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Critters is a 1986 sci-fi/horror/comedy that owes as much to the creature features of the 50s as it does Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The flick opens with alien beings called “Crites”…furry little creatures with LOTS of teeth…escaping from an interplanetary penitentiary with shape-shifting bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann) and Lee (various cast members) in hot pursuit. The Crites land on Earth in Grover’s Bend, Kansas near the farm of the Brown family and they are very hungry. Now mom Helen (Dee Wallace), dad Jay (Billy Bush), teen daughter April (Nadine van der Velde), young son Brad (Scott Grimes) and drunken handyman Charlie (Don Opper) come under siege by the carnivorous Critters, who have chosen them as their next course. Will the bounty hunters arrive in time before this quaint family all become alien happy meals?
Despite being derivative this is a fun movie as directed by Stephen Herek from his script with Domonic Muir. Herek gives the flick a bit of a Spielbergian touch and it works well for the material. It has a fairly even mix of horror and humor and the bloodshed does push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, while delivering some laughs. The Critter FX by the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns) are enjoyably rubber prosthetics and the visual FX are delightfully cheesy. The action is limited to in and around the Brown farm with inept police deputies (Ethan Phillips) and visiting boyfriends (Billy Zane) showing up to become Critter fodder. The film is very 80s, no more of an example than a music video featuring star Terrence Mann, whose cheese metal rocker Johnny Steele becomes the face adopted by changeling Ug. It’s a bit overplayed, but is 80s hair metal to the core. The film wisely doesn’t wear out it’s welcome either, cruising in at an economical 85 minutes.
The cast are having a good time. Dee Wallace is the quintessential 80s mom next door, but despite playing a humble Midwestern housewife, she has a quiet sexiness that makes her hot. Billy Bush is the all-American, Midwest father and is the subject of a lot of Critter abuse. Nadine van der Velde doesn’t get much to do but scream and find herself in peril, but she is cute and is a fine damsel. Grimes is the hero of the film and does a good job as the nerdy kid who rises to heroic status. Opper is funny as the drunk, conspiracy theorist handyman, Charlie and Terrence Mann is solid as the terminator-like Ug and MTV idol Johnny Steele. The flick also has small roles with familiar faces, like M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv, horror icon Lin Shaye as his receptionist, Sally and the before mentioned Billy Zane as April’s ill-fated boyfriend, Steve. The Crites are all puppets and are voiced…complete with subtitles…by voice actor Corey Burton.
Sure, it was most likely inspired by Joe Dante’s classic from two years earlier, but stands up on it’s own thanks to some fun direction by Stephen Herek and a cast that knows how to play the material. The FX on all levels are nostalgically cheesy and the film has the right mix of humor and horror to entertain. It’s also delightfully 80s and shows what kind of movies New Line Cinema churned out before The Lord of the Rings trilogy turned them into a mega-studio. It was a modest hit for New Line and a sequel was paraded out two years later. Fun movie and worth a watch for 80s nostalgia fans.
Rated 3 critters.
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