Director: Stephen Herek
Yes, Critters was rated PG-13 upon its release in 1986, but when you compare it to the prior films that helped forge the PG-13 rating in 1984, it's quite clear that Critters and its sequels started out as more than a Gremlins ripoff - Critters certainly had more teeth!
Space. A cliched frontier. These are the adventures of the Krites: carnivorous alien fur balls. After they escape their inter-stellar prison transport ship, two shape-shifting alien bounty hunters are hired to track them down. Their mission: find the Krites and blow them the fuck up. However, the Krites have escaped to Earth and are set to ravage the bucolic town of Grover's Bend and the unsuspecting Brown family who lives there.
Rating: 3 / 5 Krites
IS IT SHOCKING?
I'm going to say "yes" in so far as Critters was certainly surprising. As I mentioned before, Critters is often charged with being one of the many Gremlins rip-offs in the mid-to-late eighties. These were low-budget films such as Ghoulies, Hobgoblins, Munchies, Troll, and Beasties in which the primary appeal was to see small puppet monsters who were vaguely wacky. Critters, however, belongs in a different league. For one, the Krites look pretty good. Designed by the Chiodo Brothers, the Krites looked pretty good despite being obvious puppets (or, in their rolled-up tribble form, prop balls being thrown into the frame). They had a certain kind of charisma an detail. With their mouths full of rowed teeth and big red eyes, they were certainly some of the better designed puppet creatures of the 80's. A significant portion of the film deals with outer space and aliens, so there's also an attempt at alien makeup, model ship photography, and other special effects. The film itself is also surprisingly bloody for a PG-13 picture. It's by no means a gorefest, but the Krites chomp into people and draw blood unlike in Gremlins where the majority of violence against people happens off-screen. In Critters, no one gets mutilated or visibly shredded, but the Krites are no pushovers either. Perhaps in an attempt to differentiate itself from Gremlins, Critters were mildly more savage (although they'd grow increasingly goofy as the series continued)
Run man, that toupee is pissed!
IS IT SEXY?
Not at all. PG-13 does not make for very sexy films. In one sequence, April Brown (Nadine Van der Velde) and her new boyfriend Steve (a surprise appearance by Billy Zane in his second theatrical role) both go out to the barn for a little fully-clothed making out, but it's a fairly innocent scene and by no means intended to fog any windshields, if you know what I mean. I have it on good authority, however that Terrance Mann turns some people on. Mann plays the human form of Ug, the alien bounty hunter who takes on the image of an 80's rocker he sees on TV (also played by Mann). I don't see it, but maybe Ug floats your boat.
Mann can't figure out if he wants to be a young Bon Jovi or Tim Curry
Critters is pretty standard stuff in terms of film-making. There is one neat sequence in which a destroyed house rebuilds itself that is quite visually interesting, but besides this and some mediocre alien effects, there's nothing surreal about the experience.
IS IT SILLY?
Essentially, Critters is a lighthearted horror comedy that's played with a sense of fun. The premise of carnivorous alien varmints in UFOs is inherently silly. While the Krites are more menacing than any of the other puppet monsters of the 80's, they also have their goofy moments. The Krites are occasionally sub-titled. For example, one of the Krites comes upon an E.T. doll and asks, "Who are you?" before eating it. In another shot, one Krite exclaims, "Fuck!" after his buddy is blown up. Most of the actors play it straight, but both M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv and Don Keith Opper as Charlie, the UFO-seeing town drunk, bring some levity to the movie. Without these silly moments, quirky supporting characters, and the over-the-top actions of the Alien Bounty Hunters (whose one apparent strategy is to shoot tiny moving targets with gigantic cannons), Critters would be highly forgettable. Thankfully, it straddles that fine line and tells a satisfyingly fun alien monster story.
An A&E original series: UG the BOUNTY HUNTER