Review: Critters series

Back in the day there was this small video store near where I lived called Movie Mart, and it was primarily through this store that I was introduced to the Critters movies. I could watch a PG-13 movie at that age, but it would often involve having to make a case to be allowed to see it. Usually begging.

So that’s why I saw the movies completely out of order: The first one because it set the premise and the monster on the cover looked neat, the fourth one because I had this weird assumption that sequels were improvements on the original (like it was leveling up or forms of Super Saiyan), the third one because it was the last film the store had which I hadn’t seen. Movie Mart eventually closed down, and some years later Video 4 All showed up in the area. They just happened to have the second Critters movie.

This time around watched them in chronological order to better assess the series, and refresh my memory.

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Critters

            Quite possibly one of the most 80s movies out there, as it feels a little like two or three 80s movies spliced together. The scene is established with a spaceship arriving at space prison with a handful of Krites, the critters, two of them had to be killed to make the food supplies last. Pretty bleak universe. Then the remaining Krites secure their escape on another ship, which then necessitates contacting a pair of bounty hunters to hunt down and destroy them.

Meanwhile on Earth we have a small farm family with standard issue teen daughter and young son who checks all the boxes for coming of age story. The family also has hired as a helping hand the local drunk, Charlie. By a cruel twist of fate, the Krites land nearby and proceed to terrorize the farm.

One thing to note in the series as a whole: Alien technology and the lifecycle of Krites function in accordance to the needs of the plot. This is why the bounty hunters are able to track the Krites to Earth and the general area, but can’t just find the ship. One thing to note about movies like this: When an antagonist alien is being pursued by another alien, the hunter is usually presented as paragon as a counterpoint that it’s not all bad in space. However, these bounty hunters are assholes.

With their ability to mimic the likenesses of others, they should on paper be uniquely qualified to discretely gather information until they find the Krites. One hunter takes on the guise of an in-universe rock star, while the other is finicky and constantly changes its appearance in plain view of the locals whom they terrorize.

The movie has a screwy sense of humor, which is predominately in the bounty hunter plot, but the plot with the family is pretty tense. Two people and presumably all the family’s livestock get devoured by the critters, and the scenario is such that the family can put up a fight but there’s no guarantee that everybody is making it out alive. Though arguably some of the tension is broken as the critters cause chaos around the house and it’s played up like something to make kids laugh.

Movie gets comparisons to Gremlins, which the folks who made Critters argued their project was thought up well before they were aware of Gremlins. Funny considering there’s a novelization of Gremlins which explained that the Mogwai were from space. Whether the similarities is proof of a rip off or synchronicity at work depends on how one looks at it.

Overall, it’s an okay film. Nothing you probably haven’t seen before, but it does everything competently and makes for an enjoyable enough diversion. Pretty sure even the movie itself is aware of this as the original, more dour ending was replaced with something more fanciful and used a pretty neat effect. Also pretty sure this movie was a proof of concept and setup for the movie they really wanted to make.

 

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Critters 2

Set two years after the first film, we are introduced to the boy from the first movie returning to his home town to visit his grandmother, Charlie the drunk who had gone off with the bounty hunters, and the eggs left behind by the Krites. Arguably, Krite eggs need a strong heat source or they’ll stay dormant indefinitely as some kind of adaptation to harsh environments, but combined with the fact that the bosses of the bounty hunters can magically scan a planet and only note there are Krites on Earth when the movie gets started, it’s pretty clear that many things function solely at the needs of the plot.

The boy is treated like a pariah because the events of the first movie brought on media attention which made the town look bad. So there’s also a bit of a Cassandra thing going on as he starts to recognize the signs but nobody wants to hear it. So it follows that the Krites have plenty of time to multiply before the bounty hunters can show up. Even then, it’s up in the air whether two seasoned bounty hunters and their trainee are enough to save the day.

Lot of the acting is pretty corny but there are moments when it’s good enough, like one scene with a supporting character from the first film to set a moment where he cowboys up which I have to admit was pretty rewarding. There are more child actors, which aught to have been the kiss of death, yet the movie was able to keep them from being particularly obnoxious. Specifically, the movie sells the audience on this being a living, breathing town and that the Krites are in fact an existential threat. The movie manages to walk that line where it’s goofy enough to be enjoyed as a silly movie, but is done competently enough to let you suspend disbelief in more serious scenes.

Hands down, Critters 2 is the best film in the franchise and in a weird way it was a lucky break that I ended up seeing this one last back in the day because in spite of skipping around the chronology this was the perfect note to end watching the series on.

