Man oh man I love me some Critters…well the first film anyway. To be truthful, I loved the sequel as well, but only ended up seeing it once or twice, and the third and fourth pics? Well, I know I saw them at some point, but I remember fuck-all about them…but that first film; my lord I must have watched that fifty times in the late eighties alone! So, since it’s obviously waaaay past time for a re-visit to the frightful franchise, and since those delicious devils at Scream Factory have just put out a new Blu-ray collection featuring all for films, we begin my latest revoltin’ review for these hallowed haunted halls!
To the surprise of no one we begin with:
Critters (1986): A group of intergalactic convicts, who resemble the offspring of Fizzgig mating with a porcupine (and we both know that lil’ bastard totally would too), escape a prison asteroid and land near the farm of young Bradley Brown and his family. Of course these horrific hairballs begin terrorizing the family with gleeful abandon…but luckily for our heroes, a duo of faceless, shape shifting bounty hunters are in hot pursuit of the Crites (the official name of our antagonists), and they have rather large guns and a completely psychotic attitude. Will the Browns be able to survive this galactic gaggle or will they fall victim to gnashing teeth and shooting quills…or the massive explosions from the laser cavalry?
For my monstrous money, Critters was the best of the pint-sized monsters fucking shit up sub-genre that was all the rage in the eighties…and yes, I’ve always liked it better than Gremlins (which, for the record, I do love as well). The main reason for that is twofold; one, the Crites, designed by The Chiodo Brothers of Killer Klowns From Outer Space fame, are absolutely wicked in design and execution (they bite, claw, shoot quills, swear like a sailor, curl up and roll around as furry balls, and can even grow to larger than human heights), and two, the major comic book overtones of space jails, alien creatures, and bad-ass intergalactic bounty hunters adds a unique flavor to the film that makes it irresistible…it’s just goofy fun to the Nth degree. It also doesn’t hurt that the Brown’s, played by the legendary Dee Wallace, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, and Nadine Van der Velde, are convincing as a family unit and are damn likable to boot. That’s not to say the supporting cast aren’t top-shelf, because they most certainly are! Everyone from M. Emmet Walsh as grizzled town Sheriff Harv, to Don Keith Opper as the yokel yokel drunkard who is the only one hip to the alien invasion, to Terrence Mann as rocker Johnny Steele and bounty hunter Ug are perfectly cast. Hell, even Billy Zane shows up!
As good as Critters is on it’s own, this Blu has some special features on hand as well. First up is a fantastic retrospective documentary that runs nearly as long as the film itself, and contains a detailed look at the film’s production from conception to finished product with anecdotes straight from Wallace, Opper, Mann, Actress Lin shaye, Producer Barry Opper, The Chiodos, Voice Actor Corey Burton, and more…and no matter what the back of the box would lead you to believe, definitely NOT Scott Grimes (no idea what happened there). Following that we get a bittersweet tribute to the late Screenwriter Brian Domonic Muir (who penned the film), a collection of behind-the-scenes effects footage, and an alternate ending to the film. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer, TV spots, and a stills gallery. But wait…there’s more; namely two audio commentaries; one featuring the Opper brothers, the other a conversation with the Chiodos. both commentaries are fun listens, and expound upon information presented in the documentary feature, but the Chiodo option presents the listener with many dead spots which is never a good thing.
Next we have:
Critters 2 (1988): Charlie (Opper) is now an intergalactic bounty hunter teamed up with Ug (Mann) and Lee (Randy Spears), but unfortunately they can’t collect on their latest kill as the situation with the Crites is unresolved (thanks to eggs left behind by the original invasion soon to be gettin’ their hatch on) so back to Earth they go! Meanwhile, Bradley Brown (Grimes) returns to town for Easter break…hmm, Easter, alien eggs…what could go wrong? The answer to that of course is “fuckin’ plenty” and soon Bradley and his new found gal pal Megan (Liane Curtis) are joined by the bounty hunters and Charlie, along with ex-Sheriff Harv (now played by Barry Corbin) in an ultra-violent, explosive battle to save the town from being eaten alive!
Critters 2 is for all intents and purposes a damn fine sequel. The biggest negative to the film is the attempt to shoehorn in new characters while omitting the fantastic ensemble that comprised the Brown clan in the first film and gave the picture much of it’s heart…though the dynamic between Charlie and Bradley is well done, and both actors bring a lot of warmth to their respective roles, and Curtis adds a lot as love interest/reporter Megan.
In the plus column the effects utilized for the Crites are strong (perhaps even stronger than those utilized for the first outing), and the new Critter ball ability, basically a mammoth rolling sphere comprised of hundreds of teeth gnashing Crites, is a real winner…and I truly enjoyed the outer space set bounty hunting sequence that opened the film as it added a nice expansion on those themes that were briefly touched upon in the first film. Also the film’s more broadly comedic tone actually works, which is no small feat in and of itself, with Lee’s transformation into a Playboy centerfold (Roxanne Kernohan), and then into Eddie Deezen of all people, and back again being a suitably ridiculous set piece, as is the town’s new Sheriff (David Ursin) being devoured by infant Crites while dressed as a giant rabbit.
