People in the 80s seemed to understand that if you made B-movies, you might as well make them fun. It’s not like anyone’s going to take “shapechanging bounty hunters track an escaped group of criminals, who are all small mutant-hedgehog-looking aliens, across the galaxy to a small town in Kansas” and treat it like a great work of art. A “Critters” remake in 2015 would have tons of backstory at the beginning and be half an hour longer; but luckily we don’t have to worry about that!
Thank you for not messing about, movie! In a lightning fast opening, we see a prison asteroid with a ship full of prisoners heading towards it. After touching down, the ship is taken over by the Krites and escapes – the authorities (aka a voiceover) charge a couple of bounty hunters with killing them, and off we go. Total elapsed time, about three minutes.
But it can’t all be fun in space, so then we get some fun on Earth. Because everyone mentions it, I suppose I ought to as well – although the director loudly denies “Critters” was produced in response to the success of “Gremlins”, it very obviously was, and there are a ton of similarities. Small town which appeared out of time even then; father who tinkers; scene where the critters run wild (one of them tries to talk to a stuffed ET doll before biting its head off); blowing up a building near the end. I mean, it’s not close enough to warrant being sued for plagiarism or anything like that, but it’s unlikely to have been an accident.
The bounty hunters are shapeshifters, so while one picks a guy from a music video pretty much at random (the awesomely coiffed “Johnny Steele”) to blend in, the other can’t decide – changing from the corpse of the Deputy who’s the Krites’ first victim, to the local Pastor, eventually to the town drunk. It’s a fun moment in a movie that really seems like it’s paying attention and getting those little things right. The buildup to the “carnage” is well-handled, if a trifle slow in comparison to the opening scenes, and the scene transitions are clever. Or maybe I’m just too impressed by that sort of thing. Who knows?
The cast is really strong too – from theatre star Terrence Mann as stoic bounty hunter Ug, to Dee Wallace Stone as the harried mother (a role she seemingly played in every movie from the mid 80s to the mid 90s), to M Emmet Walsh as the Sheriff, to Billy Zane in a very early role, as the surprisingly non-douchebag boyfriend – despite his number plate, which had the custom frame “I don’t give a shit”. It’s a cast every bit as strong as “Gremlins”, despite being a little smaller and a little more cartoony – Don Keith Opper as Charlie the town drunk is the chief culprit.
So, we’ve got critters which are surprisingly easy to kill, a family fighting off the Krite invasion of their house, and a couple of aliens with super-cannons trying to find out where they are (although if they’d left the main family for another ten minutes, they’d have probably had their job done for them – the humans definitely have the bounty hunters beat in the Krite headcount stakes).
There’s one bit where you go “oh, the 80s” with a sad look on your face, and that’s when the parents need to pick one of their kids to go on a mission to get help. Rather than the 18 year old daughter, who can drive, they pick the 12 year old son, who just has a bike, and it’s not even a point of contention, as everyone just understands the boy is better for the job. But that’s one small moment in a film which is funny, full of action, and quite charming in its own way; I’m definitely looking forward to parts 2, 3 and 4 now, which means they’ll probably be terrible and you can laugh at my optimism in this review.
Rating: thumbs up