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 clichéd 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.

27 thoughts on “Critters (1986)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Do the critters have individual names and personalities, like Gizmo and Stripe? Can you throw any light on the creative process behind these films? Will you go on record and say that you will review ALL of the Critters film, without exception? I yield the rest of my time.

    1. Alex Good

      Video unavailable in my neck of the woods.
      The Critters don’t have much in the way of individual identities. These are not Gremlins! More will be said about their characteristics, which tend to vary quite a bit from movie to movie, in subsequent posts.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        You can get the deluxe Shout Factory box set on Amazon for $50 plus, which comes with lots of special features. Or you can go the cheap route and get the 4 Film Favorites set for around $10.

      2. tensecondsfromnow

        I heard Scorsese is doing a 7 hour documentary on the genius of the Critters films, with every frame re-painted by hand. It sounds like you were not mad about the first one, is it all downhill from here?

      3. Alex Good Post author

        Scorsese was originally tabbed to direct here but was obligated to finish The Color of Money. What we lost . . .

        The second one isn’t bad. The others are. Are bad, I mean. But you’ll just have to put up with them now. It’s Critters week!

      4. Alex Good Post author

        You mean Hyperspace. Apparently only known as Gremloids in the UK.

        No, I think I’ll be passing on that one as well. They don’t look like Gremlins to me. Or Critters.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        No, I mean Gremloids, Bunty, none of your fancy titles here. Critters, Goulies, Gremloids were all so popular that the characters became political figures; here’s Lord Buckethead from Gremloids being narrowly beaten by Mrs Thatcher in the 1987 election

      6. tensecondsfromnow

        If I’d had a choice, I’d have gone for Lord Buckethead. If that vote had gone the other way, we’d have had years of Buckethead rule.

        Did any of the Critters get involved in politics?

      7. Alex Good Post author

        Despite being highly intelligent life forms (they can commandeer and fly spaceships, after all), the Critters seem to have no interest in politics or global domination. Instead, they just want to make a mess and eat things.

  2. Tom Moody

    After the long string of gremlins/critters/ghoulies movies I always thought The Goonies was one of those, but apparently it wasn’t, and went on to become some kind of childhood touchstone for many. (I still don’t want to see it.)

    1. Alex Good

      Yes, Goonies was a Spielbergian romp (he wrote it I think, but Donner directed). Some people do have fond memories of it but I didn’t like it much at the time and haven’t gone back. There’s a big pirate ship at the end.


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