WRITERS: Story by Dominic Muir
Screenplay by Dominic Muir and Stephen Herek
DIRECTOR: Stephen Herek
STARRING: Dee Wallace Stone as Helen Brown
M. Emmet Walsh as Harv
Billy Green Bush as Jay Brown
Scott Grimes as Brad Brown
Nadine Van Der Velde as April Brown
Don Opper as Charlie McFadden
Terrence Mann as Johnny Steele
QUICK CUT: An infestation of an intrusive species leads to problems on a local farm.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! August begins, and I'm still kinda taking things on the lighter side of horror, and have decided to finally crack into the Critters franchise with, obviously, the first movie in the series. This one mixes a little scifi in with the monsters, and is a bit on the silly camp side, but is such an 80s Gremlins wannabe, it needs to be looked at, and it sets up the rest of the movies. I've been wanting to get to this franchise forever, and had it in mind when I started doing franchises around the first of the month, but just kept getting distracted by other things. So let's finally do this!
The movie opens up in space, the final frontier, with a ship delivering prisoners to an asteroid. The count is off, since two of them had to be killed off before the movie even begins. That's how you know this is serious!
It takes all of ten seconds for the Crites to land, escape, steal a ship, and get the sprock out of there. So the space warden summons some space bounty hunters with featureless, glowing space heads that look like, to borrow a phrase from Red Dwarf, novelty condoms.
So we land on Earth ahead of the Crites or the bounty hunters to meet the family we're supposed to identify with and experience the events with - the Browns. They're your average midwestern family with average midwestern family problems.
More interestingly, we meet Charlie, the town drunk and town conspiracy nut. He believes in getting signals through his fillings, and aliens are coming, and boy is he in for a pleasant surprise.
Back in space, the glowstick heads are getting ready to come to Earth, and are warned about their penchant for destruction. They also get a braindump of information about Earth, but it still won't be enough, I'm sure.
One of the hunters stops on a video by Johnny Steele, a made up rocker for the movie, and oh great, he's found music videos and rock culture, that won't end well. On the other hand, they also are coming to Earth in that one brief moment when MTV actually played videos. What would they do now?? Become Puck from The Real World?? ...Sorry, I haven't watched MTV in over ten years, my references are gonna be a bit dated.
Anyways, we see the bounty hunters have the ability to shapeshift their glowstick heads into other forms, which is good so they'll blend in. But maybe grabbing the form of a rocker isn't the best route to go under the radar. Isn't this the same problem the Pairans had in Warning from Space??
But sadly, it's back to Earth and the boring Browns hanging around the farm. Brad's being a kid and blowing toys up with fireworks, and Charlie's getting in trouble since he's supposed to be helping around the farm, not teaching Brad about the history of alien invasions.
After some mischief making, and taking the blame so Charlie doesn't get in trouble again, Brad gets sent to his room as punishment. He turns on the radio and we again hear Power of the Night. They paid to make this song, they are gonna use the heck out of it!!
Billy Zane sneaks off with the Browns' daughter to have a literal roll in the hay, and I guess that's where that saying comes from... Also, let me just say this about baby Billy Zane. He's so wee and doofy in this. But they also took the time to make him as preppy and annoying as possible in his short time on screen; from the shirt with school coat of arms on it, to OH MY GODS he has a douchey rat tail, that's perfect... Anyways, the Crites are getting closer and thank the maker, because we're getting yet another rendition of Power of the Night.
And of course, it's Charlie the town crank who sees them land. Jay heads out to see what all the shaking is about, and he's either gonna find the aliens, or his daughter rockin' the barn. He runs into Brad sneaking out of the house, and the pair head out to investigate. Fair odds that they run into the Galaxy Invader.
They come across a cow that's been devoured by the Crites, and before anyone can take out a Geiger counter to determine it died from being eaten, they hurry on before running into whatever it was. They also just miss the GIANT spaceship just to their left and glowing, but oh well.
