“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Critters

tn_crittersRecently I watched WARLOCK for the first time, and that was surprisingly good shit, so I figured maybe I should watch some other VHS era franchise-launcher with a two syllable title that I’d never bothered with for some reason. You know, like CRITTERS or something like that.

This one seems like a moosh-up of GREMLINS (mischievous, laughing small monsters portrayed by puppets infest a place and eat people, sometimes in comical ways), E.T. in: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Dee Wallace Stone as mother of adolescent, bike-riding, alien-discovering protagonist) and I COME IN PEACE (weirdo long-haired humanoid space bounty hunters with powerful guns clandestinely hunt dangerous alien presence on Earth).

The title-istical Critters (called Crites by the non-Earthlings) are kind of like Tribbles with teeth, or evil Popples. They’re furry round guys with stubby limbs who can roll up into balls and tumble like tumbleweeds, but they have long, needle-like teeth and also a row of poisonous projectile quills they use to put the kid’s older sister into a catatonic state and drag her back to their ship. I’m not clear on what they plan to do with her there, but let me just say that I don’t trust those little perverts. And I was gonna say “as far as I can throw ’em” but actually I feel like I could throw them pretty far. They are one of the most throwable villains of all major horror movies, in my opinion.

Their voices sound like gremlins too, except they’re supposed to be speaking in an alien language, so it’s subtitled for us. They do know the English phrase “uh oh,” though. Maybe it’s not English after all. Maybe we got it from ancient astronauts.

One thing they have over gremlins is that they grow. I guess that’s why they eat so much, they need protein. We mostly just see them as little volleyball sized dudes, but there’s a glimpse or two of a giant one.

mp_crittersEight of the little fuckers were being transported to that prison asteroid in sector 17 when they managed to escape to Earth, with two bounty hunters on their tail. To be clear though they don’t literally have tails.

They crash down in a rural area near the Brown family’s farm. The patriarch Jay (Billy Green Bush, JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY) notices them first, but he gets partly eaten in the basement, so his young son Brad (Scott Grimes) has to step up and pretend to be a man, although his voice hasn’t changed yet. I feel kind of bad for Dee Wallace that she just has to scream and be scared. It seems like as an adult woman she should rank higher than the little kid and be more responsible. Or at least the teenage daughter April (Nadine Van Der Velde, MUNCHIES) could be in charge. Her boyfriend Steve (THE PHANTOM himself, Billy Zane) doesn’t get a chance, if you know what I mean.

Also in the mix is the recovering alcoholic farmhand and mechanic Charlie (Don Opper, BLACK MOON RISING) who looked enough like Simple Jack from TROPIC THUNDER that I kept forgetting he wasn’t supposed to be mentally disabled. Instead he’s that old cliche the lovable conspiracy nut whose paranoia turns out to be true this time, when his fillings actually are receiving transmissions from aliens. (Why was that filling thing such a popular joke in the ’80s? Was there a significant number of people who believed in that?)

Brad has one of those ’80s kid bedrooms they always showed in the movies then, decorated with things to show his interest in movies and sci-fi so that he either reflects the childhood of the director, or is mentally prepared to deal with aliens, or– I don’t know. But this is kind of a b-movie version so instead of having STAR WARS action figures like in E.T. he just has a poster for the ALIEN rip-off MUTANT. And his cat is named Chewie.

Actually he does have an E.T. doll in his room. One of the Critters tries to talk to it and then bites its head off. Obviously we know what this means: the Crites were also senators in THE PHANTOM MENACE and they still have some political beef ’cause they tried to warn the E.T.s not to fall for the no confidence vote on Chancellor Valorum.

Of course this is a monster movie and the monsters are the most important part. The puppet effects are done by the Chiodo Brothers, whose later cult classic KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE follows a pretty similar storyline, but instead of bringing people to a UFO in the woods it’s a glowing circus tent and they cover the bodies in a cocoon made of cotton candy and then drink their blood through Crazy Straws. Man, that was a pretty good movie from what I remember. I wonder if it holds up?