As with the Critters disc, you can expect plenty of extras here as well! First up we get another top notch doc detailing the film’s production featuring chats with director Mick Garris, Producer Opper, Mann, Curtis, the Chiodos, and more…but again, no Grimes…so just forget that shit yo, no matter what that demon package may say! Following that comes a rough looking collection of scenes from the TV cut of the film, an archival behind-the-scenes doc along with effects test footage, the film’s theatrical trailer, a TV spot, and a stills gallery. As before we also get 2 feature commentaries as well, one with Garris and the other with the Chiodos. The conversation with Garris is lively and packed with info, while the Chiodos present fun info, but once again they spend more time watching the movie rather than commenting on it.
Critters 2 gets:
Now up to bat:
Critters 3 (1991): Let’s just clear the air; Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio is in this film. It’s literally the only thing anyone ever says about this thing…but thankfully for you lot, ol XIII can’t stop runnin’ his mouth, so here we go with the rest of what this fright flick has to offer!
Some kids (including ol’ Leo) go assing around in the woods with a Frisbee when Charlie (Opper) explodes out of the ground and goes rocketing through the air…seriously movie; what in the actual fuck?!! Cue stock footage as Charlie tells these kids the events of the first two movies for no good reason…and in random order for yet another unknown reason. Charlie then gives a boy a magic Crite detecting space crystal and exits stage fuckin’ left (again: reasons unknown, but I’m going to go with either excessive cocaine use or carbon monoxide leak in the screenwriter’s apartment). Anyhow, said crystal ownin’ kid and his family return home to their inner-city apartment after taking a vacation that took them through Grover’s Bend (where the first two flicks took place) where they picked up some stowaways…namely Crite eggs which soon hatch and infest the whole damn building. Soon our heroes are trying to head ever upward within the building as the Crites continue to nip at their heels (and shove each other’s faces into pies and other assorted ass-foolery) and a fire rages below!
For all of it’s ludicrous bullshit (or perhaps because of it in part), Critters 3 ends up being a pretty entertaining creature feature. There is no shortage of silly characters, the strong family dynamic is back in place from the first film (albeit with different characters), the location change keeps things fresh, and there is plenty of Critter action. To the film’s detriment, the more sci-fi elements (alien bounty hunters, spaceships, et.al.) of the series have been nearly dropped all together (minus one sequence that I will not spoil here) in this entry, and they are sorely missed as they gave the series it’s unique flavor and set it apart from the glut of pint-sized terrors takin’ a bite out of video stores and movie screens at the time.
As is the way with this set, Critters 3 also contains a detailed documentary outlining the film’s production featuring interviews with Barry Opper, the Chiodo brothers, Screenwriter David J. Schow (who I never realized wrote this installment…but seriously, he rocks regardless of what I said earlier…but I’m not taking it back either), Terrance Mann, and Director of Photography Thomas L. Callaway. Also included are the film’s trailer, a short promo piece for the film’s video release, and a stills gallery. As for the commentary track, this film only has one and features a conversation with the Opper brothers. This is an energetic, anecdote packed talk with very few quiet moments, and sheds light on a feature that doesn’t get the love it deserves.
Critters 3 gets the ol’:
Finally we have:
Critters 4 (1992): Charlie (Opper) finds himself blasted back to space while trying to jettison the last remaining Crite eggs off the Earth in an intergalactic transport tube…which immediately puts our hero in suspended animation for decades until he is “rescued” by a space salvage vessel whose crew contains the likes of Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett, and Anders Hove (and those reading this column should know damn well who he is!). Naturally the Crites have hatched and immediately begin fucking up the crew six ways to Sunday. Will Charlie’s bounty hunting acumen be enough to keep his new-found cohorts from ending up as the main course of the Crite buffet?
The main problem with Critters 4 is that it suffers from a major case of “lead-in-ass” until Charlie and the Crites make the scene…nearly forty minutes into the film’s run time. It also doesn’t help much that the majority of sets utilized to bring the space vessels of the film to life are insanely bland and often underlit…it’s impressive what was created with the budget at hand, and keeping things dark helps set a creepy tone while hiding the “seems”…but the actual basic designs are just massively uninteresting (with a few exceptions here and there such as the faux grass and wood styled room with it’s Mondrian inspired computer station.
On the positive side, Opper brings his all to the role of Charlie once more, and he is joined by some excellent acting talent as mentioned above, so our heroes are interesting enough. Speaking of the cast, it was fun to here genre legend Martine Beswick (One Million Years B.C. ) as the voice of the ship’s computer Angela. As for the Crite action; it’s as solid as ever, but the fact that for most of the film we only get two of the toothsome terrors things are kept on a much, much smaller scale carnage wise.
I do however think the biggest misstep in Critters 4 is the handling of the Ug (Mann) character who has an arc that completely destroys the character that fans have grown to love over the course of the series.
As you may have surmised, this Blu also features a great doc about the film’s creation featuring Barry and Don Opper, Schow, Callaway, the Chiodos, and Mann, as well as the film’s trailer and a stills gallery. As for commentaries, we get one on this release, and it’s with Director/Producer Rupert Harvey…and it’s a great conversation on an admittedly fascinating career, and the talk of the film’s production are more engaging than the film itself.
Bottom line; I love the Critters series, and this release has more than enough material to satisfy the ravenous appetite of any Crite-lover!
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