Released 2 years after the highly successful Gremlins, Critters is often seen as the not as good cousin. Many who haven’t seen it might even just pass it off as a rip-off of the former. But it really is a beast of its own design and its unfortunate Gremlins hit first as I think Critters would be more well known today if it had come out first. That’s not to say it hasn’t got a following as it spawned 3 sequels (one of which features a very young Leonardo DiCaprio), a web series and a reboot. I fondly remember them from late-night channel 4 showings from when I was young but haven’t seen the first one in about 20 years. So I thought what better film to watch in the lead up to Haloween.
The basics of the story are a group of small furry aliens called Crites escape to earth and set to work causing chaos to a small Kansas town, while 2 galactic bounty hunters try to track them down and kill them.
As you can see the plot is nothing like Gremlins and the only similarity is having cute furry creatures as the main antagonists of the film. Whereas the Gremlins cause silly havoc. The Crites eat, destroy and ultimately seem set on taking over the planet. They are incredibly adorable though and minus the teeth would be great pets. The film is also really much more a sci-fi horror with some interesting uses of ‘futuristic’ space tech. For the most part, the special effects aren’t bad and at times could be considered great, but there are still those moments where you cringe at how bad they can be.
The bounty hunters for me are the weakest part of the film. They bring with them this weird tone which throws the film off kiltre. The only purpose they seem to serve is to reveal information to the people being terrorised. They do help out, but I feel the film would be been stronger without them. I quite like the idea of normal people fending off the alien invaders without the help of shapeshifting bounty hunters. By having the extra help it almost gets past the kind humans vs aliens survival which is what usually holds these kinds of films together.
Even with the bounty hunters, the film does work even if it’s on a goofy level and one that really does feel very 80’s. The fact the film can’t seem to find a tone can be rather jarring at times but if you stick with it you should have fun. The special effects are really well done and the puppets for the Crites are brilliant in both look and how they interact with the world. It’s easy to forget they aren’t real and that is a real bonus. The violence when it comes is a weird mix of gore and tongue in cheek silliness. It doesn’t always gel but it’s not too off-putting.
All in all, I’m happy I’ve seen the film again as it is a nice bit of fun. The big problem is it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has no real identity of its own. The sequels seem to develop a more stable tone as they progress but this one isn’t quite there. What we do have is a really fun, well-made middle of a film that is great Halloween viewing.