Critters isn’t as frightening as you remember from your childhood. It’s also not really that violent or gory; hell, it’s rated PG-13, a surprise for me when I revisited it last week. My memory consisted of quick twitch fur balls with razor teeth, red eyes, and a piranha-like ability to gobble up sheriff’s deputies and other peripheral 80s horror characters. I remembered buckets of blood and poisoned darts and the creatures ripping people limb from limb. And yet, there are only two human casualties. That speaks to the completeness of vision at work on the most basic B-movie levels.
Instead of throwing blood at the screen, director Stephen Herek and writer Domonic Muir work to build a fully-realized universe. Spanning from the outer reaches of a super weird alien society, all the way down to the Norman Rockwell version of small town Americana, Critters has great fun setting things up and working through them while everyone seems to be having a great time. They all know, and the audience knows, Critters is meant to be 90 minutes (or 82, really) of camp fun. Nothing more.
The story cobbles together a dozen or so stories from 80s blockbusters, from The Terminator, to Gremlins (which New Line called this one their answer to Gremlins), and even a little bit of E.T. thrown in to make sure all our bases have been covered. A horde of furry bowling ball aliens with razor teeth and a need to kill have landed in Anytown, Middle America, a farming town untouched by modernity. They have their sheriff (the always reliable sleezeball M. Emmett Walsh), his horny deputy, and a village idiot, Charlie McFadden (Don Keith Opper), who winds up playing a larger role by the film’s end.
The Critters find their way to a farmhouse occupied by a stereotypical farming fam of four. Mother (Dee Wallace) and father, a son and a daughter, but Herek and Muir amp up the broad personalities of the kids. The daughter, April, is loaded with hormones, working tirelessly at getting laid – more specifically, hooking up with a baby-faced Billy Zane. And the son, Brad (Scott Grimes), the deFacto star of the film, is headstrong and contrarian. The strong characterizations of the children buoy the film as it works its way through standard plot beats.
What isn’t standard with Critters are the two bounty hunters hot on the trail of the vicious little Furbies. The two hunters, their faces glowing and yellow, eventually take human form to save a little special effects money. One takes the shape of a rock star who sings the only song anyone ever listens to anywhere in the movie. One of the weirder idiosyncrasies. But these bounty hunters are incompetent, a little thick, and kind of worthless when all is said and done. It’s an interesting left turn in the film, having two alien hunters with massive weapons show themselves to be wholly incapable of performing their job.
Critters is a movie with a world inside, a story we all know from a dozen other movies, but one told here with more energy and fun than most knock-offs. I seem to remember Critters 2 being better, if for no other reason than the giant rolling Ball of Critters! Alas, it was poor mimicry when held up to the original.