Meanwhile, Neelix is out on patrol, and runs his car off the road before hitting an angry tumbleweed of a Crite. Short version, he gets dragged under his own car and eaten, marking our first kill of the movie. Not counting beef. Bacon, it's what's for dinner.
The bounty hunters Ug and Zug finally land, and the not Johnny Steele one still doesn't have a face, because nothing interests him. Sigh, I know that feeling. So many choices of faces to wear, and so little time...uh, what? Where was I?
Anyways, the Crites are here, the bounty hunters are here, which is good to get the plot moving. I've tried to skim through the highlights of the first act, since it's a lotta Earth bound character stuff. Nothing wrong with it, but I don't need to talk about the Browns having breakfast, and am eager to get things rolling like a Crite.
Once the power goes out, Jay heads into the cellar to check the breakers, and finds the power and phone lines are all eaten through. He spends too much time looking around though, and finds the culprits who would rather be left alone. They decide after their light snack of wiring, they want something meatier.
We also learn they can shoot out their quills that have a paralytic effect. Meanwhile, Gloop and Gleek find the dead cop, and the other one borrows his face for awhile.
Back in the barn, Steve and April are still in the middle of their makeout session, which is lasting longer than the runtime of Titanic. It gets cut long though, when a Crite shows up to eat him.
April starts screaming, and Brad comes running to her rescue with some firecrackers. He lights off a big one, throws it at the Critter, and it gobbles the thing up, falling over dead as it explodes harmlessly inside. I guess they like spicy food.
We cut over to some antics with Tango and Cash as they crash into the town church to try and get some information to find the Crites. Ernie's choice of a dead half eaten cop isn't going so well, so he changes his face into that of the priest standing in front of them. Much confusion, shooting, and destruction of property ensues.
I love that while the Crites look like animals, and could be mistaken for any sort of thing like an angry lion or shark, they are clearly CLEARLY intelligent creatures. You could almost handwave the spacecraft, enough movies do, but they are hunting, they communicate, and they are plotting, as they deliberately cut power and phone access. These aren't escaped animals who don't know better like a lion escaped from a zoo loose in the city.. These are intergalactic spree killers with a hunger for flesh. They are evil, no question.
The Browns sneak out to try and escape, but the Crites have eaten up the seats of their truck. April still has Steve's keys, so they make a run for his car, and hope they don't like the taste of fine Corinthian leather. A hope which is instantly dashed as they interrupt one snacking down at that very moment.
Our family runs back to the house, and the Critters pounce on Jay some more, since they've already had a taste of dadflesh. His wife uses the gun to play some Critter golf and keep them away, for the moment.
Brad rushes inside to unlock the door and get his family into temporary safety. The Crites don't care that they have guns...until one gets blown away next to his buddy.
Ernie and Bert ride up to the bowling alley to continue their Crite hunt, and I wish we had some sort of insight to why they were going where. They just seem to be driving around and randomly stopping places to cause mayhem, and it's places the Crites haven't even been to, which is increasingly frustrating.
The cop-priest-hunter sees Charlie at the bar at the bowling alley, and decides he likes his face, so takes it. More confusion and property destruction ensues. Which seems to be their thing.
Back at the ranch, the Critters finally get into the house, and it is on. One of them gets taken out when Brad accidentally trips with the shotgun, shoots the ceiling fan, and clobbers the creature with it.
He also tries to molotov one with an oil lamp, but it rolls off into the toilet to cool off. He does more damage to the house and comes close to burning it down.
Brad comes up with a plan to make a run for it on his bike and get help while his family holds down the farm. But uh-uh, the Crites thought of that one too, and took out the bike. A Critter is even standing there and waiting, just to push over the bike and gloat if, not when, the kid shows up.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family arms up as best they can with hair spray and coat hangers and what have you, and the Critters are wrecking shit up in the house, because why not?
Brad does manage to escape, and Rick and Morty nearly run him over. Brad climbs into the cop car, starts rambling about the critters in his house thinking it's the normal cops, and then it all starts to don on him that they're not. But the plots have collided, and the hunters can clean up the mess.