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Critters 3

 

I’m pretty sure that this one and Critters 4 were shot simultaneously or were produced very close together because they were released so close together and the closing credits sequence to this film was the opening credits sequence to Critters 4. Kinda a neat gimmick by virtue of it being something you almost never see, but I think it would have been a better decision if instead they trimmed down and reworked the plot so that the third and fourth movie were instead a single flick. As I explain the two movies I think why will become clear.

So Critters 3 is about a widower and his two children coming home from a trip before the dad has to take a job which involves him going all over the place and he dumps the kids in the care of an old couple who rent from the same building they live in. It just so happens that a lone Krite is able to smuggle a few eggs onto their RV before it is killed by accident. Naturally, the handful of Krites make trouble in the rundown building, which is further compounded by Leonardo DiCaprio’s stepdad doing evil slumlord shit which traps the tenants.

Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a role in this movie, and yes it obvious even then that he was going to bring many Oscar worthy performances to the world. Been procrastinating on looking up the guy who plays the stepdad, but I’m pretty sure he’s a guy who plays douchebag characters for a living. You can just tell from the moustache, really. In previous movies, there’s some kind of decent reasoning why characters are stuck in their bad situation, but in this one it hinges on one guy being a massive asshole in a brazen attempt to pad out the movie before the cavalry arrives.

The family drama isn’t a bad setup for a movie. You got the daughter who’s at odds with her dad because she wants the family to stay together while the father is reasonably distraught and doesn’t want to have to deal with it. Maybe it’s projecting a better movie onto it, but I think it might have worked in a better movie. Hell, maybe I’m thinking that way because I saw the movie which did this dynamic better and I can’t recall that one.

Stuff happens, the day is saved, but it turns out that two eggs were discovered in the building. Then space politics gets in the way of destroying those eggs because plot technology confirms those are the last two Krite eggs and the regulations are such that they have to be preserved. The eggs are put in a giant space tin can and so the premise of Critters 4 begins.

 

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Critters 4

 

When a horror franchise is in trouble, they invariably crank it up a notch by taking the baddie and setting the movie IIINNNNN SPAAAAAACCCEEEE!!!! Funnily enough, Leprechaun in the Hood is one notable example where a sequel after the space movie was actually a step up. Anyway, this movie is about the crew of a ship in the near future where Earthlings know about the aliens and they work menial jobs in space. One bit of backstory which I thought needed exploring was why the crew worked on that ship when absolutely nobody respected the captain, not even the trainee.

Anyway, they happen upon the tin can which contains the Krite eggs and they get a transmission from the new effective space government asking them to fly off to a particular facility where they will be met by bigwigs with a hefty reward. The crew arrives at the designated meeting place to find the facility abandoned, the nuclear reactor slowly melting down, and the facility being mismanaged by an incompetent computer. A recording suggests that the government wants the Krites to use for a super secret technology that can rapidly mature predatory animals and the Krite capacity for reproduction makes them ideal. Except that the facility and its equipment were largely abandoned and Krites mature at the speed of plot, making the whole program superfluous. It’s like bureaucratic stupidity forbidding the extinction of a species even if they’re the nastiest critters in the known universe and destructive as an invasive species wasn’t sufficient as a plot point so they needed a bio-weapons angle.

The really messed up thing is that the climax in certain regards reminds me of Alien 3, buuuuutt this movie came out before Alien 3. So either I’m imagining things, it’s a freak coincidence, or the clusterfuck at Fox was such that New Line Cinema was able to peek at one or more of the script drafts to borrow from in their own movie. The third and fourth movie are the very definitions of cash-ins because even though the final film was set in space it was still made as much on the cheap as possible in the hopes of getting the best return from those who were fans of the previous flicks. Also, based on the fourth film I predict that Steven Seagal is going to disappear in the near future, possibly on account of sexual harassment claims, because I’m quite sure he time travels to the early 90s in order to play the druggy character. Frankly, this was such a forgettable movie that I only recall it so vividly because of getting a good look at Angela Bassett’s assets during the gratuitous shower scene.

 

 

Watching these all over again was nice. Sputtered out in the second half, but the Critters films were in the balance a decent series of films that were fun little sci-fi horror flicks with comedic elements to them. If nothing else, they’re an entertaining little time capsule of a period when movies tried to have mascot monsters. Anybody who’s seen Critters and Hobgoblins, which is the superior song: “Power of the Night” or “Fish Picker?”

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