The eight most dangerous inmates of an asteroid prison, the ravenous Krites, escape in a small spacecraft. The warden, Zanti, dispatches two trigger-happy bounty hunters to bring them back, dead or alive. Meanwhile, in Grover’s Bend, Kansas, on the Brown family farm, Helen (Dee Wallace, The House of the Devil), Jay (Billy Green Bush, The Hitcher), Brad (Scott Grimes, The Night They Saved Christmas), and April (Nadine van der Velde, After Midnight) are going through an average day. Brad and April are a typically combative brother and sister, Jay is a farmer, and Helen is a housewife. The Brown’s farm hand Charlie (Don Keith Opper, City Limits) is a drunk who’s convinced he gets transmissions from aliens. Grover’s Bend also boasts a crusty sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh, Harry and the Hendersons), an incompetent deputy (Ethan Phillips, Bad Santa), and an annual bowling tournament.
Unfortunately for the Browns, April’s boyfriend Elliot, the “Dork from New York” (Billy Zane, Dead Calm), isn’t their only guest, as the Krites, dubbed “Critters” by Brad, land on the farm and begin eating everything, starting with Jay’s cattle and chickens. Can the Browns survive long enough for the bounty hunters to arrive? Will anything be left of Grover’s Bend by the time the trigger happy and disoriented bounty hunters find the Krites?
Gremlins was an enormous hit in 1984, and a slew of horror comedies featuring tiny creatures with attitude alternating between mugging for the camera and chomping small town morons sprung up in its wake. Every independent filmmaker and producer with a special effects team raced to get out the next Gremlins, resulting in films ranging from the abysmal (Hobgoblins, Munchies) to the barely competent (Ghoulies). Critters is, for better or worse, the best of these imitators, and was quite successful for its producers, New Line Cinema (who brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street two years earlier). Critters even received kudos from genre-friendly critics like Roger Ebert. In the modern era it is inconceivable that such a low-budget film would earn any notice, but between a modestly successful theatrical run and seemingly permanent place on cable, Critters gained enough momentum to result in 3 sequels-one in theaters, two direct to video, and lives on in the nostalgic memories of horror fans who cut their teeth on it.
The sequels suffer from rehashing what is already a thrown together rip-off/spoof of the biggest sci-fi and horror films of the 80s and the 1950s monster films the creators grew up on. The Brown’s farm would not be out-of-place in The War of the Worlds (and indeed, the town’s name is a direct reference to it) and Grover’s Bend recalls the town from The Blob. The bounty hunters, who dress in an outlandish leather-and-studs incarnation of a Western bounty hunter outfit can shape-shift, taking on the image of a video star (how very timely) and various local residents. They also are very much Terminator spoofs-not quite human, but human looking, and incredibly destructive. The Krites siege of the Brown family recalls The Birds and Night of the Living Dead. The film nudges and winks itself through familiar territory.
The characters are all cookie cutter stereotypes, but the actors, at least, seem to enjoy themselves. For much of the running time we are shown the Krites sparingly, (somewhat) hiding the film’s low-budget. In another budget-conscious move, the Krites grow instead of multiplying like the Gremlins. The filmmakers successfully aim directly at the imaginations of 10-12 year old boys, undoubtedly the target demographic, while giving their older brothers and fathers something to chuckle about. The result is an enjoyable film, just amusing enough to ignore the slow pacing and occasional moments of ineptitude.