October Horrorshow: Critters, or, Power of the Night!

I don’t think I’ve seen this movie since the late 1980s. That’s almost thirty years of depriving myself of big hair, a pack of unstoppable, ravenous fur balls that are more teeth than animal, and Power of the Night, the number one single by Johnny Steele. Oh yeah, this was the decade I grew up in, with all its foibles, bad fashion, and shit music. This was the decade that put Eric Clapton in pastels and convinced teenagers everywhere that synthesizers were an acceptable accouterment to rock music. And my God, Reagan was in the White House. No, no, no. If it weren’t for the amazing run of substandard cinema throughout the decade, I would want to have the entire time wiped clean from my memory.

Critters, from 1986, is self-aware schlock. It set out to be intentionally goofy and absurd, so at first I hesitated to classify it as a shitty movie, especially since it’s not a bad flick. But it sure does a fine imitation of a shitty movie. The special effects are one step above Dark Star, and the critters of the title are very clearly decked-out hand puppets. You know what? How could I have had doubts? This is a shitty movie, albeit a good one.

Somewhere out in space, a group of interstellar prisoners have staged a jailbreak from a prison asteroid. They’ve hijacked a ship and are headed for earth. But these aren’t the typical types of aliens one will find scattered about sci-fi/horror flicks. They’re little beasties who will eat anything they see, but they’re not one-hundred percent monster. They’re smart enough to fly interstellar spaceships, which is something humans have yet to figure out. It seems they are menace to lives everywhere in the galaxy because all they want to do is fly around and eat. They’re being chased by a pair of shape-shifting bounty hunters packing big laser cannons, who take on the faces of local townsmen and the immortal Mr. Steele (Terrence Mann) in an effort to blend in. Pro tip #1: if you don’t want the locals to suspect anything is off, don’t go shooting up churches and bowling alleys with your laser cannons. Pro tip #2: shooting up churches and bowling alleys with laser cannons makes for good shitty cinema.

The critters land in middle of nowhere Kansas on the farm of the Brown family, and spend the rest of the film terrorizing mom (Dee Wallace, dealing with aliens a whole lot less friendly than E.T.), dad, big sister, and little brother Brad (played by a young Scott Grimes).

The critters are ridiculous. Half the time they’re the stupidest things I’ve ever seen put on film, and the other half they’re fucking hilarious. I don’t know what to think. Critters has been accused of being a knockoff of Gremlins, a not invalid criticism, despite director Stephen Herek’s claims about the film’s development timeline. It’s anybody’s guess whether this thing would have been greenlit had Gremlins not been a success, no matter when the screenplay was finished. That doesn’t matter, though. At least this film doesn’t have an inexplicably depressing monologue about a dead father. That shit really bummed me out when I was a kid. Critters is all fun. And stuff blows up. Lots of stuff.

Critter standing at the top of the stairs? Boom. Critter in a toilet bowl? Boom! Critter sees a house it doesn’t like? BOOM!! Man, what a bunch of dicks.

Critters is a better movie than Alien: Resurrection because that film made me feel like getting stuck in a chimney and breaking my neck.