Films: Critters, Critters 2, Critters 3 & Critters 4
Directors: Stephen Herek, Mick Garris, Kristine Peterson, Rupert Harvey
Writers: Stephen Herek, Mick Garris, David Twohy, David J. Schow, Joseph Lyle
Released: 1986, 1988, 1991
Cast: Dee Wallace Stone, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Zane, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anders Hove, Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett
DVD released: August 5, 2003
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic 1.85.1
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD Release: New Line
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.98 Each
Critters Blu-Ray Review
It has always been the case. You get a popular movie, which tears the box office apart, and then watch in mild terror, as a hundred copycat flicks descend upon your local video store. In the mid-80s, Joe Dante’s riotous black comedy horror Gremlins, opened the floodgates to movies depicting weird creatures, as they gobbled up small American towns. Perhaps the most “successful” of this short-lived trend, was Stephen Herek’s jet-black sci-fi/horror pastiche, Critters. A tale about – you guessed it – weird creatures gobbling up a small American town; the film went down well in theatres. It seems we can’t stay away from such throwaway, goofy horror films. Which is why New Line have seen fit to give it the revival treatment.
If you don’t already know the plot (or what passes as a plot), I’m sure it will sound deeply familiar. A batch of killing-machines escape from their home planet, headed for good ol’ Earth. In a bid to stop the mayhem, the alien world sends two bounty hunters to destroy them. As the pair seek out these pint-size predators, the Critters have landed next to a farm on the outskirts of town. Cue death and destruction!
I may be ashamed to say this, but Critters has always entertained me. Any film of this age usually bares childhood memories, and seeing those fuzz balls tear up human beings again, made me remember that the 80s wasn’t all bad. Yes, Critters is a terrible film, but who cares when it is filled with so many guilty pleasures? Herek, who would later go on to direct another staple of youth cinema, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, has no problems with raiding many a horror and sci-fi cliché. Which is all well and good, if he wasn’t bogged-down with such a low budget. The Critters themselves wouldn’t pass for scary if they got tutored by Charles Manson. In contemporary times, the effects look ancient, but that is exactly where most of the charm resonates. Who can resist such a dumb-ass cheese-fest?
Watched today, it seems that most of the fun comes from highlighting the different films that acted as a template for Herek’s script. Shades of The Terminator and E.T. are present. And to a certain degree, John Carpenter’s Starman, in which the lead alien takes on human form. Though to call Critters a blatant Gremlins rip-off, may be too harsh. Herek injects much humor, and the film borders on parody often. And boy, does this film look like it was fun to make! Herek takes pride in trawling through ‘The Horror Movie Rule Book‘, including the scene when a character investigates a “strange noise“. Oh, and lets not forget the classic, oft-used “the phone is dead” speech.
The cast certainly take such lowbrow aspirations to heart. Dee Wallace Stone (E.T. and The Hills Have Eyes) is fine as the farm-bound mother, and we even get character actor M. Emmet Walsh hamming it up. In true 80s tradition, the then-unknown Billy Zane shows up as alien fodder, following Kevin Bacon’s breakthrough “death” in Friday the 13th. Are there any stars from the 80s, who didn’t show up in a horror movie? Luckily, the cast don’t take the proceedings seriously, and there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek one-liners to satisfy. Little did most critics realize, that this kind of formula would work so successfully in Tremors, a film that mirrors Critters far more than you’d expect.
Despite the predictability, Critters remains a fun little ride, that doesn’t aim high, and scores with its endearingly cheap and cheerful tone. As a homage to 80s horror and sci-fi, its a blast. And, yes, it is superior to the sequels. If you haven’t already seen the film, I recommend it for a rental some time. Just don’t mention Gremlins…
Critters 2 – The Main Course Blu-Ray Review
Two years after those fuzz balls first chewed up cinema screens, New Line decided to press-on with the inevitable sequel, blatantly cashing-in on the genre that made the studio’s name. Like so many before or since, this follow-up lacks the freshness and fun of the 1986 original. After Herek passed, the directing reigns fell to no-name Mick Garris. Perhaps the most recognized name in the credits, belongs to co-writer David Twohy, who has since been successful helming Pitch Black and Below. I bet he regards Critters 2: The Main Course, as the nadir of his career. And it isn’t hard to see why.
The story (or what is used as an excuse to make the film), follows a batch of unhatched Critters eggs, as they are mistaken for Easter eggs by the inhabitants of Grover’s Bend. Yeah, really! Before you can yell in plot-induced fear, those alien killing machines are on the rampage once more. Is that the best they could come up with? Seems so. It is safe to say that the original film had a certain goofy charm, but there isn’t much joy to be found here. In fact, Critters 2 tends to bore me, especially since a better premise could have been used.
And if its possible, the “special effects” used to create the critters got worse between films. It is clear that puppeteers are operating them, and they are usually stationary in most shots – on top of tables obscuring the FX crew. To quote Roger Ebert, “The critters in the first movie had personality. In this movie, they’re only props“. How true.
