For a long time, I would have told you that the best Alien ripoffs were Predator, The Thing, Pitch Black…and Critters.
Now that I’ve seen it again — and the Eighties are long over — my opinion is no longer quite as generous. Hey, that happens.
It is still a fun little film, which offers a few memorable thrills and chills, and one of the more inventive alien creatures of the age (even if it is rather obvious now just how little the Critter puppets can do).
Critters is often accused of being a ripoff of Gremlins (and New Line did in fact promote it that way). Certainly, there were a lot of deadly little creature films copying Joe Dante’s movie after it became a hit, but Critters was already in production before Gremlins. However, the Krites do have a bit of personality which isn’t always true of these films. To be fair, they could have used a bit more as they never really emerge as individuals. But it is their touch of mischievous malice that elevates them from being mere voracious furballs with far too many teeth to near-classic status.
While the presence of E.T.‘s Dee Wallace does make you think of Steven Spielberg, I found it intriguing, on re-watching it, to realize that we are not looking at the classic Spielbergian small town America: the Brown family is far too flawed and cantankerous for Spielberg, and their town is equally imperfect. You do have to wonder whether it was a deliberate attempt to subvert that rosy image (much as letting a horde of nasty creatures loose in Spielberg-land was in Gremlins).
The alternate ending on the DVDs is decidedly darker than the theatrical version. I’ve heard that the sequence with the house rebuilding itself was added by the studio who felt the original was just too bleak. The new ending seems a touch schmaltzy, and far too magical for the SF world of the Krites, even if we’d rather not see the Brown family left in that state at the end of the movie.
This is not a great film, but it is a fun one. Being fun is a worthy goal for any film to aspire towards, and not an easy one. It takes a lot of hard work to make a “fun” film.
And perfect or not, someone clearly made that effort here
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