Also the Chiodos did the Large Marge animation in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and the part where Darkman‘s hand melts. So show some respect.

The bounty hunters are cool too. They have no faces (like The Blank in DICK TRACY), but they can transform to fit in on different planets.

still_critters3

One of them uses MTV or Friday Night Videos or some shit as his reference, so he ends up with the face of some hair metal singer named Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann, A CHORUS LINE).

I thought this was only kind of good, but I can definitely see why it caught on. It’s a good R-rated movie for young boys. The kid is the protagonist, but since it’s a monster movie he has to “become a man” more than Elliott did in E.T. Grimes is very earnest and insists on stepping up when his dad is injured and poisoned. His dad even offers him the shotgun, but he turns it down. He has a whole character arc about being misunderstood and earning respect. He’s seen as a fuck up because he likes playing around with firecrackers and slingshot, so of course he saves the day with those things. He gets in trouble for fighting with his sister, but he rescues her and says caring things to her. He must’ve been strutting around feeling awesome for months after all this went down.

Look how sincere this little guy looks:

still_critters1

Right after watching this I watched an episode of the current season of Justified and realized that the completely grown up Grimes was on it. That was weird.

You can tell this is a low budget movie, but it feels very legit. For one thing, there is a hell of an explosion at the end. Good job on that. More importantly, I think the serious orchestral score by David Newman goes a long way. I expect a movie called CRITTERS to have some bullshit Yamaha circus music score, but this guy (doing his first feature before a long line of mostly cheesy studio comedies) acts like he thinks he’s doing CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or something.

This was the first movie for director Stephen Herek. His next was BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. (He’s also the guy who did THE MIGHTY DUCKS, MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS and the live action 101 DALMATIONS.) Writer Domonic Muir went on to pen such other li’l bastards as DOLL GRAVEYARD, THE GINGERDEAD MAN, EVIL BONG, DANGEROUS WORRY DOLLS, SKULL HEADS, PUPPET MASTER: AXIS OF EVIL, DEVILDOLLS and UNLUCKY CHARMS. If you need ’em small, give Muir a call.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015 at 7:26 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Critters”

  1. I loved this one as a kid but watched it a few years back and didn’t think it held up. But you know what DOES hold up? KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. If you absolutely have to make a movie about evil space aliens from a circus planet, this is how you do it. It’s got every goddamn clowny thing you can think of implemented as a method of murder. It uses every part of the circus buffalo. There’s nothing left for anyone to rip off. The concept is exhausted. You did it, Chiodos. You did it.

    Oh, and remember in the second CRITTERS when one of the bounty hunters transforms into a Playboy centerfold he finds in the street and then has to remove a giant staple from his/her stomach? Good shit.

    Also remember before the internet when there were nudey mags just lying around in the street for kids to find and learn about their bodies from?

    You know, maybe I should give these CRITTERS movies another shot.

  2. The dad character in this was virtually indestructible; attacked viciously by the critters with big chunks taken out of him he bleeds heavily for several hours yet is still strong enough to lift and fire a double-barrel shotgun. Later, Billy Zane (SPOILER ALERT, I guess) is killed quite horrifically in front of April leaving her initially (and understandably) extremely upset only for her to never mention his name again or the fact that his corpse or at least parts of it are presumably still rotting in the barn for the duration of the film.

    Also, and admittedly my memory is a little hazy on this one, but wasn’t the Critters home planet destroyed, making them technically an endangered species?

  3. I’ve actually never seen this one.

    I jumped straight into CRITTERS 2 back in the late 80’s because the poster at the video store with the monster ball full of little mouths and eyes was too awesome for 5 year old Broddie. I recall seeing Critters in Space at some point too but can’t remember which part that was. It was one of those horror puppet franchises like GHOULIES where even though I hadn’t seen every installment I did see enough of it to get the general idea of what it’s about.

