Cinophile: CRITTERS

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By the mid-Eighties animatronic special effects were good enough to make some impressive monsters. This led to Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s Gremlins, a movie that imbued into an entire generation to never feed exotic creatures after midnight. Gremlins was a huge hit and knock-off films were sure to follow. There were quite a few: Ghoulies, Troll, Munchies

But the king of the ‘small carnivorous creatures” knock-offs is easily Critters. A group of alien creatures called the Crites escape from an asteroid prison and head for Earth. They land near a small rural American town and invade a nearby farm, attacking local livestock and human beings alike. The family of the farm soon find themselves under siege, but luckily two interstellar bounty hunters are sent to take care of the Crite infestation.

Crites are small fur balls, cute in every way except for their horrible screeches and maws that reveal dozens and dozens of teeth. They are a bit like the outlaw bikers of the galaxy: anarchists who take what they want, all towards having a good time. They are also always hungry and will eat anything that crosses their paths.

A lot of these are tropes of this genre, which invite the Gremlins comparisons.  But Critters is far more camp and wastes little time getting the action going. It hardly makes the ninety minute mark, but in that time the Crites, the hostage family, the face-shifting bounty hunters and a few extras will cause all kinds of chaos on screen.

The added element of a science fiction plot makes Critters even more special and the movie would go on to spawn three sequels. Two were forgettable, though the second’s assault on the nearby town is worth seeing. Critters was a minor hit, making its budget back several times but coming nowhere close to the massive blockbuster that Gremlins was. Yet the series has steadily built a large following and today the Criters are as well known in movie circles as their midnight-snacking contemporaries.

If anything this should be remade just so someone can make a fortune off Crites plushies…

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Despite similarities to Gremlins, the Critters script actually predated the Joe Dante movie. But with the success of Gremlins other studios were eager to cash in and make their own monster movies. New Line Cinema, hot on the success of A Nightmare On Elm Street, dusted off the Critters script and greenlit it. But numerous changes had to be made to avoid similarities with Gremlins.
Made on a fifth of the budget of Gremlins, Critters relied far more on creative special effects. The actors remember that it was hard at times to not break the fourth wall and laugh at the antics of the effects crew, which included throwing Crites at the actors and pulling the furry balls around on strings. Nonetheless it all turned out very impressive.
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The Critters franchise spawned four movies, the third of which stars a young Leonardo DiCaprio. But apart from the first sequel, the series took a clear slide downwards in quality. Fans often lament that the Crites appear to lose abilities with each movie iteration. For example, it is only in the first film that eating makes them larger.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: December 15, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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