king. You don’t always have to watch “The best” movie. Sometimes you want to see something with a few imperfections because those weird birthmarks are part of the charm. I think you can see the joy of filmmaking, the excitement of bringing characters to life and the inspiration in a film like “Critters”, even if it won’t ever not be compared with you know… that Joe Dante movie. It’s enjoyable and you know what? It’s a horror movie you can show to your kids because it isn’t too violent, it contains no nudity and there’s only a bit of gore. Usually that PG-13 rating on a horror movie is a curse but in this instance, it’s a good thing. I like “Critters” and I think it’s unfair to dismiss it as just a rip-off, it has some genuine good qualities that make it stand out. (On DVD, September 10, 20.)
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