No, they’re not Gremlins. Different movie. These are Critters … similar concept, different monsters. While Gremlins occupies a warm spot in movie fans’ hearts, Critters is a bit more niche. Even if director Stephen Herek intended no overlap – and the movies are in fact quite different – it’s not hard to see why some viewers dismissed Critters as a low-budget ripoff. Tiny, hungry, and mischievous creatures terrorize a small town. Both movies mix dark comedy and horror. But Critters taps into a nostalgic affection for B-movie monsters that sets it apart from Gremlins. In this regard, it shares more DNA with Night of the Creeps and The Blob remake.
In a distant galaxy, several Krites – a small but nasty breed of alien creature – escape from an asteroid penal colony. Later they crash in a small Kansas farming town where they find a never-ending food supply. And Krites eat anything and everything. Not far behind, two galactic bounty hunters arrive to capture or kill the small alien invaders. Caught in the middle, a farming family just hopes to make it through the night as the ‘Critters’ eat their way through across the countryside.
Critters Aims For Silly Drive-In Monster Movie Vibes
Fans of 1950s monster movies will find lots to like. From its story to the pacing, director Stephen Herek and writer Domonic Muir show a lot of affection for the drive-in era of low-budget movie-making. Anyone who has watched movies like It Came From Outer Space, The Blob, or Them will know where Critters is going with its story. All the movie’s plot points inevitably lead to a showdown on the family farm. But the familiarity makes this B-movie something akin to comfort food. And its dated special effects feel less out of place in this B-movie atmosphere.
Not all of this humour works but, when it does, it’s of the intentional variety.
Where Critters diverges from other 80’s homages to 50’s monster movies is its earnest approach. Both Night of the Creeps and The Blob remake took advantage of the availability of an R-rating. Comparatively, Critters firmly settles into gentler PG-13 territory. Herek, for instance, puts much less emphasis on the horror elements. Nothing here remotely approaches scary. Humour and one-liners abound and the ‘Krites’ get some of the movie’s funniest moments. Not all of this humour works but, when it does, it’s of the intentional variety. Herek also avoids detouring into more graphic or nasty violence. Even when characters are blowing up ‘critters’ there’s nothing here that falls out of line with the movie’s fun tone.
Critters’ Human Cast Make For Likable Menu Options For Its Pint-Sized Creatures
Similar to its overall vibe, Critters’ cast is just slightly less wholesome than what you’d find in 50’s movies. A few ‘F-bombs’ drop in the movie but the Brown family are still pretty small-town mid-America. Both Dee Wallace Stone (The Howling) and Billy Green Bush (Jason Goes to Hell) wouldn’t feel out of place on an episode of The Waltons. Sadly, Critters makes poor use of Stone who often feels like an afterthought. As Billy Brown, Scott Grimes makes for a good young protagonist as he definitely channels the movie’s nostalgic tone. Too bad Billy Zane also feels wasted in the movie in his ‘boyfriend role’. After movies like Demon Knight, it can’t help but feel like Critters missed an opportunity to give Zane more screen time.
Critters Is Harmless Fun for 80s Horror Fans
Is Critters always successful at striking the balance between humor, nostalgia, and its horror elements? No. Arguably, there’s more movie here than needed. Despite these limitations, Critters is still much better than you might expect walking in. The intentionally goofy sci-fi horror elements hit more than they miss. Moreover, Critters‘ likeable characters and family at the heart of the story may not add depth, but they encourage some investment in the movie. Nostalgia for the 1980’s also goes a long way. If you loved movies like Night of the Creeps, you’ll appreciate Critters.
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