As a kid, I used to love watching the first two Critters films over and over. And since I recently reviewed the Gremlins series, I thought I’d get reacquainted with its best knockoff.
Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Stephen Herek, Domonic Muir, Don Keith Opper
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy “Green” Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper, Billy Zane, Terrence Mann
New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes
After producing a massive hit with A Nightmare On Elm Street, New Line Cinema joined several other studios in trying to make their own copycat of 1984’s Gremlins. It was a similar trend to what happened after Jaws came out in the 70s and it inspired a ton of copycats through the rest of the decade.
Critters is probably the best of the Gremlins wannabes. The main reason, is that it is still its own film with its own identity. Sure, the two pictures share similarities but Critters is darker, more ferocious and has that great low-budget 80s horror vibe to it. Plus, it establishes the creatures as vicious aliens and brings in two cool alien bounty hunters.
While, from a critical standpoint, Critters is considered the best of its franchise. I do feel that the second one edges it out a bit, which I will explain when I get to that one.
This film is still pretty fantastic though. It is comical, at times, but it does seem like the most serious of the movies. Overall, it might also be the most fun.
Dee Wallace, who was the queen of 80s horror, plays the mom. She doesn’t get as dirty as she has gotten in other films but it is always great to see her embracing the genre of horror. Scott Grimes plays the son, who would also reprise his role in the sequel. Then you have a small part by Billy Zane, before he was well-known.
Most importantly, the film introduces us to Charlie (played by Don Opper) and Ug (played by Terrence Mann). They would go on to be in all four of the films in the series, playing a pair of bounty hunters. Granted, Charlie is a drunk Earthling buffoon in the first movie but he would evolve into a sober bad ass buffoon over time.
The first movie still plays pretty well. The effects are good for the time and mostly hold up. I can see why this is considered the best of the series but let me get into the second picture and why I prefer it.
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988):
Release Date: April 29th, 1988
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: David Twohy, Mick Garris
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Scott Grimes, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Liane Curtis, Barry Corbin, Tom Hodges, Sam Anderson
New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes
The reason I like this installment the best, is because it is a lot less confined than the others. The first film takes place primarily on a farm, the third film is mostly set in an urban apartment building while the fourth and final chapter is on a confined space station. Critters 2, on the other hand, encompasses an entire small town and the areas around it. And honestly, it just feels like it has the biggest budget. It utilized what little it had with maximum effects. Plus you get the giant Critters ball at the end of the film, which was just really cool when I was a young kid.
The film also features Charlie as an actual bounty hunter. In fact, it features the bounty hunters the most and they are the coolest characters in the series, especially Ug. We are then introduced to Lee, a third bounty hunter, who takes the form of a nude Playboy Playmate. Granted, she acquires clothes after her introduction. But it was great seeing amazing breasts in a PG-13 movie when I was nine.
The film brings back Scott Grimes from the original. It also adds in Liane Curtis, who I was crushing on, back in the day. Barry Corbin joins the cast as the sheriff and I’ve always been a fan of his work. Sam Anderson, who you may know from a slew of television appearances, has a small role as Liane Curtis’ overprotective father.
Critters 2 is the quintessential Critters movie. It has everything you would want from one of these pictures. Although, a bit more gore would have been better. While there are more creatures and more overall destruction, it seriously lacks in showing the audience anything graphic. You get a few bones and skeletons but that is the gist of it.
Critters 3 (1991):
Release Date: December 11th, 1991
Directed by: Kristine Peterson
Written by: David J. Schow, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: David C. Williams
Cast: Aimee Brooks, John Calvin, Katherine Cortez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Geoffrey Blake, Frances Bay, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann
New Line Home Video, 85 Minutes
Critters 3 is the worst of the films.
While it does feature a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, he isn’t the main character and he has little to do other than hating his dork stepfather and being a romantic interest of the teen girl lead.
Most of the characters in this one are pretty unlikable. Especially Frank. Frank is just an awful and annoying human being. I cherished his death.
Although, Frances Bay’s character was cool. She has always been a great character actor and her meat cleaving bad ass grandma was fun to watch.
This is just a pretty weak film. It doesn’t serve much purpose other than trying to make money without spending any. The creatures weren’t really funny anymore and everything felt like a rehash of things we’ve already seen in the other movies.
And nearly everyone survives, which is a big failure for a movie series that prided itself on eating people.
Critters 4 (1992):
Release Date: October 14th, 1992
Directed by: Rupert Harvey
Written by: David J. Schow, Joseph Lyle, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: Peter Manning Robinson
Cast: Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Paul Whitthorne, Angela Bassett, Andres Hove, Eric Da Re, Brad Dourif, Martine Beswick (voice)
New Line Home Video, 105 Minutes
Critters 4 is a step above Critters 3 but not by much.
It is the ugliest film in the series as it utilizes dark and dreary space station sets. Everything in this movie looks 90s and not like something that should represent the 2040s, when it takes place.
The sets look like every other generic horror movie spaceship set of the era. Everything is dark and back lit. The computer screens look outdated, even for the 90s. Nothing about it is imaginative or cool. By comparison, it makes Jason X look like a science fiction masterpiece.
On a positive note, we are back to seeing these creatures devour everyone in sight. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of characters. Most of them die horrifically though.
We also get to see a young Angela Bassett, just before she found fame playing Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It. The film also stars Brad Dourif most known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies and Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings films.
Strangely, Ug returns as the villain in this chapter. His turn to the darkside is never really explained and the opportunity to add depth to the story and the relationship between Ug and Charlie was wasted.
Critters 4 is just more of the same. Except it is all acted out on the ugliest sets in the series.