Still, that isn’t to say Critters 2 is all bad. Horror fans may find entertainment in the continuation of genre conventions, or should I say, the spoofing of. There are some neat in-jokes here, but not enough to redeem the feature. Eagle-eyed genre fans may also notice Lin Shaye (sister of New Line CEO Robert Shaye), making a cameo appearance. But overall, the film is poor, even by sequel standards. A dire script, terrible direction, a boring story arc, and some truly limp performances, makes this one for the die-hards only. But, if you digged the first film – I mean really digged it – you may find some value here.
Critters 3 Blu-Ray Review
Talk about kicking a poor critter when its down! The series exploded (or should I say, whimpered) into the 90s, with this redundant third installment. Garris obviously had a bad time with part two, so the directing chore once again traded hands; this time passing to Kristine Peterson, who really needs to learn a thing or two about horror.
The residents of a shoddy L.A. apartment block are chased up to the roof, by hoards of the eponymous beasts. And that, my friends, is the whole gist of the plot! It took two guys to come up with the story too. Still, like the previous flick, Critters 3 is so bad, you might find it funny! Which is perhaps the greatest compliment I could ever pay…
Then again, I guess I respect the decision to place the action in one location – it was a new way of looking at the series. Today, part three is best remembered as the first appearance of superstar Leonardo Di Caprio. And if that isn’t reason enough to condemn it, I don’t know what is! Furthermore, there is no gore, and hardly any deaths this time around. In fact, most of the screen time is devoted to watching those sock puppets drink and fart. It’s like a Kevin Smith movie gone bad! Though, admittedly, there are some nice parodic touches, such as New Line’s dubious nod to their Elm Street franchise.
To cut a long story short, Critters 3 existed purely to give New Line a few more bucks. If you look really hard (perhaps with the strongest microscope around), you might find a glimmer of hope here. But for the life of me, I can’t find it…
Critters 4 Blu-Ray Review
The end of Critters 3, signaled that they would return again. In the same year, no less! The latest (and hopefully final) entry in the series, deserves two stars for its effort. As you probably already know, Critters 4 saw those vicious fiends chew human flesh in space – their home, and far from the small American towns that established the franchise. It promises much, but delivers very little. Though props must go to director Rupert Harvey and the writers for trying something new.
The premise is certainly more juicy than before, though deceptively so. In the future, bounty hunter Charlie (series regular Don Keith Opper) has the chance to destroy the last two Critters eggs in existence. But before he can, he is ordered to stand-down, since the destruction of an entire species is deemed wrong. A transporter is sent to retrieve the eggs, but Charlie is trapped inside. After 53 deep-frozen years, he’s found by a private wreckage collector team, under the unscrupulous Rick (Anders Hove). On behalf of the mighty company Terracor, they bring him to an empty space station – but Rick is curious and opens the box…Which is a mistake of Critter-sized proportions…
If the original movie was a blatant rip-off of Gremlins, then Critters 4 is clearly a parody of Alien. Yet the producers have no lofty aspirations to scare you, and the movie is another PG-13 full of off-screen carnage. Which cuts down the enjoyment immeasurably. Plus, even though the story is more elaborate than parts two and three put together, Harvey’s film takes far too long to get going. And it is resoundingly dumb. Long before New Line continued this trend with the far superior Jason X, Harvey makes space stations and futuristic environments seem dull. Which is perhaps to be expected, considering that this was given a very low-budget and shot back-to-back with Critters 3. Those who love their trivia, may also know that the exterior space sequences in Critters 4, were lifted from Don Keith Opper’s 1982 effort Android.
Most interesting is the cast, which includes Brad Dourif and Angela Bassett, who both appear embarrassed. And rightly so. Still, seeing a genre favorite like Dourif, brings some zest to the proceedings. Ultimately, if you liked the other films, you should love this. As mindless, nonsensical horror flicks go, this one would win the grand prize!
New Line have seen fit to give each Critters flick a new lease of life, and present newly-restored anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfers, as well as full screen alternatives. Many who have old video copies will admire how clean the new titles look – colors have been reproduced greatly, and there wasn’t as much grain as I expected. Still, the films look dated, and aren’t overly strong. There is poor definition in the shadow department too. Critters 2, surprisingly, seems to have the best transfer of the bunch, with very few examples of compression, and edge enhancement. Each of the films look above-average, despite the few technical problems. However, I shouldn’t grumble. The Critters films seen here, are the best versions released yet on domestic video. Which is something, right?
I never would have expected this, but New Line treat these cult “classics” to sparkling Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes! Suffice to say, this is the best each Critters film will ever sound. Nothing on these soundtracks is extravagant, but the total cleanup of the audio deserves the four star grade. Dialogue and music are stronger than ever before, and there are some nice surround effects every now and again, especially during the space sequences. Nothing profound, but New Line once again breath new life into ageing materials.
Damn. Just when I thought these Blu-Rays were fairly strong, New Line only saw fit to include the trailers. Though I wasn’t expecting full-blown special editions, I’m sure something better could be here. Heck, there’s always next time…
The Critters franchise is as cheap as they come, and enjoyably so. If you love throwaway 80s trash, these are must-have titles. However, if you are new to the series, I suggest you view the original and drop the sequels. That said, I had a great time, and I’m sure you will too. New Line provide great video and even better audio, but the lack of sufficient materials may release the alien fur ball within! Still, I love my creature features, and due to the low list price, the discs are worth picking up.