  4. Analog, the endangered species thing didn’t come up until the end of Part 3 (which is severely underrated) as part of the semi-cliffhanger leading into Part 4 (which I seem to be alone in hating). I don’t recall if it was that their planet was destroyed, I always assumed they were hunted to near-extinction because they were Dickson.

  5. Dickson = dicks. Autocorrect. You know how it is.

  6. Hopefully Vern will do the whole series, or if not at least 2, which is the best one.

  7. It has been ages since I watched it, but I loved this movie as a kid. I think my brother and I rented CRITTERS and BLOODSPORT more than any other movie at the time.

    Mr. M, I also liked the bit with the centerfold in in the sequel. Not to get to far off topic here but it kind of bums me out that thanks to the internet the current younger generation will never know the magic and excitement of finding a Playboy or Hustler. It used to be a special moment in a young man’s life the first time he laid eyes on those airbrushed beauties, but know pornography is so accessible it just not the same anymore.

  8. Thanks for the clarification Kev, I’ve obviously merged parts of the Critter quadrilogy into each other. The WWF is all about protecting species so the fate of the Critters should be no different, even if they are dickson.

  9. I’m actually more surprised that the crites know the term “Fuck”.

    The German dubbing of part 2 is insane, btw. For any reason someone decided to let the Crites talk all the time. In German. And every time they say something, it’s a stupid joke.

  10. The “radio signals via fillings” myth probably originated with Lucille Ball, as recounted on this talk show in 1974 (or summarized on Snopes if you prefer).

  11. CJ, that German dubbing sounds pretty hilarious.

  12. The radio fillings thing can actually happen apparently and it used to be more frequent because of trends in dentistry. It seems pretty uncommon but fairly well established as something that can happen. The phenomenon very closely resembles characteristics of schizophrenia, so that doesn’t help…

    http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3638/is-it-possible-to-pick-up-radio-signals-from-dental-fillings
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/brace-yourself-for-some-news-on-the-radio/article6122691/
    http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091118/HEALTH/911180324

  13. Just FYI, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE totally holds up, and always will.

  14. Charles, it’s definitely a love it or hate it thing, but I admit I’m mor on the “love it” side.

    Highlights of the Germany-only Crite comments include stuff like: “Why are they always talking about Easter? I thought this is a Western.” and crazy rhymes like “Wir sind die Allesfresser, wir fressen alles besser” (Losely translated: “We are the Everything-eaters*, we eat everything better”) and my favourite (when the Crite slides down the power line): “Lakritze, Lakritze, ich bin Telegraphen Fritze”. (Losely translated: “Licorice, licorice, I’m telegraph dude**”)

    *Correct would be “omnivores”, but I changed it to a made up word on purpose.
    **Hard to translate “Fritze” in that content.

  15. If anybody plans on watching sequels, you should really stop after CRITTERS 2, even though CRITTERS 3 has kid Leonardo Di Caprio in it and CRITTERS 4 has Angela Bassett. 3 & 4 really suck.

  16. The Original Paul

    April 9th, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    The only thing I remember about this film is the rockstar bounty-hunter alien and the awesome resolution to the critters’ comments: “They have weapons.” “So what?”… Yeah, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what follows. Anyway, these two things are enough to make me rewatch this one.

  17. The thing I love about the Critters movies is how much violence and even nudity they have, and yet only a PG rating. The 80’s was such an awesome era for movies. Critters would NEVER be made today.

  18. I saw KILLER KLOWNS only last month in the middle of the night on a local channel. Completely holds up.

    The theme song by The Dickies helps:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAHNDZrsIg4

    There was some rumbling in the news only a few years ago about the Chiodo Brothers making a sequel:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_Klowns_from_Outer_Space#Sequel

    Please, someone give them money to do this.

