Along with many other of his projects, Joe Dante’s Gremlins was one of my gateways to horror. I wasn’t the only one who was bowled over as its success spawned a generation of cheap rip-offs full of small monster anarchy. There was Ghoulies, Spookies, Munchies, Hobgoblin’s, C.H.U.D. and the rip-off that became so popular it outlived its inspiration, Critters. A series of 4 movies about alien balls of fur with giant teeth and an anarchic sense of humour. In 2019, the Crites return courtesy of young director Bobby Miller and Writer Scott Lobdell with Critters Attack!
Tashiana Washington (‘Drea) is scraping a living with her younger, alien obsessed, brother and her Uncle; she works as a small Sushi restaurant but dreams of attending the local university. The sushi restaurant owners son goes missing, no clues as to why, which leads to her making a delivery to the university and babysitting for the dean of admissions. And on this night of all nights, this small town is besieged by the furry little alien malcontents and the group made of ‘Drea, her little brother, Phillip (Jaeden Noel), and the dean’s kids, Jake (Jack Fulton) and Trissy (Ava Preston) try their hardest to survive. There’s another player in this group, too. As the four are walking in the woods prior to hell descending upon their hometown, Trissy, a budding zoologist, spots an injured creature which happens to be a critter – not one of the usual dark furred monsters, though, a much more feminine looking and friendlier specimen.
Fitting in with the spirit of the first two movies in the franchise, Attack gets the creatures right. Many fan-favourite franchises that are saved from history or irrelevance usually see the new creator get them wrong by throwing the concept under a CG bus. Look at the newest Chucky movie which sees Brad Dourif replaced by Mark Hamill and a boat load of CG replacing the puppetry. Director Bobby Miller states on a brief making of-on disc, that if he made a movie with CG critters that the fans would lynch him on the street. I’m not sure I would go that far, however, in using puppetry and practical effects he has made a great account of himself. Although a bit bigger than memory serves, the titular antagonists look fantastic. The effects team are also given the chance to throw in some classic franchise gags, too, like the giant Critter ball.
Horror, no matter the sub-genre, is defined by tone and that has caused a friction turning Critters Attack into something a little lopsided. We have puppets chewing and gnawing on the flesh and bones of the town’s people and a few shots where their newborn jump out of the bloodied guts of their victims. As a spectacle, there are no “kiddie gloves” ensuring that the legacy fans wont go away too disappointed. Especially considering series mainstay Dee Wallace returns in a small role as a bounty hunter, itself a nice callback to the best element of the 1986 original. However, the tone and delivery of the movie falls much closer in line with the sort of post-Amblin titles of the 1980s and 1990s, in that it feels like a kids movie or an extended episode of a younger skewing televisual horror like Eerie, Indiana or Goosebumps. While common back then, 21st century pop culture has had a hard time making weighty horror that respects kids, it tends to go too far one way of the other.
With its incorporation of puppetry which sees the horde either explode into clouds of green mist or sliced in half offset against the sort of gateway and family-friendly horror that old favourites like Don’t be Afraid of the Dark and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark have struggled with-with far more money and talent on-board. Critters Attack is riding atop a rather meaty existential crisis. That being said, if you have a long history with the comedy horror series and are looking for some Critter shaped fun, this will be giving you everything you could possibly want. Maybe not on the comedy level as the best offered up here is a weirdly played gag about bagpipes, as a horror spectacle, though, there’s little to fault – so no public lynching for Bobby Miller… just yet.