1986’s Critters could easily have become a cheap, generic knockoff of Gremlins, but screenwriter Domonic Muir and director Stephen Herek had other plans. Recognizing the basic similarities – small beings terrorize people – the team went in a considerably different direction by adding a science fiction twist. The Crites, a cross between a Tasmanian devil and a porcupine, have escaped from their space prison to land on Earth, opening up a path of destruction that must be stopped by two roving, shapeshifting bounty hunters. Immediately, the alien aspect of Critters sets itself apart from Gremlins, Ghoulies, and the rest of the miniature terrors, but throughout the film it’s clear that Critters is its own ferocious animal.
The film stars Scott Grimes as Brad, a young redheaded boy living in small town America with his family (Dee Wallace Stone, Billy Green Bush) and dealing with all of the usual aspects of pre-pubescent life. As Critters‘ story expands, Brad becomes the unlikely hero, dispatching Crites left and right and using his wily skills to vanquish the threat. It also helps that his favorite rock performer Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann) has shown up to save the day, though he’s really the shapeshifting bounty hunter Ug in disguise.
The Crites themselves add most of the magic to the film, with Herek and company doing a number of great visual gags to sell the realism of these creatures. They’re vicious, and unlike some of the other sequels, actually scary: the fast movement, lifelike pelts, and extremely sharp teeth help to make the critters into real threats instead of something the audience can imagine punting like a football. Their different styles of attack and the sheer number of them also ensures the audience consistently feels the suspense of an incoming attack. While Critters is often intentionally humorous, it doesn’t skimp on the violence its little critters can unleash.
But that tongue-in-cheek cheesiness also means that Critters is a lot of fun, aided by some great character actors. Mann is excellent as Ug the bounty hunter, first killing it with the insanely ’80s music video for “Power of the Night,” then acing the robotic nature of the alien shapeshifters. Don Opper is also surprisingly effective as the town alcoholic Charlie, able to capture the emotional weight of this damaged man and then shift to complete stoicism when playing the other bounty hunter. Even Lin Shaye gets in some great moments as the flapper-esque dispatcher Sally.
Despite its rather simple storyline, Critters is an important work. Its PG-13 rating ensures that younger audiences can enjoy the antics of the delightfully deadly Crites while also experiencing a somewhat dark tone throughout the film – and at times, Critters can be surprisingly gory. While the themes presented here aren’t groundbreaking and the storyline not revolutional, ultimately the best thing that Critters can be is extremely entertaining, and it hits that bullseye easily. It’s no wonder that Critters and its sequel have grown to become cult classics.
We just reviewed Critters 2 for Easter last year, so we’re not going to do it all over again now. However, here are some highlights from that previous review.
The science fiction element returns with the intergalactic shape-shifting bounty hunters, which gives Garris a lot of room to play with the comedy of being able to transform bodies as the bounty hunters see fit. There are a couple of funny changes and one that significantly twists the plotting, used to great effect. The shapeshifters provide a lot of the comedy, especially thanks to Roxanne Kernohan’s appearance in a BDSM-styled outfit – she’s definitely the eye candy for this film despite its PG-13 rating.
There’s heart to Critters 2 that takes center stage at the end of the film. The town, somewhat divided at the start, is forced to come together – albeit in torch-and-pitchfork mob fashion – to help protect each other against the Crite invasion, and at the end of the film they’re left closer than ever before despite the amount of destruction caused. And Garris can’t help but toy with the viewers’ ‘shipping of Megan and Brad, either – there are about 4 near-miss kiss moments within the film before they finally get their smooch on.
While Critters 2could have been a massive flop given the change in leadership from the first film, Garris is able to re-capture the same elements that made Crittersso entertaining while adding new elements and going a bit bigger. That’s exactly what viewers should expect in a horror sequel like this, and Critters 2is insanely enjoyable, from its humor to its tongue-in-cheek horror references. The film is a feast of fun moments, perfect for a relaxing Easter holiday – especially if you want to drive out your religious relatives.
Despite the relatively poor returns on Critters 2, New Line greenlit not one but two Critters sequels in 1991. Basically filmed at the same time, Critters 3 and Critters 4 shared a thematic vision and also were produced on cheap budgets, and it certainly shows. Sequestered to specific small areas – an apartment building a la Demons2, Poltergeist III, and many others and a space ship, respectively – the two films followed the further exploits of the alien Crites as they terrorized more people and continued to give poor Charlie McFadden (Don Opper) reasons not to turn back to the bottle. And if you missed either of the two back in the early ’90s, that’s not a surprise – these films are, for the most part, pretty terrible.
Critters 3 finds Annie (Aimee Brooks) and her younger brother Johnny (Christian Cousins) battling Crites in their crappy apartment complex after some eggs hatch underneath their truck. Along the way, they meet up with a few other residents of the complex along with Josh (young Leonardo DiCaprio who presumably regrets the film on his resume) and his robberbaron dad. Luckily, Charlie is wandering around this small town just looking for Crites to be killed, so he helps them get rid of the problem once and for all.
The biggest problem with director Kristine Peterson’s film is the incredibly dull apartment location setting. The plot is stagnant throughout nearly all of the movie, with 90% of the action taking place in one area. It worked for Critters because the scope of the film was a bit broader, but here, Critters 3 rarely knows what to do with the limited plot points it actually has. For lengthy moments of the film, the Crites are simply relegated to causing a bunch of mischief in a kitchen – an event that already happened in the two films before it.
But the writing is often dismal as well, relying on juvenile humor instead of crafting real moments of suspense. There are fart jokes, there’s a super stereotypical greaser guy; none of them add fun to this film, and instead remind that Critters 3 is a pale – and ridiculously cheapened – replica of its past iterations. Not only is the film not good, it’s also downright boring – and not even a budding DiCaprio can save it from its inadequacies.
Yikes – Critters 4 is just as bad as Critters 3 (as expected), but its space setting and formidable cast might make it just a little more entertaining. Shot only a few weeks after the third film capped production, Critters 4 – directed by Rupert Harvey – finds Charlie (Don Opper) shipped off to space after the last of the Crite eggs are found on Earth. The spacepod is taken in by a roving ship in 2043 led by Rick (Anders Hove) and his group of treasure-seekers, and eventually the Crite eggs hatch and cause more mischief on the ship while the crew wait for Ug (Terrence Mann) to arrive to take the Crites back to their prison.
The storyline is fairly stupid and forced, with the whole setup requiring Charlie to save the Crite eggs so that the species does not go extinct rather than eliminating this pestilent race. Harvey tries to develop some characters thanks to a wide-ranging crew including Brad Dourif as questionably named Al Bert (seriously, why the space? In the context of the film, it sounds exactly like the regular name) and Angela Bassett as the sole female member Fran; they certainly give it a shot, with Dourif being the most notable for his scenery (and gum)-chewing performance, but no one is able to save some of the truly horrendous dialogue.
Much like Critters 3, the fourth installment is routinely boring despite its space ship setting, and it finds David J. Schow and Joseph Lyle ripping off other notable space-set films, the most egregious in particular being the garbage compactor scene from A New Hope. The spaceship itself requires the user to say the opposite command of what they’re hoping it will do, which leads to some – I guess we’re supposed to find it humorous? – moments of confusion with the crew. Otherwise, though, the Chiodo Brothers had it fairly easy with this sequel, because Critters 4 features very little Crite action.
Critters 4 isn’t worth your time, but if you sat through Critters 3 then you should be more than able to get through this one, since at least Critters 4 has a bit of character to it thanks to its veteran stars. Still, there’s a reason why the Critters franchise ended here – once you go to space, you rarely come back.
Scream Factory’s release of The Critters Collection comes in a nice hardshell box similar to The Collection, collecting all four Blu-rays in their own individual cases. These cases also come with original artwork and reversible alternative artwork, which is a nice touch.
