Monday, January 12, 2009

Film Review: CRITTERS (1986, Stephen Herek)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 82 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Stephen Herek (director of BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER'S DEAD, THE MIGHTY DUCKS, MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS, and the upcoming DEAD LIKE ME movie), Dee Wallace Stone, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Zane, Scott Grimes, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann (the latter three appear in CRITTERS sequels), the Chiodo Brothers (genius creators of the Critter creatures themselves, and auteurs of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE!).
Tag-lines: "When you've got Critters... you need all the help you can get," "THEY BITE," and "They eat so fast, you don't have time to scream."
Best one-liner(s): "Dad's all torn up, and mom's got, like, a harpoon thing in her neck, and they're getting bigger!"

What was it about the climate of the 1980's that made tiny, smarmy, hungry, killer creatures resonate so deeply with audiences? I mean, there's the GREMLINS series, which arguably allowed the CRITTERS series to happen, which paved the way for the GHOULIES series, which basically opened the floodgates of lowered quality and we saw everything from MUNCHIES to HOBGOBLINS to FEEDERS. Is it backlash against family-friendly alien fare like E.T.? I could buy that theory. In a casting coup, they've employed Elliot's Mom in E.T., Dee Wallace Stone, as the mother here. There's even a scene where a critter confronts an E.T. plush toy and taunts it.

Or, perhaps, is it a continuation of punk aesthetics and attitude entering the creature feature?

In most of these films, the creatures have what constitutes spiked hair, act in an anarchistically crass manner, and derive quite a bit of fun from the wanton destruction. Sometimes they even rock out to some sweet 80's tunes as they do it.

Well, regardless of the theoretical angles, CRITTERS is a pretty solid illustration of the 80's creature feature. We got young Billy Zane and character actor par-excellence M. Emmet Walsh, we got interstellar bounty hunters for added flavor, characters in general that you care about slightly more than in the usual horror fare, creativity in creature design (the critters move in an uncanny, tumbleweed-esque manner), a small dose of hair metal just to even things out, and then some big explosions at the end just for the hell of it. Four stars of deadly yammering furball fun.

-Sean Gill


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