I love that NO ONE from Earth in this movie has ANY clue what in the name of Kaufman is going on and just are along for the ride. They only know bad shit is going down, and to hide behind the people with the biggest guns.
Finally, Brad gets Penn and Teller to the house, and they shoot the door down to get to the problem. Do not call these exterminators to solve your pest problem if you value your house.
While they destroy the interior decorating, Brad gets his family outside as the sheriff arrives. But he then hears the cat and goes to save him too. LEAVE THE CAT. I love cats, but this is a dire situation!
The cop goes inside to see what's going on, and runs into NotCharlie. You would think people would figure out that's not Charlie because he's not drunk.
Goofus and Gallant chase the remaining giant Critter out of the house. As it runs off, it grabs a tasty April snack to eat on the long space ride home, then heads for the ship.
Brad sneaks aboard the ship to save his sister, and leave behind the biggest firecracker of tnt behind to end this, hopefully.
The family reunites as the ship takes off, but before he goes, the Giant Crite stops to nuke the house from orbit. Just out of spite I guess. Crite Spite.
And as the ship starts to head off, the firecracker finally goes off with one last big boom. And that's pretty much the end of it, save for some cleanup and departing aliens. Oh, and the magic alien communicator that puts the house back together. So what was the point of blowing it up, if you're just gonna reverse the footage to put it all back three seconds later?
Video: Considering this is on a set stuffed with the entire four movie set, it looks pretty good. They at least give each movie an entire side of a flipper disc, and don't cram them all onto a single disc, which I've seen some sets do. Also, they at least gave us widescreen too, which is nice on a typically overlooked series. This is exactly the sort of movie you would expect to be half assed just to get it out there.
Audio: Not too bad, with all that considered.
Sound Bite: "They have weapons!" "So what?" Translated from Criteish.
Body Count: A surprisingly small amount, with how bad-ass they try to sell the Critters as.
1 - Cop gets eaten thirty minutes in
2 - Billy Zane gets a little death.
3 - Our first Critter gets taken out by a firecracker.
4 - Another one gets shot in the face
5 - Another Critter gets fanned to death.
6 - Mom shoots a Critter through the door.
7 - She gets another one good with the last shell
8 - Critter gets number two'd.
9 - Giant critter buys it in a big boom
Best Corpse: Our award goes to Billy Zane, since we get to see a Critter trying to chew its way into his stomach. Mmmm, that's some quality Zane yeah.
Blood Type - C: That grade is VERY dependent on the effects. There's some blood, every time a Critter bites into someone, but the movie largely takes place at night and it looks dark. But the Critters themselves are fantastic, and just some amazing puppetry.
Sex Appeal: Nothing to see here!
Drink Up! every time you hear Power of the Night.
Video Nasties: One of the few big effects sequences, the entire face transformation into Johnny Steele. Some great stuff here.
Movie Review: It's goofy, very goofy. The creatures are silly, the situation is silly, but the movie knows that going in. The acting is solid, and there is a good story here that is told fairly well. There were a bunch of Gremlin rip off wannabes, and this is absolutely the best of the bunch. It may be seen as just a knock off, but this one is truly its own thing. The scifi elements help, and just that it's an entirely different setup. The effects look great even today, and I can totally forget that the monsters are just puppets most of the time. The family is likable, and while it takes a solid thirty minutes before the Crites start to wreak their bitey havoc, the character stuff is great, and this is all around a solid, fun, entertaining 80s scifi creature feature with a side of camp in all the right places. Four out of five shotgun shells.
Entertainment Value: There is nothing so bad its laughable here. All the laughs are mostly deliberate, and the artistry with the puppets are a joy to watch. The weakest part is probably Billy Zane. He's a treat to see him so young here, but he's almost underused. And I'm not just saying that because I know Zane can do more. The character is just kinda...there. His sole purpose is to cause family conflict, and get eaten. Fortunately, it's great to see him be eaten, so that's all good. There's nothing so bad it's good, but the good is good, so that's good! Four out of five angry tumbleweeds.