For video quality, both Critters and Critters 2 get new 2k scans from “original film elements.” Both of them look very consistent with each other, with excellent color representation, a minimal grain presence, and relatively damage-free experiences. Dark scenes can feature a bit too much contrast, and Critters‘ skin tones do hue a bit red. However, other than these minor gripes both films look terrific. One thing that hardcore Critters fans have been noticing is the lack of blue tint to the first film that was present in a previous DVD edition. Based on screenshots from another HD master and the context of the film, that blue tint on the DVD appears to be an error, and its exclusion from this Blu-ray release is a better representation of the film’s intent. Both films have had great restorations with this new 2k release. Critters 3 and Critters 4 do not get new scans; instead, these look like previous transfers of the film on DVD, which is to say that they are not of great quality. Critters 3 suffers from overly dark scenes, grain blurring, occasional wobble, quite a bit of damage, and ultimately soft picture. Colors aren’t very consistent and you’ll definitely notice the difference between the Blu-ray versions of Critters and Critters 2 included in this release and the footage from those films used in Critters 3, especially the previously mentioned blue tints. Critters 4 is similarly messy, with a lot of the same issues as Critters 3 including loss of definition in the many dark scenes, pretty heavy film grain, and a pretty dismal appearance throughout. Both Critters 3 and 4 could have used new transfers, but presumably Scream decided most people didn’t care enough about the films to put in much work with them.
Audio on Critters includes both a 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Both sound great, although the film doesn’t make a ton of use of the satellite speakers. Critters 2 only gets a 2.0 track, which also is free of issues. Critters 3 is a 2.0 track as well, which is fine if not noticeably interesting. Critters 4‘s 2.0 track sounds okay for the most part, but there is some noticeable volume drops occasionally – it’s probably the worst of the bunch. All four films get English subtitles as well.
Critters and Critters 2 get the bulk of the extra features, both with two new audio commentaries: Critters features producer Barry Opper and his brother Don Opper as well as an audio commentary with the Chiodo brothers; Critters 2 gets a track with director Mick Garris, and another with the Chiodo brothers. Critters also features an extensive making-of featurette that runs about one hour and 11 minutes, featuring interviews with production, cast, crew, the Chiodo brothers, and many other major players in the creation of the film. It’s an exhaustive documentary that does an excellent job at looking at nearly every aspect of the film. Also included on this disc is a new tribute to screenwriter Domonic Muir from friends and crew working on Critters, who share some warm memories about Muir looking back on his life’s work. The first disc also contains vintage behind-the-scenes footage, the alternate ending, theatrical trailer, TV spots, and a gallery.
Critters 2 gets very similar treatment with an hour and 3 minute making-of documentary, which is also very well done and primarily led by Mick Garris who seems to have only positive things to say about this work. Again, vintage behind-the-scenes footage, additional TV scenes, theatrical trailer, TV spots, and gallery are included here too.
Critters 3 gets a making-of featurette with many of the same crew members appearing as well as Leonardo DiCaprio – no, just kidding, they obviously did not get him. This 30-minute documentary again takes viewers through the ins and outs of crafting the film, with screenwriter David J. Schow appearing to talk about his involvement with both 3 and 4 and Terrence Mann discussing how they pretty much left him out of this movie. It certainly seems like most involved in Critters 3 did not want to come back to talk about it, though. There’s also a new audio commentary with Barry Opper and Don Opper, as well as older theatrical trailers and gallery.
Critters 4 gets the shortest making-of featurette in the collection at 22 minutes, with most of the production crew having little to say about it. Writer David J. Schow states he doesn’t like to talk poorly about his movies in case it’s someone’s favorite, but it’s pretty clear that not many of interviewees are happy with Critters 4. Other than the featurette, there’s a new audio commentary with director Rupert Harvey as well as a still gallery and theatrical trailer.
Overall, despite a couple of film duds, Scream Factory has done an amazing job with this collection, and it’s certainly recommended for fans of Critters in general. Lots of new information to glean from this collection, and the Crites have never looked as good as they do on the first two films in this box set.
The Critters Collection is an excellent package, especially for the first two films in the series - with great transfers, an immense set of extras, and additional two other films that people have tried to forget about, this is worthy of eating away at your wallet.
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