82 min., 1986
Written by Domonic Muir/Stephen Herek
My rating: ★★★★
Tribbles but way more badass.
* * *
A year before Gremlins hit the theaters and well after we were introduced to a thing called a “tribble,” we were treated to the ever hungry intergalactic fuzz balls known as “critters.” [Gremlins was actually released in 1984, two years before Critters, not in 1987. –ed.] It seems in a galaxy far, far away that ten of these creatures were being transported to some intergalactic jail for termination. But after a good old fashioned prison break, they steal a ship, and as all aliens seem prone to do, they head for some small rural podunk town in middle America. In hot pursuit are two faceless bounty hunters, one of which has chosen to morph his face to resemble a rock star named Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann)
Meanwhile, at the home of the Brown family, residents of Normalville, USA, the occupants are working through an average day. Scott is bickering with his sister, Helen (Dee Wallace) is cooking breakfast and tending house like a good little wife, and her husband Jay (Billy Green Bush) is making repairs to a truck and tending the farm. The town drunk, since every quiet red-neck hamlet needs one, should be helping him with this job. However, instead he is sleeping off a bender at the local jail. Once, this particular drunk, named Charlie (Don Opper) by the way, could have been a ball player in the major leagues, but when he started hearing voices he started turning up the bottle and lost everyone’s respect. Charlie finally arrives at the Brown family farm and tries to make himself useful in the small way he can be. On his way home, he finds an alien ship flying overhead.
Scott’s sister invites a young Billy Zane to dinner, which she is clearly eager to get through. It seems she has the intention of date raping him, despite his protests, in her parents’ barn. While Scott’s sister April is out taking a roll in the hay, he decides to sneak out and gets busted by his dad moments after they get a glimpse of some object streaking through the sky and landing or crashing nearby. Leaving his punishment for later, Scott’s father allows him to tag along as they go to investigate.
The object that landed was the critters’ ship and their first order of business was to make minced meat of one of the Brown’s cows. Shortly thereafter, they dispatch of the sheriffs’ lone deputy and the bounty hunters arrive. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill mindless little creatures. They did pilot a ship, for fuck’s sake, so it’s no surprise that they isolate the Brown family and try to pick them off as well. After cutting the phone lines and the power, eating poor Billy Zane, and attacking Jay Brown, the family decides to make a break for it, just to find they have sabotaged the truck. Luckily April kept her now deceased boyfriend’s keys, but his car is out of commission as well. After their attempts to escape fail, they are forced to retreat back into the house. It is not until Jay’s bowling buddies notice he is late for their leagues’ tournament that anyone suspects anything is wrong. The only other person that has any grasp on the potential alien invasion at hand is Charlie who deals with this as he deals with most everything else, with a bottle of whiskey.
Without getting into all of the boring details (which has become my set style of reviewing it would seem,) I’m going to recap these events in short order. The two bounty hunters arrive on Earth, one wearing the face of a popular rock star and the other changing features every time they run into a new resident of this hick town, leaving a path of property damage in their wake, with approximately 0.0 fucks given in the process. They finally reach the bar where Charlie is with the other shape shifter taking his face as they continue their search for these greedy little sharp toothed carpet bags.
Back at the family farm, they are still being held hostage in the house by these creatures until an opportunity presents itself for Scott to escape and go for help. This puts him directly in the path of the bounty hunters whom he leads back to his house for a lot of laser related critter killing action. In the end, knowing they are beaten, the critter retreat to their ship to make a hasty interstellar getaway. Thanks to Charlie and his compulsive need to keep a drink on him coupled with Scott’s super large fireworks obsession, they leave a bomb on the spaceship and Charlie hurls a Molotov cocktail that ignites the IED and blows the little bastards out of the sky.
Threat eliminated, the alien bounty hunters leave Scott with the equivalent of a futuristic Nokia to call them in case they are ever in trouble like that again. As a parting gift, they also seem to reverse the damage to the house in similar fashion to Christopher Reeves’ Superman flying around the world backwards to reverse time. Of course, since there were three sequels after this, they ended the movie with a couple of critters’ eggs left behind in the family’s chicken coop.
This film is campy, goofy, and without trying, kind of charming in its own way. There are moments when it seems dated but the goings on in the film don’t allow you the time to focus on that. There are other moments in the film where you find yourself more impressed with the practical special effects than the computer generated or digital effects. Movies like this, Ghoulies, and Gremlins remind you that you don’t need CG if the puppeteers and animatronics are done by experts and the use of camera angles that show what you want seen in a realistic light are used to their full potential. I think this is one of those films you may want to watch for humor rather than horror and most likely with a few drinks in you. I enjoyed it and I am under the impression you will as well. Since I am covering the rest of this series this will only be the first installment so sit tight until Critters 2. Until that time, may all your films bring fright.Have You Read...?