    “I end up being the mentor to these two young street performers whose car breaks down, and they end up in the small town of Kismet. It’s another town up in the mountains, and now all the fun begins again, except when they get into trouble, Mike comes up and teaches them the history of the Klowns and how to fight back against them. He’s somewhere between the energy of Kris Kristofferson’s character in Blade and Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back to the Future.” [8]

    Like the original film, Stephen Chiodo is set to be the director and Charles Chiodo is set to produce, although they are still currently awaiting word on a distribution deal from a company so the production of the film can begin.[9]

    The current title of the film is The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D.[10][11]

  19. I hate to argue against Killer Klowns but the first 30 minutes do not hold up. It takes forever for all the Klown stuff to happen. Once it does it’s totally awesome.

  20. Vern, I really hope you’re going to review the whole series. DTV sequels with academy award nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Angela Bassett!

  21. Fun fact; they wanted John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon to play the rock star bounty-hunter, but of course he told them where to go…

  22. I forgot to mention: David Newman. Yes, he seems to be stuck as composer for A LOT of shitty movies, but to me he will forever be the guy who wrote the last truly iconic and super hummable movie theme of modern Hollywood. Yes, I’m talking about GALAXY QUEST. https://youtu.be/LxOtB17Q6Sc

  23. Grimes was also in BAND OF BROTHERS, so he’s dispatched Critters and Nazis!!

  24. Popples. Oh, jesus.

    Terrence Mann is also a very prolific Broadway performer. He’s been nominated for a few Tony’s and in the original cast for some seriously successful shows, like CATS and LES MIS. In my opinion, he’s the best actor who’s played Javert and just thinking about how great he was makes me want to punch Russell Crowe right in the throat.

    Also, Scott Grimes is the voice of the son on AMERICAN DAD.

  25. I’m sure you mean “Grimey,” as he liked to be called.

  26. CHIODOS is also the name of an emo punk band. Or just a punk band. Some kind of band. Killer Klowns is awesome. I loved it as a kid, got the soundtrack, and now my band’s supporting The Dickies.

  27. I remember seeing it on cable when I was a kid and liking it. The part where they turn into a giant ball and run over that one guy and leaving a bloody skeleton has stayed with me.

  28. Lydon actually touches on CRITTERS in his recent autobiography, saying that he was glad to turn down “a nasty GREMLINS rip-off”. A touch prudish!

  29. As others have said, 2 deserves a look. It also is totally of its time but they’re having a lot more fun with it like a DEAD HEAT.

    I miss this kind of ridiculousness as today’s DTV/straight-to-streaming stuff is very samey and a distinct lack of humor. Can anyone think of something other than SLITHER that attempted monster slasher comedy in recent years?

  30. Two or three times a year, I venture into the putrid waters of Netflix Streaming to find undercooked horror gems. The horror comedy is the realm I have the least success in, but there have been a few I can recommend.

    BIG ASS SPIDER!: Way more of a real movie than you’d think with that title. Good special effects and a mere soupçon of winking at the audience.

    GRABBERS: So there’s these tentacles from outer space that land on a small Irish island, and the only way they won’t attack you is if your blood alcohol level is high, so the whole town has to get trashed. It doesn’t fully take advantage of that incredible premise but I’m still glad that the Irish got to it first.

    WOLF COP: It occasionally seems like an actual film. There’s a decent transformation scene, anyway.

    DEAD SNOW 2: The first one was garbage, but the second one is actually pretty great, some unfortunate references and gay jokes aside. The schlub hero from the first one actually seems pretty badass now, and it’s got a shitload of gore and action, making it the only Nazi zombie movie I’ve ever seen that takes full advantage of its premise.

    BLOOD GLACIER: Not great but the performances are honest and the monsters are all practical. Plus it’s nice to see a German horror movie you don’t have to shower afterward.

    SHARKNADO 2: I know what you’re gonna say but whatever, I thought it was awesome.

  31. The most incredible part of the SHARKNADO franchise is that it is a franchise starring Ian Ziering. Who the hell would have thought of that? Admittedly it´s the kind of movies that 90210 hasbeens ends up starring in.

  32. Knox Harrington

    April 12th, 2015 at 8:56 am

    The only horror sequel I’m interested in right now is Human Centipede 3.

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