Saturday, October 15, 2016
Halloween Watch: Critters (1986)
Back in the 1980's, I remember seeing a lot of movies like Critters (1986) on the shelf at the local home video rental shoppe. The boxes would show you a goblin sort of creature, and promised a certain level of horror that wasn't necessarily going to go in for splatter and gore of a Chainsaw variety or even a Freddy Kreuger level of scare. Maybe some broad humor in there, plots as basic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. It was always maybe a little gorier than a modern PG-13 film, but, in retrospect, there's no question that these movies were basically aimed at kids with VCR's.
There's nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't a fan of the sub-sub-genre.
I don't think I was exactly aware the movie was aimed at me as a 12 year-old-or-so as I was when I saw this movie the first time at someone else's house. My recollection is that the kid was very excited about the movie Critters, and his dad showed up with the movie in hand "hey, I rented CRITTERS!" and I was like "y'okay..." whereas my pal couldn't have been more jazzed had we just been given a stack of fireworks to shoot off all night. He loved the movie, and I just settled in, because... what are you gonna do? So, I've seen it once before.
Point of fact - Jamie and I have been together 21 years this month, and I can't tell you how many times she's mentioned liking Critters as a kid. Or, I guess, watching Critters as a kid.
And so it came to pass that when I said "well, we need to watch something Halloween-ish", she tossed out Critters, and as she has never, ever previously stated a desire to watch any Halloween movie but Young Frankenstein, I just said "y'okay..."
So, we watched Critters.
Our story: an intergalactic paddy-wagon is bringing a herd of space-crooks to a space prison when something called "The Crites" escape. Space Bounty Hunters are dispatched to find them. Thanks to the lo-jack put on the paddy-wagon the Crites have stolen to make good their escape, the Bounty Hunters track them to Earth, specifically Grover's Bend, Kansas - home of broadly caricatured dopes. In particular, the Crites land on the farm of a nuclear family with a sort of 13 year old son and teenage daughter, where somehow the mom is Dee Wallace. And the rest of the movie is the paired storylines of the bounty hunters blowing up a small Kansas town for no reason and the furballs that are the Critters terrorizing a family in a farmhouse.
The name talent in the movie includes M. Emmet Walsh in a small part as the town sheriff, Dee Wallace Stone as "the mom" (shocker), and a very young Billy Zane in a small, pointless role as the daughter's new boyfriend.
I dunno, you guys. I know people have a certain affection for this movie, but it feels like something to be endured more than watched. It's not scary. It's not funny. Well, it has this one time the Critters swear, and it's kind of funny. The movie is weirdly derivative and doesn't care. It sets up the potential for a hilarious, ongoing joke in making one of the bounty hunters look like a famous pop-star, and then does absolutely nothing with it. The Critters themselves aren't exactly invulnerable, so as far as threats go, they don't seem like that big of a deal. Just like really upset cats.
It's a hacky movie, intentionally or otherwise. I suspect they were basically trying to have fun making a movie, and I hope they did. But somehow this movie spawned three sequels. People love it. I am not one of those people.
I really don't feel like spending additional minutes of my life thinking about this movie. But it's so indicative of so much of the shit that was on the shelves of the local video store when we were kids. Cheap, half-baked stuff intended for an audience that wasn't going to get away with renting slasher movies but didn't want to watch "kid's" movies, and were up for a creature feature. I mean, there were a lot of these sorts of franchises in the post Gremlins world (and none of them ever topped the sublime cartoonishness of Gremlins 2).
I'm sorry. I know one or two of you will rush to the defense of the Critters franchise. We are simply going to be at odds here.