Critters (1986)

They Bite!

Theatrical poster for 1986's Critters

A group of extraterrestrial prisoners called Crites escape confinement in distant space, hijack a ship, and breakaway for freedom. A pair of shapeshifting bounty hunters are dispatched to locate and destroy them, and they track the Crites to Earth—specifically to a rural Kansas town. They land practically in the backyard of protypical farm family the Browns, who have to contend with the Crites’ prime objective: EAT!

CRITTERS was a staple of the 1980s and the franchise continued into the following decade. For those who grew up with it as a regular part of their cinematic diet, it’s difficult not to feel nostalgic while watching. It’s a small-scale invasion movie, which is a serious shift from the majority that operate on a more global level. This gives it an intimate level of horror, but the world at large never feels threatened—which is fine. In the HALLOWEEN movies, we never believe that Michael Myers might kill off the entire planet, but the citizens of Haddonfield? They’re all fair game, and the stakes are similar here, except in PG-13 form. It’s admittedly lightweight horror, but it remains an awful lot of fun and offers much entertainment value.

It’s the Browns that have to deal with the brunt of the Critters rage, as they take over their farmhouse and the surrounding land, chewing up cattle and the occasional person. For the most part, the rest of the town has to deal only with the bounty hunters, who inefficiently ramble about Main Street, causing mayhem and destruction in search of their bounty. Although these are, ostensibly, two of the good guys, they’re just as much a menace to society as our hungry villains. In fact, the Browns do most of the Critter-killing themselves, so the world—or at least Kansas—would’ve been much better off if Earth had been left to fend for itself. But without the bounty hunters, we wouldn’t have gotten the wicked transformation effects. The filmmakers must’ve only had the budget to show the full transformation once, though, as all of the subsequent ones skipped over the whole face-melting and reconstituting schtick.

The bounty hunters from 1986's Critters

CRITTERS was written by Domonic Muir and Stephen Herek, their first jobs in the industry. Muir went on to write a number of other low-budget horror films, many of them for Full Moon Entertainment, under the name of August White. This is Herek’s only writing credit, as he is more well known as a director—a role he filled on CRITTERS, as well. His career is rather varied, having directed films like BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989), DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD (1991), THE MIGHTY DUCKS (1992), and MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (1995).

Billy Green Bush and Dee Wallace played parents Jay and Helen Brown, and their children are  played by Nadine Van der Velde (who gets bonus points for showing up in MUNCHIES the following year) and Scott Grimes, who will crop up again in CRITTERS 2. Also to be found in roles of various sizes: M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Zane, Lin Shaye, Terrence Mann and Don Keith Opper—the latter two of which return for all of the later entries.

A crite from 1986's Critters

The Crites—which roughly translates to Critters, apparently—are basically head’s with legs, the bastard offspring of MODOK and a porcupine. Clawed hands, razor-sharp teeth, and projectile quills complete their ensemble. They’re not just wild animals, either. They’re also intelligent, or at least intelligent enough to pilot a spacecraft and curse in their own native tongue. They are the real stars here, created by legendary effects team the Chiodo Brothers. The Crites are no Killer Klowns, but hell…what is?

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