Daily Archives: February 13, 2021

Critters (1986)

*. Probably the first response anyone had to Critters when it came out was that it was a rip-off of Gremlins. This is something that director Stephen Herek (whose debut this was) has denied, saying that the script had been written before Gremlins went into production.
*. So, fair enough. But the thing is, Critters is such a typical production of the mid-’80s comedy-horror mill that I don’t know if there’s anything to be gained by shooting down such rumours. It’s a lot like Gremlins. Or Ghoulies. There are nods to E.T., including Dee Wallace playing the mom with a son who heats up a thermometer to get out of school. And it’s a movie where aliens land near a small Kansas town and terrorize a family homestead. There’s the gag where one guy gets drawn beneath a car to be mangled and we cut immediately to a woman pushing food into a sink’s garbage disposal unit. There’s a scene where a man tries to escape up some basement stairs and a monster catches him by the leg. There’s M. Emmet Walsh as the town sheriff. There’s a final shot where we see Critter eggs that have survived the destruction of their spaceship, allowing for the inevitable sequel.
*. That said, Critters is still a lot of fun. It’s clich├ęd but quick, and adds just enough wrinkles to the mix to keep things interesting. I like how the lead bounty hunter transforms himself into a big-hair ’80s rock star to mix in with the locals. And while the Critters (or Krites, or Crites as they are rendered by the subtitles) aren’t very impressive when we finally get to see them, they do have some neat attributes, like the ability to fire poison quills and a form of locomotion where they roll themselves into balls. While their behaviour is certainly gremlin-like (witness the scene where they tear apart the bedroom), they’re different enough from gremlins.
*. Fame and stardom are odd. If you had seen this movie, Leprechaun, and Eight Legged Freaks back-to-back-to-back, who would you have put your money on becoming a star: Nadine Van der Velde, Jennifer Aniston, or Scarlett Johannsson? Each actor was playing a similar role, and I think Van der Velde is just as good here as the others were in their debuts. But perhaps she wanted to do other things. She went on to produce and write quite a lot. Watching her here though, I don’t see any reason why she couldn’t have been as big a star. Leonardo DiCaprio would get his start in Critters 3, so obviously there was no stigma or curse attached to the little furry beasts.
*. Despite the sequels, and a 2019 reboot, I don’t think this is a movie that a lot of people know about today. It’s very much of its time, and even when it came out it didn’t do great box office (though it made money). Still, among the wasteland of ’80s horror it stands out as one of the more creditable efforts. A movie I’ll ever watch again though? Probably not.