Critters: back to the beginning

With a Critters Shudder show and a new movie for SyFy, it was the perfect time to revisit my box set of the four original films in the Critters franchise, plus the new movie. Let’s see just how bad they get as they multiply…

CRITTERS (1986)

It catapults me right back to the 80s when a movie opens with classic New Line Cinema logo that first messed up my world when A Nightmare on Elm Street came out. Naturally that means Lin Shaye also has a minor role in the film.

Critters isn’t exactly the same kind of horror movie, but it is the epitome of 80s cinema. The director of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead delivers a film that first feels like a really bad 80s sci-fi flick, suddenly feels like a genuine creature feature, and inevitably turns into a good old 80s comedy horror.

Critters has it all. Sibling rivalry between the main boy (a young Scott Grimes of Party of Five) and his older sister. Dee Wallace crying at the drop of a dime as the mother, complete with an E.T. in-joke.


Bad Cujo! Down!

And young Billy Zane as the sister’s boyfriend.

Tim Curry clone Terrence Mann, who went from starring in Cats on Broadway to starring in Critters movies for a decade as an alien bounty hunter, even gets a pop rock music video in the movie.

Most importantly there are…Critters! They’ve escaped from space and are terrorizing a family’s farmhouse. We get Critters POV. They speak in their language and we get subtitles. They grow as they eat people (we don’t really see more than their shadows when they’re big). And they do campy things that would make Gremlins envious (eating firecrackers), and copycat the Ghoulies (cooling off in a toilet).

It’s a total cheesefest and rather dated for a modern audience as a result, but it’s an amazing timepiece. Especially since…it promises a sequel!

CRITTERS 2 (1988)

Veteran horror director Mick Garris handles the second film, which is a classic 80s sequel in that it is basically more of the exact same thing with even more 80s aspects thrown in…like huge tits. I seriously don’t understand why they needed to throw huge tits in.

We also get Eugene from the Grease movies.

Scott Grimes returns, a little bit older and coming back to town to visit his grandmother for Easter. Holy crap, this is an Easter horror flick. I had absolutely no recollection of that, but it officially goes on my holiday horror page.

So this guy is selling these big, special eggs he found in his store. Grandma buys them to paint for an Easter egg hunt. You know where this is going. Easter Critters!

The Critters aren’t as funny this time, but they deliver more deaths and blood, a typical staple of 80s sequels. They also don’t grow this time, but they travel by turning into little flying furballs, which is the funniest thing they do this time around.

Terrence Mann and his bounty hunter partner are back, and a lot of the action takes place during the day this time. How else would we get to see the T&A of the new female bounty hunter that joins them…or the poor dude in an Easter bunny costume who gets Crittered in the crotch?

Lin Shaye returns with an expanded role, so she gets to fight the Critters herself, and a Freddy Krueger standee makes a cameo.

CRITTER 3 (1991)

So how do you change up a franchise when moving from the 80s to the 90s? Different location of course!

This time the Critters terrorize a rundown urban apartment building, making this a typical “apartment building terrorized by creatures” movie.

The main dad is a daddy, a young Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the leads, and the Critters shoot their porcupine needles a lot.


Just grab the stick…I promise, I’ll never let go…

They also have a kitchen raiding scene reminiscent of Gremlins 2. And the only original cast member that appears is Terrence Mann’s sidekick.

Make sure to watch the scene that plays during the closing credits, because Mann makes a short appearance, and it’s a direct setup for the next sequel.

CRITTERS 4 (1992)

When the 90s tried desperately to keep alive a horror franchise that should have been laid to rest, it ironically killed it for good…by sending it into space. Ugh. But I guess after experiencing a religious holiday on earth, the Critters needed to get back to a world of aliens…where smart people know life actually began.

Like just about every spaceship/space station horror flick ever, this is boring as fuck. And don’t tell me Alien movies are an exception, because I’ve never been able to get through one of those. Except Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. That movie rules.

This one picks up right where the last left off…yet it’s suddenly 2045. Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett, and a handful of other men are on a spaceship that lands on an abandoned space station.

The film is mostly typical boring space ship crap as in all these movies: monitor watching, lit button pushing, running through halls that all look alike. And honestly, more Critter eggs appear in this film than actual Critters. The only good scene happens to be my favorite attack of the series. One dude gets deep throated by a Critter while entangled in chains. It’s a death that would make Pinhead jealous.

The only other good thing about the final film is the numerous nods to Star Wars.

Plus, Terrence Mann finally returns in the last 20 minutes. Gone is the awesome 80s hair—replaced with the hairstyle all the kids wore on Home Improvement, and he’s now kind of a dick, but he looks more like Tim Curry than ever.

CRITTERS ATTACK! (2019)

The director of The Cleanse, another sort of mini-creature feature, brings back this 80s franchise with an astounding grasp of what made 80s kid-centric creature features tick—the look, the feel, the music, the tone. Critters Attack! isn’t trying to mock the 80s though. It takes place in the current day, and offers just a passing reference to 1986…the year the original Critters was released. Plus, the score resurrects the style of 80s movie soundtracks to perfection.

Dee Wallace adds to the nostalgia as a Critter-hunting bitch with a blaster. Although her character’s name is different and isn’t in the film long enough to be fully developed or explain her past history in the Critters universe, Dee has claimed she is definitely the same character as the mother in the first film (if you want her to be).

This reboot/sequel does so much right. Gone are the two alien dudes who came down to hunt the Critters, and the body count and gore are totally jacked up to make this much more a horror film than a family sci-fi flick like the earlier films. Honestly, as an original 80s Gen-Xer, I don’t say this lightly; Critters Attack! Is superior to every one of the previous films. It’s an 80s horror movie for 2019.

A young woman babysits a bunch of kids, they find a cute Critter in the woods—essentially the Gizmo of the Critters species—and take it home without a second thought like they have the worst case of E.T. envy.

And then the other Critters come for it. Kills, blood, and flesh-munching to the bone abound, the Critters are much less of a joke and more sinister than ever before, Dee eventually teams up with the kids to take the creatures down in a total Critter massacre, and there’s even an interracial family dynamic…despite the fact that the white sheriff, who is the uncle of the main black kids, totally looks like a redneck Dump voter.

Finally, what better way for a Critters reboot to go out with a bang than to bring back the big Critter ball?

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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