Ahh, sometime you just have to enjoy some nostalgia. Today’s movie is definitely something that fits that bill for me. I remember watching this movie, as well as the first sequel, dozens of times over the years on cable. It was always a lot of fun watching back then but let’s see Critters stands up to watching now.
The plot: On a prison asteroid in outer space, a transport ship is delivering 8 Crites to be terminated but the Crites manage to escape and steal a ship, leaving the asteroid. The warden hires two shape-shifting bounty hunters, Ug and Lee, to go after the Crites, saying they will pay the bounty after proof of death. In a small rural town in Kansas, Brad Brown is trying to get out of school to avoid taking a test but his mom Helen and dad Jay forces him to go. In town, Charlie McFadden is in one of the cells at the police station sleeping off being drunk and the sheriff wakes him up and he leaves to go work at Brad’s house. That afternoon, Brad is setting off homemade firecrackers with Charlie but when it goes off, Charlie accidentally breaks Brad’s slingshot. As Brad’s sister April is driven home by her new boyfriend Steve, Charlie fixes the slingshot but when he tries shooting a can to test it, he ends up hitting April. Brad grabs the slingshot and ends up taking the blame so that Charlie won’t lose his job and be fired. Meanwhile, the warden contacts the bounty hunters and tells them that they tracked the Crites to Earth and sends them information about the planet and Ug transforms himself into Johnny Steele, a singer from a rock band. Back on Earth, April and Steve eat dinner with Jay and Helen then go to leave but secretly drive behind the barn, where April leads Steve inside so they can fool around. Brad sees them as he is in his room making more firecrackers when Jay comes upstairs to bring him some dinner and talk to him before leaving with the slingshot. Charlie is riding his bike home and stops to take a drink of whiskey when he sees the Crites’ spaceship flying overhead and he drops the bottle and rides off to warn people. Brad is trying to sneak out of his room to try and scare April but as he hides from Jay outside their window, they both see the alien craft landing in the distance. When the landing causes a slight tremor, Jay decides to go investigate and when he catches Brad in a tree by the house, he decides to bring him with him. Heading into a field, they find a half eaten cow and decide to leave, not noticing the alien ship nearby. Elsewhere, one of the local deputies is driving along the road when something crosses in front of him, causing him to wreck. As he goes to investigate, he is shot in the leg by a strange dart which paralyzes his leg and he is dragged under his car and killed. The bounty hunters land on Earth and Ug tells Lee to transform but Lee says that nothing likes him. Back at the Brown’s house, Jay and Brad return to the house, where Helen says she saw something outside, and Jay goes to call the sheriff only to learn the phone doesn’t work. When the power goes out, Jay goes to the cellar to check it out and finds the phone and power line both cut. Hearing a noise, he sees one of the Crites and starts to back away only to be attacked by some more Crites, with one biting his shoulder and another biting his leg. He manages to get them off him and start heading upstairs only to have one of the Crites shoot him in the leg with a quill, so Brad and Helen drag him back upstairs. Meanwhile, April and Steve are still fooling around when the Crites attack them and kill Steve. Inside the house, Helen is tending to Jay’s wounds when they hear April’s screams and Brad runs to the barn. Seeing April trying to fend off one of the Crites, Brad lights one of his firecrackers and throws it at the creature, which eats it and then dies when it explodes in it’s stomach. Jay loads his shotgun and they all get ready to leave but find their truck has been destroyed. April suggests Steve’s car but when they head for it, they find one of the Crites inside it. Heading back to the house, they find the doors are locked and Jay is attacked again by the Crites. Helen saves Jay and Brad runs to the back of the house and climbs the tree to get to his room, then heads downstairs to let his family in, with Helen shooting one of the Crites as soon as they are safely inside. Meanwhile, the two bounty hunters find the dead deputy and Lee changes his face to look like him, then they drive off in the police car. As they head into town, they end up shooting up a church, where Lee changes into the reverend, then the bar at a bowling alley, where Lee changes into Charlie. The sheriff is called about the disturbances and learning that shots were heard at the Brown’s house, decides to head there. Back at the Brown’s house, the family tries to secure the house but the Crites break in and Helen ends up getting shot in the throat by one of the quills. The family retreats upstairs to Jay and Helen’s room and after securing it, Brad decides to leave and get help. Brad climbs out the window but finds one of the Crites near his bike so he runs and hides, only to see the Crite growing. Brad leaves and heads for the highway and manages to flag down the police car that the bounty hunters are in. Back at the house, Jay, Helen, and April try to leave, managing to kill one of the Crites as they do but end up trapped at the top of the stairs when the run out of shells for the shotgun. The bounty hunters show up and begin shooting up the house as the try to kill the remaining Crites and Brad gets his family outside. Brad goes back inside to get his cat and is attacked by the giant Crite but when Ug shows up to help him, the giant Crite jumps out the window and leaves, taking April with him. Brad goes after April and runs into Charlie and the two follow the Crite to it’s ship. Brad climbs inside and rouses April, then has her head back out of the ship while he attempts to light an oversize firecracker next to the ship’s fuel tanks. The giant Crite sees Brad and tries to grab him but Brad manages to get away and out of the ship, but drops the firecracker. Outside the ship, Charlie quickly makes a moltov cocktail out of a bottle of whiskey and throws it into the ship. The Crites take off and start to fly away, stopping to blow up the Brown’s house on the way but the fire from the moltov reaches the firecracker and it explodes, causing the ship to explode. Brad thanks them for their help and Ug hands Brad a communicator, saying to call them, then the two bounty hunters leave, with Charlie following after them. Sheriff Harv takes the Brown’s back to the wreckage of their house when the communicator starts beeping. When Brad hits the button, the house is rebuilt and the Brown’s head back inside, unaware that three Crite eggs are in their chicken coop, seemingly about to hatch.
Critters met with mixed results from the critics, holding a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, the critics’ opinions seemed to range from thinking it is a decent Gremlins‘ rip-off to thinking it is another in a slew of low budget alien horror movies. Many people felt that this was inspired by Gremlins but Stephen Herek, who directed and co-wrote the movie, says that Domonic Muir, the other writer, wrote the script before Gremlins came out, then made rewrites to try and reduce the number of similarities. The movie was a box office success, earning $13.2 million off of a $2 million budget.
It might have lost a little luster over the years, but this was still a fun movie to watch. The acting was good, with Scott Grimes (Brad) and Don Keith Opper (Charlie) doing really good jobs in their roles. Dee Wallace (Helen), Billy Green Bush (Jay), and Nadine Van der Vilde (April) were also good in their roles. The story was somewhat basic, with aliens attacking a rural farm town, but there were some things that did not seem to get explained, such as the one Crite growing to human size. The special effects were pretty good and I did like the design for the creatures, as well as the shooting quill aspect and that they moved around by rolling everywhere. All told, a fun bit of 80’s nostalgia that is worth watching.
Rating: 3 out of 5