Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CRITTERS (Review)

CRITTERS (1986)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Stephen Herek

Starring Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh and Billy Green Bush, and Scott Grimes
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Here's something that might surprise you. When Critters, one of the seminal "little monster" movies of the 1980s was originally released, it was released as PG-13. Yes, a movie about carnivorous, murderous alien hair balls got the same rating that Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 gets today.
  
But when you realize that PG-13 designation was a new rating classification and then compare Critters to the prior films that helped forge the PG-13 rating in 1984, it's quite clear that Critters and its sequels started out as more than a Gremlins ripoff - Critters certainly had more teeth!
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Star Date: 1986. Space. The cliched frontier. These are the adventures of the Krites: carnivorous alien fur balls with attitude. After their escape from an inter-stellar prison transport ship, the Krites are pursued by two shape-shifting alien bounty hunters hired to track them down. Their mission: find the Krites and blow them the fuck up. However, the Krites have escaped to Earth and are set to ravage the bucolic town of Grover's Bend and the unsuspecting Brown family who lives there with their ravenous hunger for warm flesh.

Now that's how you advertise a movie!
 Even after all these years where the little creature genre of monster movie has run itself into an extinction of self-parody, Critter remains an entertaining and suprisingly shocking sci-fi horror movie. I say its shocking in so far as it is certainly surprising. Critters, with its pint-sized terrors, is often and unfairly categorized as one of the many Gremlins rip-offs that sprang up in the mid-to-late eighties. These were low-budget films such as Ghoulies, Hobgoblins, Munchies, Troll, and Beasties in which the primary appeal was to see small puppet monsters who were vaguely wacky. Critters, however, belongs in a different league. For one, the Krites look pretty good. Designed by the Chiodo Brothers, the Krites obtained cult icon status despite being obvious puppets (or, in their rolled-up tribble form, prop balls being thrown into the frame). They had a certain kind of charisma and detail shit like Munchies could never touch. With their big red eyes and mouths full of rowed teeth, the Krites were certainly some of the better-designed puppet creatures of the 80's.

Look into my eyes....

On that same point, a significant portion of the film deals with outer space and aliens, so there's also some pretty decent attempts at alien makeup, model ship photography, and other special effects. The film itself is also surprisingly bloody for a PG-13 picture. It's by no means a gorefest, but the Krites chomp onto people and draw blood unlike in Gremlins where the majority of violence against people happens off-screen. In Critters, no one gets mutilated or visibly shredded, but the Krites are no pushovers either. Perhaps in an attempt to differentiate itself from Gremlins, Critters was mildly more savage (although they'd grow increasingly goofy as the series continued)

"Dude, I'm too high for this."

The other hallmark of 1980s creature features was nudity. Does Critters sex it up? Not at all. PG-13 does not make for very sexy film-making. In one sequence, April Brown (Nadine Van der Velde) and her new boyfriend Steve (a surprise appearance by Billy Zane in his second theatrical role) both go out to the barn for a little fully-clothed making out, but it's a fairly innocent scene and by no means intended to fog any windshields, if you know what I mean. I have it on good authority, however that Terrance Mann turns some people on. Mann plays the human form of Ug, the alien bounty hunter who takes on the image of an 80's rocker he sees on TV (also played by Mann). I don't see it, but maybe Ug floats your boat.

Tim Curry and Bon Jovi called; they want their EVERYTHING back

 Critters is pretty standard stuff in terms of film-making. Essentially, Critters is a lighthearted horror comedy that's played with a sense of fun. There is one neat sequence in which a destroyed house rebuilds itself that is quite visually interesting, but besides this and some mediocre alien effects, there's nothing particularly artful about the experience. Instead, the premise of carnivorous alien varmints in UFOs yields to its inherent silliness. While the Krites are more menacing than any of the other puppet monsters of the 80's, they also have their goofy moments.

"Phone this, bitch!"

The Krites are occasionally sub-titled. For example, one of the Krites comes upon an E.T. doll and asks, "Who are you?" before eating it. In another shot, one Krite exclaims, "Fuck!" after his buddy is blown up. Most of the actors play it straight, but both M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv and Don Keith Opper as Charlie, the UFO-seeing town drunk, bring some scene-chewing levity to the movie. Without these silly moments, quirky supporting characters, and the over-the-top actions of the Alien Bounty Hunters (whose one apparent strategy is to shoot tiny moving targets with gigantic cannons), Critters would be highly forgettable. Thankfully, it straddles that fine line and tells a satisfyingly fun alien monster story.

Critics may not have liked it. Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not have liked it. But this horror-reviewer will always consider Critters one of the best "little monster" movies of the 80's.


"Where do they come up with this stuff?"
A version of this review originally appeared on monsterchiller.blogspot.com

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