Critters Attack! Review
Critters, is a much beloved creature-feature franchise of the 80s and 90s. Released in the afterglow of Gremlins and labelled as a ripoff, but that was usually by people that have never seen it. I personally love both franchises, Gremlins is the more more Looney Tunes inspired of the two, but Critters feels a bit more anarchic, a bit more punk rock.
The plot of Critters saw the battle between the Krites and the Bounty Hunters, with a family getting caught up in the middle as a simple, almost home invasion type quickie and was a lot of fun. Critters 2 came back, bigger, more cartoony and is a great Easter horror comedy. Critters 3 & 4 arrived in the early 90s and were shot back-to-back for straight to video cheapies. Critters 3 is probably best remembered as the one with Leonardo DiCaprio in his first feature role (one which he famously omitted to mention kickstarted his career when claiming his Oscar) and then Critters 4 went to space, as most horror franchises do.
Then, nothing for years, aside from an ace short fan film ‘Critters: Bounty Hunter’ by filmmaker Jordan Downey (better known as the director of medieval horror ‘The Head Hunter’) until earlier this year where we finally got the much derided Critters: A New Binge mini series and now we get Critters Attack!, a fully fledged feature film. How does it fare?
Well, there are Critters in it...
20 year-old Drea (Tashiana Washington), and her brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel), live with their uncle after their mother died in a car accident. Phillip sees a shooting star and thinks it’s aliens. It is. It’s Krites. While Drea babysits a professor's two preteen children Trissy (Ava Preston) and Jake (Jack Fulton), in order to look good in the eyes of her college of choice they stumble upon a good Krite, Bianca, who helps on their quest to kill the Krites that have invaded their town, but in order to overcome the Krite hoard they may need help from the mysterious Aunt Dee (Dee Wallace - E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)
It’s lovely to see practical puppet effects throughout but with glacial pacing, this Critters film outstays it’s welcome by a good 20 mins. It’s probably on a par with number three and that isn’t saying much. When you have Dee Wallace in your film, maybe or maybe not playing the same character as she did in the first film, you want to give her something to do, but she is really just a glorified extra. When they omit the one element of the Critters franchise in all but name and weapon that made it a bit different to other creature-features of the time - the face swapping Bounty Hunter - it ends up looking and feeling a little bit lame.
Admittedly there is some fun to be had, mainly toward the end of the film, but let’s not fool ourselves here. This takes elements from the original films and rolls them together to make a weakened facsimile of the aforementioned franchise, rather than adding anything new. The first two Critters films take their cues from Amblin films of the 80s, lots of charm, some fun jokes, some fun action. The 3rd and 4th try and push the plot forward a bit, but this one just plays out like a slow motion fan film, with some nasty and unnecessary gore. There are characters plot points that are set up, heavily hinted at and never explored. Characters get bitten or hit by poison quills that don't actually seem to do anything - depending upon where we are at in the film, other characters just seem to disappear and are never seen of again.
The cinematography in places is woefully amateurish. The music swings from melodrama to 80s synth in a heart beat, making for a very disjointed movie ride, but the sound mix on the disc is actually quite nice.
This film would have worked a lot better had they thrown most of the extremely laboured plot out, maybe set it in the original town, brought back legacy characters, but they haven't and it’s all a bit odd.
Ok, I’m probably being harsh, there are worse ways to spend 90 mins, but if you are going to play in a sandbox that has a rabid fan base do something that honours that franchise rather than make something that feels hollow and cheap at times and causes those fans to merely shrug at it.
The best thing about this film are the short EPK style special features which actually highlight the puppet work involved in this film. The Scene Specific commentary is dreadful however, and should be avoided at all costs.
Engineering Gore; Designing Critters (featurette)
Critters: An Out-of-this-World Experience (featurette)
The Critter Ball (featurette)
Scene Specific Commentary with Director Bobby Miller and a Critter