The Critters remain one of my favorite Alien ripoffs.
While I no longer think that they are one of the best ripoffs, like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Predator, there is no question that the first film was quite amiable, and far, far more enjoyable than most bargain basement killer alien films of the Eighties. It may not have aspired to greatness, but it was still fun.
In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to make a pair of back-to-back sequels to cash in on the franchise. There’d been a 1988 sequel, which more or less is an extension of the first film, in the same setting and with much of the original cast. But this time, the only major character borrowed from the original is Don Opper’s Charlie, the goofy alien invasion fanatic (one of the two bounty hunters also shows up in a final cameo) who is now a freelance Critter hunter, with a goofy assortment of homemade weapons.
After a quick intro which provides us with an explanation of sorts of how the Krites got from the Grover’s Bend setting of the earlier films (and gives them an excuse for a wild, non-linear flashback to one and two), the scene moves to an apartment building in the city. Before long, the Critters are running wild, eating everything in sight. Except, that is, for the characters we like.
This one has been called the best film in the series. it has also been called the worst. Which does set it somewhere in the middle, which is about where it belongs. it is an amusing entry into the series, and while the first film may be better, it is still quite respectable as a time-killing little alien monster film.
The other thing which gets noted is the presence of a very young Leonardo DiCaprio.
While the first film deliberately downplayed any resemblance between the Krites and Joe Dante’s Gremlins, this time around they’ve gone in the exact opposite direction (two words: Bunny slippers), There is even a very Gremlins-like scene with them devouring anything they can find in the kitchen, including such delicious products as dish soap.
Mind you if you’ve ever spent any time camping, you know that wild animals frequently do have a taste for the strangest things. Like bar soap, antifreeze and toothpaste. But here, it gives them an excuse for a number of silly gags including fart jokes and bubbles wafting up from a dead Krite’s bifurcated corpse.
On the whole, I think I preferred the more serious approach of the first film, even if I did find the funnier Critter moments mostly amusing. Perhaps what I miss most from the first was that most of the main characters got chewed on a bit, and they all ended up bloody by the end of the film. Now that’s a menace you take seriously!
However, the film gets extra points because it offers us the usual tough, competent cliche female, the bargain basement Ripley or Sarah Connors, a phone company employee who leads the likable characters to safety…
Only it definitely doesn’t work out the way we expect, and she ends up literally dangling from the end of a cable for the last half-hour or so of the film — and the painfully cute little kid and Charlie end up being the real stars..
Now there’s something that never happened to Sarah Connors…
And that’s about it. It’s fun, if you don’t ask too much of it, or expect much of it, or think you’re going to see a film like the first one. It’s a goofy Eighties-style popcorn horror flick and it doesn’t really aspire to be anything else.
And we can all use one of those once in a while.
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