In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Friday, July 12, 2019

They Bite!

This week I'm doing something way overdue, a post on my love of the Critters franchise.

When I was a kid, I definitely favoured Critters over Gremlins. The latter was fine enough, but even as a kid I was conscious that it was a kid's movie. It was admittedly a gateway horror film – the eighties were rife with them – but without even knowing it I craved something harder.

Even as a seven-year-old, I remember my older brother coming home from seeing E.T. and the first thing I asked him was; were there any scary bits in it? I wasn't asking as a warning, I was asking him to sell me on it.

That's not to say that Critters was particularly hard either – it was made for the PG-13 market too – but there was something about the Krites that I loved and was ecstatic that they subsequently made three sequels.

I guess I was looking for an excuse to revisit them all and this newest Critters film – which coincidentally will be the first thing I see at this year's Fantasia – was as good a reason as any. I just hope it's better than that newest Puppet Master movie I saw there last year. What a joyless exercise that was...

Now, I know there's that series on Shudder, but to be honest the trailer made it look kind of cheap so I'm putting it off. Anyhoo, I watched all four films and it was gleeful.

This is where it all began. I was immediately struck by the world building right from the get-go. While Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps had that cool opening where the slugs get flushed into space, this went so far as to show you multiple alien races on a prison asteroid, of all places. Soon after, two faceless bounty hunters go chasing after the escaped Krites. What a set-up!

This movie also boasts a great human cast, including Scott Grimes, putting in one of the most solid kids-in-peril performances out there, Dee Wallace (killing it as always) and a young Billy Zane who quickly becomes Krite chow. Watching this, I realized that most of the stuff I remembered (the Critter ball, the sexy bounty hunter and The Hungry Heifer) were all from Critters 2. And still I loved revisiting it!

Looking behind the scenes, I found out that contrary to popular belief, Critters was not a Gremlins rip-off, but actually written beforehand. Granted, without the success of Gremlins, Critters may never have been made, at least not in the form we know and love. Moving on to Part 2...

This was Mick Garris' feature debut and he certainly doubled down on the comedy here. Fortunately, he was able to procure the f/x aritsts The Chiodo Brothers again to do the Krite effects, as well as bring back a good number of the cast, including Grimes, Don Opper as Charlie, Terence Mann as the bounty hunter Ug and Lin Shaye. Critters 2 had a bigger budget and a grander scope, but apart from the grandiose Amblin-esque score from Nick Pike, I don't know if it really improved on the original. I can certainly see why it stood out in my memory though...

Some of the visual effects toward the end were a bit lacking, but then again – based on his later Stephen King adapts – that's never been Garris' strong suit, has it? Thankfully, they were counterbalanced by the huge number of Krites in this movie, as the Chiodos came through again. Man, that Critter ball is still a sight to behold.

Lastly, add in the appearance of Eddie Deezen, an eighties indicator even more overt than the Johnny Steele music video from the original film, it's impossible not to have a good time. I did have to wonder why Bradley stashed that magic house-rebuilding remote Ug gave him in an old trunk instead of taking it to KC. I mean, if I could basically have Lisa from Weird Science in my pocket, I don't think I would throw it in storage. Just saying.

So having watched both again, even though I initially recalled more from the second movie, I feel the tone and gravitas of the original make that one superior. Now let's add Leo into the mix!

You know, I had absolutely no recollection that Parts 3 & 4 were shot back-to-back with essentially the same crew. Fortunately, they still had the Chiodos on board, so the Critters remained on point. Perhaps predictably, the filmmakers reigned things in, as it took place in a run-down apartment building. It actually reminded me of 1986's Troll, except with less personality. You can definitely see DiCaprio's potential in this though.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3.

Apart from the return of Don Opper as Charlie, I think this installment had the least interesting characters. Thankfully, the most annoying one died first. I was glad to see the Chiodos finally got to individualize their Krites, as it was something they said they'd been trying to do since the original. Sadly, this one didn't have any special giant Krite or ten-foot ball, just one that shot up vertically and another that screamed a high pitched distress call. They still looked as bad-ass as ever though.

Critters 3 was watchable, but felt pretty standard. At least, it led right into the fourth movie, as Charlie headed back into space.

I liked this one much better than Part 3. It's kind of a weird beast because it has a more serious tone, which made it feel orphaned from the others even though it was a direct continuation. It also had the least amount of Krites than any installment, but I wager that was due to the production running low on funds. Regardless, it still felt more inside the Critterverse than the third one did.

Critters 4 cribbed a lot from Alien, but still felt like its own thing with the help of some convincing sets and a very solid cast that included Angela Bassett, Eric “Leo” DaRae, Anders “Radu” Hove and Brad Dourif. A running story line throughout all four movies was the relationship between Charlie and the bounty hunter Ug and here it reached a satisfying, if not tragic, conclusion. It also climaxed in a Mexican standoff that would've been before Tarantino made it mainstream.

Brad Dourif, Don Opper & Angela Bassett in Critters 4.

Watching these again was a blast. In a few days, I guess I'll see where this new one picks up from. I hope it keeps at least some of the DNA of its predecessors, namely the personality and tactile nature of the Krites. Bobby Miller, please don't give me a bum steer.

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