Original release: April 11th, medicine 1986
Running time: 82 minutes
Director: Stephen Herek
Writers: Stephen Herek, thumb Domonic Muir, Don Keith Opper
Cast: Dee Wallace-Stone, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper
During the 80s, filmmakers seem to have had a lot of fun dreaming up creatures for us to fend off. We’ve had killer tomatoes, evil clowns, gremlins, ghoulies and trolls, to name but a few. While they’ve provided us with many hilarious death scenes, as well as creative action sequences that include a wide variety of everyday things such as blenders, microwaves and drains, there’s one other set of creatures that shouldn’t be left out. Critters!
Likened to porcupines, rats, badgers, opossums, hedgehogs, rabid cats and Tasmanian Devils, the critters first appeared in the 1986 film of the same name. There are a few differences however, the main one being that they’re from outer space. As the film starts we’re shown a prison asteroid where the creatures are being transported to another station, but they cause an explosion that kills two guards and injures three, then they hijack a ship away from the station and escape. Two alien bounty hunters are tasked with hunting the Krites down and they follow them to Earth, landing, as usual, in some quite Midwestern town in America.
This is where we meet the locals in a rural Kansas town. The Browns are a regular 80s family with mom, Helen (Dee Wallace-Stone), busy preparing breakfast for everyone while dad, Jay (Billy Green Bush), gets on with business. Their teenage daughter, April (Nadine Van der Velde), is preoccupied with her budding love life and young son Brad (Scott Grimes) has nothing better to do than pretend he’s ill so he can miss a test at school. There’s also Charlie (Don Keith Opper), the dimwitted mechanic, Sally (Lin Shaye), the receptionist at the police station and Ethan (Jeff Barnes), the mild mannered cop she’s hung up on.
Their lives are all turned upside down with the arrival of the critters, not only are they carnivorous but they’re also highly organized creatures that grow in size the more they eat. As they descend upon the Brown’s family home, cutting out their power, Jay is attacked and April’s boyfriend, Steve (Billy Zane), loses more than a few fingers while he’s fooling around with her in the barn. Ethan has a similar encounter while out on the road and Sally’s switchboard gets very busy later that night as calls start coming in from everywhere across town.
The bounty hunters take human form with the leader assuming the likeness of popular rock star Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann) whose hit, Power of the Night, plays throughout the film on the television, radio and on cassette. They too cause a lot of chaos and confusion with their unusual attire (which actually make them look like rock stars anyway). With the humans caught in the middle as nothing more than critter food, it’s Charlie and Brad who figure out what’s going on and find a way to work with the bounty hunters to capture, or kill, the creatures and return their lives to normal again.
In a lot of ways, Critters follows the templates set out by many of the old westerns from the olden days of cinema where we would see mysterious strangers arriving in small town to repel marauding invaders. Here they just happen to be from outer space and dressed in 80s rock star attire. The special effects used when the bounty hunter takes the form of Johnny Steele are highly reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), made by New Line Cinema as well with Robert Shaye as producer, and whose wife also appears in this film, as well as the original Elm Street in 1984. It’s quite enjoyable to watch and a lot of the plot exposition is what you’d expect from a mid-80s film with light and funny moments in between the action and light gore.
Needless to say, Critters isn’t a perfect film. There are far too many cheesy moments to take it seriously and the story does drag before the plot takes off, and when it does, it’s sparse on the details. That being said, it’s just fun, silly fun and the critters are hilarious to watch in action, and even more so when their dialogue appears subtitled on screen. If you’re a fan of 80s movies and creature features, then it’s one you include on your list.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .